Commemorating 100 Years of the Kibbutz
The kibbutz is an original and unique Israeli creation – a multi-generation, rural settlement, characterized by its collective and cooperative community lifestyle, democratic management, responsibility for the welfare of each adult member and child, and shared ownership of its means of production and consumption.
A Bit of History
The first kibbutz, Degania, was founded by a group of a dozen, young pioneers in 1910, along the banks of the Sea of Galilee. Since then, 273 kibbutzim (half of them prior to the establishment of the State of Israel) have spread across the face of the country and, to a certain extent, have defined its borders. The majority of kibbutzim were founded by members of the Zionist Youth Movements, from Israel and around the world. During the past twenty years, most of the new members are second generation - sons and daughters who were born on kibbutz. In addition, new immigrants and "city-folk" have been absorbed into the kibbutz community.
From the beginning, kibbutzim viewed themselves as endowed with a sense of duty, serving as a pillar of strength for Zionism, as well as for the National Labor Movement. Kibbutzim were established throughout the country, particularly in previously, unsettled regions. The members lived under extreme conditions, while tilling the soil, drying the swamplands, clearing the rocky mountainsides and building a settlement, as a link in the nationwide chain.
Kibbutzim and the Establishment of the State of Israel
Kibbutzim served as leaders in national undertakings, even prior to the establishment of the State, including areas such as: youth instruction and guidance, assisting in the absorption of new immigrants, and most notable, service in the different branches of the armed forces – from the time of the British Mandate, as defense fighters in the "Hagana" and serving as "hosts" for "Palmach" bases, to full enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces, since the establishment of the State, with a high percentage volunteering to serve in prestigious units. Kibbutzim have also excelled in creative, cultural innovation, combining Jewish tradition with a new, original perspective enhanced by the unique traits and "aroma" of the Land of Israel.
The Kibbutz today
The Kibbutz Movement
“The Movement” is the central headquarters representing all of the kibbutzim in dealing with government and regional authorities on all levels. In addition, the Movement supplies a variety of services related to different aspects of daily life, both from its main offices, through its subdivisions and administrative departments.
The Kibbutz Movement’s activities are geared towards strengthening the different kibbutzim and the kibbutz communities from an economical, social and ideological perspective, while focusing on social welfare, insuring the future of the veteran members and the demographic growth of the community. The Movement is well aware of the fact that the influx of young singles and families will significantly increase the chances for the kibbutz lifestyle to continue for future generations. Demographic growth is therefore one of the Movement’s top priorities and includes not only the absorption of young people who chose the collective-community lifestyle, but the strengthening of the community in the areas of education, health and social welfare, as well. A strong community means cultural events, holidays and an active, productive social structure.
The Kibbutz Movement management is comprised of the Movement’s Secretary, a General Manager, divisions and departments. The managing offices are responsible for planning the Movement’s agenda – representing the interests of the kibbutzim while promoting and tending to a variety of matters on the national level, working with individual kibbutzim on a one-to-one basis, follow-up of divisional and departmental activities and determining which subjects should be up for discussion at the various Kibbutz Movement congresses. The divisions include: the Economic Division, the Division of Regional Coordinators and the Social and National Task Division. The departments include: The Cooperative-Communal Staff, the Division for Demographic Growth, the Health and Welfare Division, the Kibbutz Security Division, the Educational Division (including the Music section and the Kibbutz Orchestra), the Human Resources Department, the Legal Department, the Department for the Individual, the Unit for the Promotion of Women, the Cultural Staff and the Division for Volunteers from abroad.
In addition, the Movement is directly involved in a wide variety of activities to assist in the absorption of new immigrants on kibbutzim and, in particular, the integration of Ethiopian immigrants. The Kibbutz Movement also conducts cultural and educational activities for Youth Movements in Israel and abroad, runs a publishing house, maintains archives and research institutes, sponsors the Seminar for Teacher and Educator Training, a theater group, a dance company and a chamber orchestra.
Varying Classifications of Kibbutzim
There are currently 190 kibbutzim (72% of the total number of kibbutzim) that operate according to the model of the “Renewed Kibbutz”, about 65 kibbutzim (25%) continue to operate according to the traditional ideals of the “Communal Kibbutz”, and 9 kibbutzim (3%) have adopted the “Integrated Method”.
