About The Kibbutz
A kibbutz is a unique lifestyle that developed in Israel. Egalitarian and communal, the kibbutz is based on mutual aid and assistance. Kibbutz ideology was created by a combination of two prominent early twentieth century movements: Zionism and socialism. Kibbutzim were originally founded as agricultural settlements, and involved various types of farming.
Both prior to and following the establishment of the State of Israel, the kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) spearheaded Zionist settlement, and promoted the achievement of national goals. Kibbutz pioneers were considered part of the social elite, and were regarded in the highest respect thanks to the various roles and responsibilities they assumed for the benefit of the public. Kibbutzim engendered many leaders of pre-state Israel, and later Israel leaders, as well as leaders of the Jewish underground organizations Hagana and Palmach, and later of the Israel Defense Forces. Their contribution is demonstrated by the relatively high share of kibbutz recruits who chose to serve in combat units, and as pilots and commanders relative to their percentage in the population.
The first kibbutz was founded in 1909 on the banks of the Sea of Galilee (the Kinneret) and was named “Degania”. Additional kibbutzim were established in the area, as well as in the nearby Jezreel Valley. To this day, some three hundred kibbutzim have been established throughout Israel.
The kibbutzim began as utopist and independent settlements. Property was considered communal, and kibbutzim were based on equality, both in terms of production and consumption. The guiding principle for kibbutz life was “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”. Kibbutzim were based on joint funds, which provided for the needs of all members. It is noteworthy that the kibbutz way of life was based on the pioneers’ free choice rather than on coercion or force, such as in various communist regimes.
Egalitarian values were strictly adhered to until the 1970s and kibbutz members did not own any private property, or even articles of clothing. Gifts and money from people outside the kibbutz were given to the joint fund. All important decisions were and continue to be made in the framework of democratic meetings, in which any member – male or female – has an equal right to speak his or her mind and vote according to his or her will.
Many kibbutzim adopted an educational approach of communal education. Children were divided according to age and lived with their peers in children’s houses, studying, eating and sleeping there. Children spent with several hours every afternoon with their parents.
Over time, the kibbutzim organized in joint movements and organizations and became the vanguard in almost every realm of Israeli society: military, government, economy and culture. Kibbutz members served in key positions in the state’s leadership, in the army and in public institutions. Over the past decades, the kibbutzim’s status has crumbled and many kibbutzim have undergone privatization, and some have been dismantled. Individual liberties grew more important and as a consequence, kibbutz members were able to own private property.
Among the young generation that grew up and was educated on kibbutzim, many refused to adopt the kibbutz’ rigid socialist perspective, and felt a growing pull to fulfill themselves as individuals. Mistakes, as well as wasteful mismanagement led many kibbutzim to experience economic hardship and heavy debt. The social and political atmosphere in Israel changed and kibbutzim were regarded in a negative light, further worsening their status.
As a result, most the kibbutzim are at a critical crossroads. Kibbutz members face vital decisions: should they maintain their original lifestyle or choose vast changes which will create a new kind of kibbutz? Though the future is uncertain, the kibbutz is certainly an exceptional social phenomenon that has made a significant imprint on history.
The story of Ein Shemer begins at the turn of the twentieth century. The setting: Lodz, the heart of Poland’s textile industry. Thirty young Jews meet and decide to transform their lives. Deeply affected by exciting and novel ideas put forth by “Hashomer Hatzair”, the Zionist-socialist youth group, these young people decide to immigrate to pre-state Israel. Their vision: establishing a kibbutz – a new way of life that is communal, egalitarian and based on farming the land.
The young pioneers’ decision to leave their previous lives wasn’t an easy one. Though their parents and friends implored them not to, each packed a small suitcase. Leaving homes and families, relinquishing studies and personal professional development, they bid friends, family and culture goodbye to travel across the sea to what appears to be a primitive and remote land. There they are to lead arduous, destitute lives without a penny to their name. And yet they stand firm; they follow their hearts and pursue their dream.
One by one, the young pioneers arrive in pre-state Israel and settle in Ein Ganim, a small workers’ settlement near Petach Tikva. There they earn their keep by working in the nearby orchards. Two years of expectant waiting pass, and finally the opportunity presents itself. The group of pioneers is offered a small, remote courtyard called “Karkur”, built by various pioneer groups over the years.
The courtyard, surrounded by a stone wall six and a half feet high with small cracks for weapon barrels, had a large iron gate and a two-storey stone house for protection, if necessary. The house was built according to late nineteenth century fashion in rural southern France. After investigating the premises, members vote unanimously in favor, and in Shavuot of 1927 the first pioneers arrive from Ein Ganim to settle in the courtyard.
The early years are desperately difficult. The pioneers are engaged in a long and continuous struggle to survive. They must overcome devastating water and food shortages, desperation, loneliness and longing for home; and as though that is not enough, incessant sickness. But despite these hardships, the pioneers persevere and keep working. They are driven by faith, enthusiasm and profound dedication to their mission. Above all, they stay together, united as one family, come hell or high water.
Their efforts were not in vain, and the fruits of their labor became apparent several years after they settled. The courtyard settlement grew larger and new members joined, granting Ein Shemer fresh enthusiasm and good companionship. New shacks were set up by the stone house, a dining room and a bakery were constructed, and farm animals were purchased. In 1936, the first gush of water – from a well dug nearby – radically improved the kibbutz’s farming efforts.
The pioneers decided to name their new home Ein Shemer to honor their bond to Hashomer Hatzair. Generations of children were born, and the kibbutz developed, rapidly becoming a successful and fruitful settlement and today Ein Shemer has over 400 members.