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Kibbutzim: Early Pioneers to Today

Posted on 07/26/2010 @ 07:10 PM

PDI Israel

By Rebekah Smith, Big Apple Region Program Director

We started our day with a visit to the historic Kinneret Cemetery for a guided tour with Muki Tzur. The Kinneret is the only natural freshwater lake in Israel and is a major water source for the country. Because of this, the history of the region and the pioneers who settled and developed this land is rich. Our tour guide, Muki, was born in Jerusalem and had lived on a kibbutz on the shores of the Kinneret since 1956. He is a noted historian, thinker, storyteller and leader of the kibbutz movement. Despite the 104-degree weather this morning, Muki captured all of our attention with his charismatic and nostalgic stories of the history of this area and its people. One of the people buried in the Kinneret Cemetery is Rachel the poet. Rachel’s poetry has inspired many individuals, including a woman named Shelli Greenspun, who was so affected by the words of Rachel’s poetry that she insisted on being buried near her in the Kinneret Cemetary.

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Afterwards, we traveled to nearby Makom B’Sejera, located in one of the original pioneering communities, for lunch. All the food at this organic restaurant is made the moment you order it, and this blog is not big enough for the descriptions of the many delicious things we ate. You can get an idea from the dessert pictured above. II will attempt to describe how amazing this meal was, but I know my words will not capture the experience. We started out with two different organic salads, lemonade made with fresh stevia (Makom B’Sejera does not use sugar, but rather sweetens with the leaves of the stevia plant), and another juice made from apples and sabra fruit. Shortly after, we were brought fresh homemade whole-wheat pita with hummus made from chickpeas that had already sprouted (traditional hummus is made from chickpeas before they sprout), along with whole-wheat pasta with Cornish hen, raisins and nuts. More drinks came out (peach ice tea and juice made with figs and banana), and rice made with quail, ground lamb, pumpkin seeds, raisins and walnuts. At this point, we are all getting a bit full, but our meal was only halfway over! Our last drink arrived (juice made from apples, dates, and pears) along with lamb and veal kabobs, which were incredibly delicious! Of course no meal is complete without dessert, which was Belgian chocolate flavored ice cream made with cactus milk and drizzled with date syrup (similar to honey, but more delicious) and sprinkled with roasted granola. All in all, it was a satisfying meal and one of the best I have ever had. Some of us even took pictures with the owner/chef and got information from them about how to email in for recipes.

After lunch, we drive to the Misgav Region and split into three groups to explore different Jewish communities with different ideological, ethnic, or religious characteristics. I was lucky enough to visit Eshbal:

Eshbal is the newest kibbutz in Israel, and therefore the world. Established in 1997 by several young alumni of the youth movement D’ror Israel, Eshbal focuses only on education, rather than agriculture or religion like many other kibbutzim. We had the opportunity to meet with Gilad and Rachel, two of the founding members of the kibbutz and hear about their ideologies and history of Eshbal. Having had a transformative experience in his own youth group, Gilad and the other founders desired to live an adult life through the framework of that youth group and made the decision to start this kibbutz from scratch. Throughout their experience in D’ror Israel, each topic of discussion was prefaced by the same three questions: 1. What is the reality around you? 2. What is your opinion about this reality (also, what is your dream)? and 3. What can you do to bridge the gap between the reality and the dream? Using this framework and applying it to Eshbal has allowed this new kibbutz to grow to 60 educators who serve a population of over 4,000 youth.

Eshbal is only one part of a larger movement (D’ror Israel) and all together there are 100,000 youth served from Mitzpeh Ramon in the south to the kibbutz in the north. Eshbal believes that Zionism is the new direction in the Galilee region, and strongly promotes the education of Arab youth. A boarding school run at the kibbutz serves teenagers who have been expelled from other schools, kicked out of their homes, and might otherwise be living on the streets or in jail. Many of these teens are Ethiopian, and one of the goals of the kibbutz is to introduce the overall Ethiopian population to the population. Recognizing the importance of informal education, Eshbal strives to better Israeli society through education. The 60 educators at Eshbal frame all of their education with the same three-question model that many of them grew up with, but in a more informal manner. In order to teach the teens a sense of responsibility, the kibbutz owns three horses that the boarding school teens are charged with taking care of. The program lasts for three years, and is currently graduating its fifth class.

When Gilad was asked the ideology of the kibbutz, he responded by saying that they are a “Jewish, Zionist, humanist movement.” We all have the obligation of tikkin olam (repairing the world), and as Jews we can achieve this through the education of not only other Jews in society, but of all the humans around us. We also asked Gilad why Eshbal was not an agricultural kibbutz, as so many traditionally are. His response was that we all have both the right and the obligation to take care of the land, but the land belongs to everyone. Being “in the land” is also about education, and going into the different parts of Israeli society and education as a means of taking care of the land.

This kibbutz and our meeting with two of its founders particularly affected me because it was so different than the traditional kibbutz model I have learned about previously. The kibbutz model in general is slowly shrinking in Israel, and having the opportunity to speak to two individuals who pioneered this distinctive and atypical type of kibbutz at the age of 21 was both refreshing and incredibly impressive. The importance of education, especially educating those who may have been given up on by others, rings throughout the ideologies of Eshbal and having the opportunity to speak with and learn from some of the founders of this kibbutz was an invaluable experience to me as an informal educator. For more information about Eshbal, please visit www.eshbal.org.il.

After we reconvened and all three groups were able to share with one another their experiences of the afternoon, we boarded the bus once again and drove to Achziv Beach for dinner. We had a great (small) meal together on the beach, under a full moon. Today is also Tu B’Av, which according to the Talmud, is a day for courtship in the fields and this “love day” is Israel’s answer to Valentine’s Day.

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