There are currently 273 kibbutzim in Israel (including 16 “religious kibbutzim”). Most of them are located in peripheral areas, from the northernmost tip of the country down to southern Arava desert. The total number of registered inhabitants exceeds 106,000, with over 20,000 children under the age of 18.
During the economic crisis that hampered the Israeli economy during the 1980's, many kibbutzim, along with the entire productive sector of the country, were deeply affected. Kibbutzim also faced a demographic crisis, as many members left the community. However, in recent years a fresh, new trend has been noted as many kibbutzim have begun to witness growing numbers of young singles and families seeking to join their community. The longing for a collective-community quality of life, a rural environment, a praiseworthy educational system and the ability to work and make a living according to one's own talents and interests, have transformed the kibbutz into an attractive lifestyle, more than ever before.
The system of allocating income to kibbutz members serves as the primary difference among today’s kibbutzim. There are currently three basic methods:
The Communal Method – The division of income is communal and equal. Although special attention is given to size of the family and to seniority, there is no direct link between kibbutz income and individual contribution to the community.
The Integrated Method – An individual’s income is comprised of three parts: an initial, equal sum given to each member, an additional sum based on the member’s seniority (a set amount for each year of membership) and a third sum based on a given percentage of the member’s salary/contribution to the kibbutz. The sums and percentages vary among the different kibbutzim.
The “Security Net” Method – In this system, the division of income is “differential”. In other words, it is based primarily on a salary index and an earning ability. The more money one earns, the more he receives. A certain percentage of each member’s gross salary is deducted by the kibbutz to cover community expenses and for supplementary income for those members who earn less than the minimum amount set by the kibbutz (the Security Net). The adoption of this method is generally followed by various stages and modes of “privatization”. In practical terms, this involves the process of shifting responsibilities from the kibbutz to the individual, family unit.
Only a marginal number of kibbutzim (20) have chosen to practice the Integrated Method. About 60 kibbutzim define themselves as being “fully communal” and abide by the ideals, principles and practices of the Communal Method. A considerable number of kibbutzim (approximately 190) have adopted the third method. They regard themselves as being the “reformers” of the original kibbutz ideals, by adjusting them to meet the new economic and social realities of the present era.
It is interesting to note that a governmental committee, which was set up in 2005 to review the state of the kibbutzim amidst the wave of changes that swept through the entire fabric of the kibbutz movement, decided to endorse the new emerging status quo. Accordingly, the Committee approved the existence of two kinds of kibbutzim: the Communal Kibbutz (Ha’Kibbutz Ha’Shitufi) and the Renewed Kibbutz(Ha’Kibbutz Ha’Mitchadesh). The Kibbutz Movement’s strategic decision to embrace the two types of communities and place them together under one roof was a major factor in the process of turning The Movement into a pluralistic community of kibbutzim, able to co-exist, despite the ideological differences between them.
What is the “Renewed Kibbutz” model?
The “Renewed Kibbutz” is a new socio-economic model that has been “adopted” by the majority of kibbutzim (190 as of January 2010) over the past decade. The model received official recognition by a Public Committee established by the Israeli government and Professor Eliezer Ben Rafael served as the Head of the Committee.
The origins of the model began when a severe socio-economic crisis threatened the future of numerous kibbutzim – they owed huge debts to the banks and thousands of young people were leaving the communities. The kibbutzim were in danger of falling apart.
Kibbutzim took responsibility for their future. The “change” in the lifestyle included privatization of basic necessities that had been supplied for free in the past, and payment for some of the services that had previously been subsidized by the kibbutz. A “security net” was set up to protect the “weaker” members of the community and to ensure a system of mutual guarantee among the members in the areas of health, welfare, education, tending to those with special needs and pensions funds for the retired.
In the Renewed Kibbutz, a salary index (differential wages) is permitted, along with attempts to maintain reasonable gaps in income and a supportive community. The funding for the system of mutual guarantee among members comes from an internal tax that each member pays to the communal fund.
This tax is determined by the size of the member’s salary (a certain percentage of the total income): whoever makes more money pays a higher tax. This prevents the gaps in monthly incomes from becoming extremely large.
