A kibbutz (plural kibbutzim
) is an Israeli form of collective
settlement founded on the principles of communal life, equality and mutual ownership of the means of production
. A few kibbutzim have been started outside of Israel
, but as far as I know they have never been successful. Most kibbutzim have a few hundred inhabitants, not all of whom are members (aside from the underaged, there are always transient groups of hired workers, youth groups and, increasingly, large numbers of twenty-something kibbutzniks who have not yet elected to become members. More on that later). This population also usually includes a few, or few dozen, volunteers
- young Europeans and Antipodeans
for the most part, who come to work for a few months as a form of budget travel.
Although most outsiders picture kibbutzim as agricultural settlements, and kibbutzim do play an important role in Israeli agriculture, they are also industrial centers. Most kibbutzim have one or two factories manufacturing a wide range of products such as electric motors, drip irrigation systems, shoes and clothing. Most kibbutzim, especially from 1980 onward, are also active promoters of tourism, with bed and breakfasts, museums and nature centers being prominent sources of income.
Most kibbutzim strive to be as self-sufficient as possible, and completely autonomous, but they are organized into several federations that provide coordination and some services. From largest to smallest, these federations are the Takam (Hebrew acronym for haTnu'ah haKibbutzit haMeuhedet), haKibbutz haArtzi, and haKibbutz haDati (the religious kibbutz movement). There are also at least two ultra-orthodox kibbutzim which are members of Poalei Agudat Yisrael.
Kibbutzim have been in existence since 1910, when Degania Aleph was founded. They have been a key factor in the settlement of Israel, as they have proven to be an ideal form of community for border settlement and a good way for the government of Israel to spread out a relatively small population. In the last two decades it has become clear that the basic kibbutz principles of equality and mutual ownership are not easy to maintain in the modern, relatively stable and highly capitalistic society that Israel has become, and an increasing number of kibbutzim have turned to differential salaries and decreasing mutual support. The classic image of an entire kibbutz clad in blue work uniforms and driving mutually-owned Subarus is not to be found in Israel today. While a few decades ago almost every kibbutznik would become a member as soon as she completed her military service, many young kibbutzniks are now waiting until their mid-twenties or later to become members, and they are leaving the kibbutzim in greater numbers. The population of the kibbutzim throughout Israel has been slowly declining since 1990, after almost eighty years of steady growth.