Like sharing your bus seat with a soldier, volunteer work
on a kibbutz is an essential Israeli experience for travellers.
Inspired by turn of the century socialism, kibbutz are agricultural
communities which work on the principle of shared ownership.
Most accept volunteers for varying lengths of time, although
you do have to be between 18 and 35, be prepared to commit
between 2 and 6 months to staying at any one Kibbutz, and
be prepared to work long hours and do menial jobs - fruit
picking, washing up or cow milking. Nowadays kibbutzim are
changing and volunteers attracted by socialist ideals are
often disappointed as money lust has replaced the group mentality.
The first Kibbutz was established in 1909 on the banks of
the Jordan River. There are now nearly 300 Kibbutz. The Zionist
Judaism movement was founded in Eastern Europe on the
eve of the First World War as a mean of preserving the Jewish
identity in the face of increasing anti-Semitism across Europe.
Influenced by the Scouting movement, of youth, outdoor life
and self-reliance fused with the spirit of independence and
creativity. In 1927, the Kibbutz Artzi collective of
Zionist Kibbutz was founded in Palestine. Its influence spread
to Jews throughout the work and in 1937 the first American
Kibbutz settled in Ein Hashofet. The Holocaust splintered
the original Hashomer Hatzair movement, and after the war
ended the few remaining Jewish survivors from Europe fled
illegally into Palestine aboard the famed "Exodus"
immigration ship. The Kibbutz played a large part in reclaiming
the barren lands of the new independent Israel.
After the 6 day war in 1967, volunteers the world over began
arriving in Israel to show good will by becoming kibbutz volunteers.
The kibbutzism movement flourished with the idealism of the
1960's and 70's but is now undergoing a difficult period brought
on by a dwindling economy and lack of confidence of its members.
Tourism has now become part of the role of Kibbutz in the
search to bring in new incomes - Bed and Breakfast, guest
houses and food stores are all run by Kibbutz organisations.
Many members work outside the kibbutz in professional jobs
like doctors and teachers, donating their income to the cause
to keep the Kibbutz alive.
Kibbutz have a strong political and military tradition. In
the past they've been vulnerable to Arab attack because of
their remote locations, often close to borders and disputed
The reason Kibbutz exist in Israel is because on the farms
there is more work than people, and the demanding National
Service takes away many of the young fit workforce. Kibbutzism
keeps Israel alive, supplying 50% of its foods, and 25% of
its army commando units. Members of the Kibbutz are called
"Kibbutzniks" and all property and income is communally
owned, meals are eaten communally. Jobs vary depending on
the trade of each Kibbutz but can range from factory work
to working on a fish farm, picking orange in a grove, tending
livestock, and tend to be repetitive, unskilled tasks. You
can often request to change jobs and negotiated better work
depending on how long you plan to stay. Hours will usually
be between 6 - 8 hours, often starting at 6am or earlier,
6 days a week, resting on the Sabbath (Saturday).
How to Guide
You don't get paid on a Kibbutz, it is voluntary work, but
you will get a small allowance (maybe around $10 per week)
to spend on beer, cigarettes or other basic from the shop.
There's plenty to do on a Kibbutz; social activities, drinking,
meeting people and you can get days off every month for day
trips or longer trips. The Kibbutz will organise every 3 months
to do things liks beach bumming in Eilat or visiting Jerusalem.
It's also probably the only country in the world where the
bottle of vodka is the same price as a cup of coffee. Kibbutz
volunteers will stay in the Volie house, guests will
stay two or three to a room, sometimes more in volunteer quarters.
Accommodation is basic - think hostels - and get used to sharing.
Facilities vary but better equipped Kibbutz will have swimming
pools, sport facilities, cinema screenings, a pub and a disco.
You have to pay for your own travel costs to and from the
Kibbutz and some may ask for a small administration charge
and deposit, returned if you stay for 2 months. It is harder
now to just turn up and join, so if you arrive in Tel Aviv
you should visit the Kibbutz volunteer office at 103 Ben Yehuda
Street. Be aware that now HIV tests are compulsory for volunteers.