All kibbutz members receive dividends from the new corporation’s profits and not only a single tycoon. The manager no longer earns the same amount of money as the manual laborer and a large number of kibbutz members work off the kibbutz. At the same time, complex mechanisms for mutual aid operate to prevent the gaps in income from reaching thousands of percents, as is common in other sectors of the Israeli society.
This modern kibbutz is a strange creature that combines economic efficiency with social values, expressed by investing large amounts of money in “non-economic” areas such as security for its elderly population or by subsidizing meals sold in the central dining room, in addition to educational health and welfare services.
Kibbutz members benefit from an economic security net that insures generous unemployment compensation, respectable pensions and health insurance in case of a chronic illness or an incapacitating accident.
The process of “change” has also included separating the business sector from the community – each area of business has its own bank account and a separate Board of Directors. The different branches of business belong to a “limited company” formed by the kibbutz. The dairy farm does not have access to the turkey farm funds and the funding for cultural events does not come from the factory’s bank account.
In the “new kibbutz” there is more competition and the “stronger” members can earn more money than the “weaker” ones. But, the kibbuztnik is not part of the rat-race. Today, not only socialists want to join a kibbutz – the doors have been opened to all who are interested. More than 2,500 new members have joined kibbutzim during past two years – 60% of them were born on kibbutz, left the kibbutz, and have now chosen to return home.
Survey of Kibbutz Wages
The Kibbutz in Numbers
Salaries on Kibbutz
The latest survey on the level of income among members of kibbutzim operating according to the “Renewed Kibbutz” model (190 kibbutzim that distribute differential wages to members according to their jobs) indicates that 69% of the members earn less than 7,000 IS per month. It should be noted that the wages on kibbutz are “worth” much more than in the city because kibbutz members do not pay rent and many services are still rendered free of charge, even on the “Renewed Kibbutz”. Only 11% earn a monthly salary of 12,000 IS or more.
Additional findings from the survey indicate that, as expected, those aged 41 – 60 earn the highest wages. 29% of them make a monthly salary of 9,000 IS or more, in comparison to only about 15% of the younger members (less than 40 years old) and 13% of the older members (61 years of age and up).
The gaps between men and women’s salaries indicate that men earn more on kibbutz, just as they do in the overall workforce of the Israeli society. The gap increases in direct correlation to salary increase – among the men, 31% earn more than 9,000 IS a month, while only 9% of the women earn this amount.
The Demographic Revolution
2,500 new members have joined kibbutzim during past two years. This is a complete turnaround in the gloomy demographic reality that has been characteristic of the kibbutzim for the past two decades. At its lowest point, the total number of kibbutz members was only 115,000 people. Today, the kibbutz population exceeds 123,000. The absorption process also includes residents in extended neighborhoods, but the fact is that new members are joining kibbutzim and are being integrated into the community.
Levels of Satisfaction
The survey also reviewed levels of satisfaction. According to the findings of the sample group, the status of kibbutz members continues to improve. In 2009, close to two-thirds of the sample group noted that their economic situation was “good”, in comparison to less than half who rated it this way seven years ago. 63% felt that they made a “respectable income” in spite of the fact that seven out of ten members earn less than 7,000 IS a month.
The total income of the kibbutzim from industry reaches 32 billion IS, comprising 5.2% of the national Gross National Product and 9.2% of Israel’s industrial production. The majority of production comes from plastic and rubber goods, the food industry, metals and machinery, electronics and control systems. 1.6% of the population manufactures 9.2% of the total production in Israel.
Industry accounts for 70% of the total income of the county’s kibbutzim. Exports reach 16 billion IS. Some 350 factories and corporations are registered as being owned by kibbutzim, with 70% of them along the periphery. About 41,000 people are employed in these factories, of which 9,500 are kibbutz members.
The total income from agriculture reaches 6.5 billion IS – 34% of the agricultural production in Israel. The leading agricultural branches on kibbutz include dairy cows, field crops, vegetables, groves and orchards, seeds and seedlings, turkeys, beef cattle, fish and sheep.
The kibbutz sector holds claim to about 10% of the country’s lands, with the majority along the outskirts of the country. Some 3% of the land is not suitable for use while 5.3% serves as campground.