I have often been asked by people, "What is a kibbutz?" If you've never heard of this word, "kibbutz" is the Hebrew word for "group" and generally, it refers to the communal living environment that is commonplace throughout much of Israel. People who have never been to Israel have a hard time grasping the concept behind this arguably bizarre living situation. However, Israelis sort of love it. The "kibbutzniks", as the tenants are called, lead a simple and enjoyable life. All of their basic needs are tended to in return for the work they put into the maintenance and upkeep of the "kibbutz" itself.
|Aerial View of Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael, Israel's largest kibbutz|
The notion of a "kibbutz" started back in the early 1900's when Russian immigrants immigrated to Israel and wanted to establish shared living communities where the give and the take would be equal. It was a sort of Zionist-Socialist marriage. Ever since then, the notion of a "kibbutz" has grown to become the world's largest (and most successful) communitarian movement. Today, there are nearly 120,000 people living in more than 260 "kibbutzim" throughout Israel, from the north in the Golan Heights to the south near the Red Sea. Membership in each "kibbutz" ranges from around 100 people to over 1,000 people, with the average being a few 100 people. Entrance into the "kibbutzim" is competitive, as many people are drawn to the simple life that the "kibbutzim" offer.
Although the roots of the "kibbutzim" are agricultural, today only about fifteen percent of the "kibbutzim" reap economic gain from their agricultural ties. Instead, the remaining 85% of the "kibbutzim" make a living so to say off of commercial services offered on their property such as laundry, restaurants, schools, shopping and recreational activities. Additionally, the number of "kibbutzniks" working in white color jobs off the "kibbutzim" properties has grown over recent years, bringing in more outside income to the shared communities. Lastly, a plethora of the "kibbutzim" have today major industrial factories on their grounds which bring in a large amount of revenue for the community.
|Housing along the riverfront on Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael|
On any basic "kibbutz" you will find living arrangements, a great dining hall, recreational facilities, a bar and/or nightclub, a school for the community, medical care, offices, libraries, sports facilities, agricultural land and/or industrial buildings. Also, many "kibbutzim" have dozens of rental cars (technically free of charge) that you may take off the property, so no need for a car. Want to plan a vacation? The "kibbutz" can help you with that too (financially and logistically). Furthermore, it is commonplace for "kibbutzim" to pay for their "kibbutzniks" college education. Clearly, there are many benefits of such a life and that is why it is a competitive and popular choice among Israelis.
|Playing on the beach at Ma'agan Michael|
Most Israelis have lived in a "kibbutz" at some time in their life and my husband is no exception. There was his first "kibbutz" experience during high school, followed by the one he lived on during the navy (in his rare time off when he was not sleeping on a naval ship) and then there was the most recent one where he lived and worked just after completing his mandatory army service. Curious, I asked him to go visit this "kibbutz", called Ma'agan Michael:
|Aerial View of Kibbutz Ma'agan Michael|
Pretty, huh? Ma'agan Michael is perched on the Mediterranean Sea between Tel Aviv and Haifa, with Mt. Carmel in the background. It was established in 1949 with 154 members and 44 children; today, there are 1,412 people living on the property, including 791 members, 393 children and also non-member residents, soldiers and ulpanists (people studying Hebrew who also get room and board in exchange for 4 hours of work per day). The major sources of industry on the "kibbutz" are agricultural and industrial. The "kibbutz" produces crops such as bananas, papayas and avocados. They also have chick hatcheries, dairy farms and fish hatcheries. As for the industrial resource, Ma'agan Michael has a large factory on its plot called Plasson, a plastics factory, which is the main source of income for the "kibbutz". Annual sales of the factory's products reach somewhere around $100 million per year, exported nationwide and worldwide. Everyone pitches in a little and the result is a society whose needs are completed tended to.
Entering Ma'agan Michael:
They even have a large cacti garden, my favorite:
And, see, I told you...even a bar/nightclub on the property (and a nearby laundry service):
Here are some apartments for the ulpanists and soldiers (and their sculpture garden outside):
Walking through the grounds of Ma'agan Michael:
Here we've arrived at their dining hall with a killer ocean view:
And onward we go through the rest of the large property:
There's even a pretty sizable zoo with horses, monkeys, birds and farm animals:
Wow, and there's even a Ferris wheel on the property:
Of course it was closed, but we found the school system:
And the best part of all...this "kibbutz's" prime location means it has its very own BEACH!
Curious to read more about Ma'agan Michael? Visit their website here. I hope you've learned a little bit more now about what a "kibbutz" is and are able to better appreciate this unique element of Israeli life.