Then & Now
by Jon Fidler - Kibbutz Beit Ha'emek
Sources of Income
Kibbutz economy was based entirely
on agriculture at first; later, on agriculture plus industry.
Kibbutz agriculture is still
significant in a national context, but its relative internal importance has
Today, only about 15 percent of
members work in agriculture. Industry's contribution has stabilized.
In recent years, the number of
members working off the kibbutz in white-collar professions has grown.
Also, increasing numbers of
kibbutzim run commercial services, such as laundries, restaurants,
kindergarten facilities and swimming pools.
They have become centers for
commercial tourism, weekend shopping and recreation.
For several decades kibbutzim
strove for individual equality, based on the idea "from each according
to his ability, to each according to his needs." The kibbutz provided
a complete spectrum of services to its members, ranging from toothpaste to
housing and from honey-moons to financial aid for dependents living
outside. In return, new members were expected to transfer all their assets,
other than personal effects, to the kibbutz.
Total equality, as an absolute
principle, is almost extinct. Kibbutzim generally strive to minimize
inequality in terms of communal services offered to members, e.g. food,
health care and education. But there is little control over the main
sources of inequality: members' private income, such as rent from urban
apartments, or money inherited.
Wages and Income
Members received a monthly
allowance (depending on family size), no matter what work they did.
Allocations were made for spending solely on specific items like clothing,
newspapers and holidays. (see BASIC NEEDS below)
A small but growing number of
kibbutzim has already adopted – or is investigating – a differential
wage system, until recently considered heresy.
The new proposals usually set
minimum wages, but higher pay for veteran members and those with
responsible jobs, or for off-kibbutz work with high salaries. Members'
budgets have been expanded, allowing more consumer choice, e.g. cooking at
home or subsidized meals in the dining hall.
In the workplace: do-it-yourself;
refrain from employing hired labor! Under a system of "rotation,"
branch managers were elected for a fixed tenure, then replaced; they were
considered on a par with workers, though in charge of work schedules. The
only off-kibbutz work permitted was in the kibbutz movement.
In general, members now have a
right of refusal as far as workplaces in the kibbutz are concerned. They
may work off the kibbutz and there is no limitation on hired – even
imported – labor. At present, members make up only 40 percent of the
kibbutz industries' work-force. "Rotation" is almost extinct.
The practice of mutual
responsibility and aid within the community: taking care of all the basic
needs of the individual, including employment, housing, food, clothing,
transport, health care, education.
These principles remain largely
intact, though substantially reduced in scope. Kibbutz contribution towards
bills for food, energy, clothing, transport, housing-maintenance,
extra-curricular education and certain non-essential medical expenses is
defined, with members paying for those in excess.0
Self-management, epitomized by the
members' general meeting, which decided major issues, and directly elected
committees and office bearers.
Many kibbutzim still hold general
meetings. But direct participation democracy has been replaced by
representative bodies and ballot voting.
Common ownership of all assets and
common control over the means of production. Important decisions concerning
branches were taken by the general meeting in which all members could
All kibbutz assets are still
communally owned. But control by members of the means of production has
been substantially reduced. This is an inevitable result of industrial
growth and the growing number of joint ventures in manufacturing, farming
and tourism, with private companies. Other factors are the increasing
number of non-kibbutz members appointed as directors and managers of
As part of the ideology of
communal education, children were brought up in children's houses with
sleeping quarters, play and study rooms. Parents spent time with their
children only after work.
Since the 1970s, kibbutz life has
become "family-centered" with all children raised by their
parents and living at home.
Social and Cultural Life
In the pre-state days, when
kibbutzim were smaller, social and cultural life was characterized by
togetherness and being "one big family." This found expression in
the high involvement of members in planning, organizing and carrying out
activities, which ranged from campfires and nature walks to choirs and folk
dancing. Each kibbutz appointed a cultural director to plan and coordinate
events. The secular kibbutzim adapted the ceremonies for Jewish holidays to
suit their beliefs, especially those with an agricultural aspect, e.g.
Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot. Since the establishment of the State,
celebration of Independence Day and observance of Memorial Day and
Holocaust Remembrance Day have been added to the calendar.
With the advent of cable and
satellite television, videos and personal computers, entertainment has
become more home- and family-centered.
Parallel to this trend, several
regional councils now provide a wide spectrum of organized entertainment
for both kibbutzim and other communities under their jurisdiction. In
general, the secular kibbutzim continue to celebrate Jewish festivals and
bar- and bat-mitzvahs together. Weddings have become more family-oriented,
with only selected guests invited. This is due partly to the decline in the
feeling of "togetherness" and partly to the diminishing
contribution of the kibbutz to wedding costs.