Hakhel Seminar: Day Four

by guest authors Roger Studley of Berkeley Moshav and Jeff Levy of the Jewish Community Housing Initiative (Boulder, CO)

Today was about crisis and renewal.

We woke to a beautiful day at Kibbutz Yizreel, had coffee overlooking a verdant valley, breakfast with marmalade made from produce from the kibbutz, and prepared for our day. The night before we’d learned about Kibbutz Yizreel, how they were one of the few kibbutzim to emerge strong from the crisis that decimated most of the 270 classic kibbutzim that had been created between the 1930s and 1980s. Today at breakfast and on the bus, we learned about this crisis.

By the 1980s, the purpose of the original kibbutzim had largely been fulfilled: The swamps had been drained, the roads had been built, the borders of the country established, an economy and army had been created. Youth movements in Israel (such as Dror Yisrael) and the diaspora (such as Habonim Dror) were still cultivating young Jews and instilling in them the values of the movement: Love of Israel, collective responsibility, socialist ideals. But these young Jews no longer felt compelled to actualize these ideals by joining kibbutzim, largely because the mission of these kibbutzim no longer felt relevant. Eventually one group of rebels brought up through Dror Yisrael decided to do something different. They moved to an urban area and actualized their Zionism by devoting themselves to social activism, offering educational programs in deprived communities. Their rebellion grew, and eventually they succeeded in leading Dror Yisrael in a new direction. Using Kibbutz Ravid, an abandoned “classical” kibbutz as their base, they created a new form of kibbutz, and urban kibbutz, and a renewed movement with a renewed purpose, to collectively address the problems of contemporary Israeli society.

After too a break to discuss our experience and impressions so far and Israel’s recent election, do a little yoga and throw a frisbee, it was back on the bus to make our way from the fields and mountains of the Galilee to the coasts of Haifa and Akko.

After a delicious lunch at a falafal and shwarma stand in Haifa, we travel ed on to Kvutzot Am, a secular zionist urban kibbutz in Haifa. This kibbutz consists of approximately 55 people living in 5 kvutzot (small groups) concentrated in one geographic area of Haifa. They pool their financial resources (yes, a commune) and work together on a number of projects that focus both inward, on improving their lives in Israel, and outward on improving the community in which they’ve chosen to live. Typically 25-32 years old, these idealistic and passionate Jews are on a quest to lead by example in creating a new reality of how Jews in particular, and humans in general, can live lives infused with community and committed to social justice.

Our final stop of the day was with the Garin Ometz, a modern orthodox religious zionist urban kibbutz movement (that’s quite a mouthful) based in Akko. Upon arriving, the community immediately put us to work on an assembly line packaging Pesach tzeddakah boxes for needy Jews and Arabs in Akko. We sang Israeli songs (traditional and pop) as we packed the boxes and appreciated the opportunity to take a break from all the learning and sitting and talking. In this small way, we got a taste of what it meant to be part of an urban kibbutzim, looking out for the marginalized in Israeli society. When our work was done, we ate dinner with members of the community and then peppered them with questions about the nature of their mission and their work.

We write this from our host family’s house in Akko, bleary eyed after a tremendously full day, feeling gratitude for this opportunity to deepen our understanding of the land, it’s people, and the different meanings of intentional community.

Learn more about the Jewish Intentional Communities Initiative here.