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Israel Society & Culture: The Kibbutz Artzi Federation

The Kibbutz Artzi is a federation comprising 85 kibbutzim founded by the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. In 1998 it numbered around 20,000 members and its entire population (including children, candidates, parents of members etc.) totaled approximately 35,000.

In 1927, the kibbutzim of Hashomer Hatzair, until then individual and separate settlements, decided to join together for greater mutual aid and to provide a focus for the world organization. The federation was named the Kibbutz Artzi. The movement's goals became clearer and a pattern was set for future development. At its inception the Kibbutz Artzi numbered four kibbutzim, with 200 members. In the following years Hashomer Hatzair spread throughout the Jewish world and its impact began to be felt in Jewish communities everywhere. Adult members of the movement emigrated to Palestine and formed new kibbutzim. In 1937 the very first kibbutz of Americans was settled at Ein Hashofet, named in honor of Justice Louis Brandeis, a warm supporter of Hashomer Hatzair.

In the first years of the new state the Kibbutz Artzi took an active role in settling new kibbutzim. The kibbutzim played an important part in reclaiming the barren lands, in absorbing new immigrants and in securing the borders of the country. However many of the functions that had been fulfilled by the kibbutz movement in the pre-independence period were now taken over by the state. The central role that the kibbutz had played diminished and with it the attraction of the kibbutz to young people.

In the course of time the kibbutzim grew and changed, in keeping with the changing times and environment. The development was not always smooth, and the movement often experienced periods of crisis as well as of prosperity. During the 1960's and 70's the standard of living of the kibbutzim rose immensely and they no longer needed to struggle to eke out a bare existence. In this last decade, the Kibbutz Artzi, together with the entire kibbutz movement, has been going through one of its most difficult crises. The change of government in the late Seventies; the revision in the direction of the national economy, which affected all the productive areas of the economy; a delay in adjusting the internal organization and administration of the kibbutz to the new conditions, all brought on economic difficulties, and in its wake an undermining of confidence of many of its members.

Today, on the eve of a new millenium, the Kibbutz Artzi is attempting to deal with its distinctive path as a cooperative, humanistic society. It is doing so by carrying out far-reaching changes in the structure and activities of its economy; in its organization and administration; in fostering culture and education; and in readjusting the democratic structure of its society.

At the same time, the Kibbutz Artzi continues to maintain its educational activities and the absorption of hundreds of youth from outside the kibbutz, while continuing in its social and political activity. It also takes part in the national task of absorbing new immigrants. The endeavor to guarantee the future of the kibbutz is accompanied both by anxiety and with much hope for the future, as well as with a belief in the ability of the kibbutzim and the movement to renew themselves, and to continue to develop humanistic and cooperative forms of life that will fit the needs of the individual and of society in the future.

Source: The Kibbutz Artzi Federation