Yes, I pretty sure that living on a kibbutz qualifies as living in a whole different world, at least from the reality I’m used to in the States and even Morocco.
Though I’m just living here for a month, and not as a member, our group has been discussing with members what living on a kibbutz, particularly Kibbutz Ketura, is like.
Kibbutzim are set up in a number of ways, but the basic principle is pretty simple: collective community living, where each member finds his niche, works as much as he can, and gets back what he needs like food and shelter. Kibbutzim can be religious, secular, or of varying degrees of the two. Factors to keep in mind when thinking about what a kibbutz is: income, education, healthcare, food, industry, size of the community, religion, sustainability, etc.
At Kibbutz Ketura, members have residences, work in their jobs (some in the Kibbutz & some outside), and pool their salaries to provide for the community. Members don’t individually pay for meals (all eaten in the mess hall), they don’t have to do laundry, healthcare is 100% covered, education covered up to a bachelor’s degree (students can use the money for university outside of Israel, but the amount is determined by the cost of higher education in Israel), there’s a salon and chiropractor on site, they are allotted an allowance of disposable funds, and they don’t individually pay for electric and water bills. In a community of about 150 members, there are eight cars which are shared and belong to the kibbutz.
Now this is all how Ketura operates, not all kibbutzim handle finances in the same way; in fact, some are even privatized where members keep their own salaries. On the flip side, one of my professors yesterday was telling our group about his kibbutz which is near anarchic. The safe is open and each member is expected to work and contribute what he can and take literally only what he needs. In a community of approximately 100 people, this kibbutz has been successful since 1976. Maybe I’m a cynic, but this was shocking to my American ears that a community set up in this way could sustain for so long. It almost sounds utopian.
Today our group met with one of the Kibbutz’s founders. She gave us the run down of how Ketura was founded in 1973 of a group of young Americans (around age 22 at the time). She sidestepped a lot of the political issues such as what it meant to settle in a country that was previously Palestine and the relation of Zionism to the kibbutz and its founding. What’s the rest of the story?
From this experience, I’ve had to ask myself (and have been asked by others), “Could or would I ever live on a kibbutz?” Almost everyone on the kibbutz who has talked to our group has emphasized the necessity of trust for this lifestyle. To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m at a point in my life where I would be willing to trust a group of people with things like how to handle my finances from my work. The benefits of the society like healthcare and education are to be frank, awesome, but for me, would the costs be worth it? After talking to another girl in my program the answer for now is, “No, not at the moment, but maybe when raising a family or settling down.”
Maybe this is over generalizing and creating too false a dichotomy (still not going to stop me from going for it), but the question has forced me to own up and identify my economic and social values. What’s more enticing, collective community living, which I’m going to categorize (along with many others) as socialism, or free market America?
Throughout my life and in my classes, I’ve been hearing about Soviet Russia, Chairman Mao’s China, and other socialist or communist societies that collapse deep into the pits of corruption, but here are these kibbutzim throughout Israel that somehow work with the same concepts. From where I’m standing it looks like, yes, trust is an essential variable in the collective community living, and there needs to be a common or at least unifying culture with a small population. I think many of us can agree, that the Ketura way would never succeed in America.
An update on the ‘bug’ situation from yesterday for the traps that my class laid in the dunes near our kibbutz: my partner and I caught a ton of ants, two beetles, and a baby scorpion. Not bad since we weren’t expecting to catch much, but we were a little envious of the group that managed to rake in a gecko and giant scorpion along with many other beetles.