Kibbutz Experiment

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Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment is a documentary film, still a work in progress, that deal with everything from the kibbutz’s proud history to its inspired reinvention.

Toby Perl Freilich, filmmakerMy documentary film, Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment, has its roots in my own biography.

In 1968, my sister, then 18, moved to Israel and settled on a kibbutz. My parents were horrified. Polish-born Holocaust survivors who’d immigrated to America after the war, they saw kibbutz as nothing more than a glorified kolkhoz, one of  Stalin’s failed collective farms, a prison camp in the guise of a commune. They couldn’t understand why my sister would chuck the American dream in favor of something that smacked so much of  Soviet oppression and limited opportunity.

I was surprised, then, when visiting my sister as a kid in the 1970s, to discover that her kibbutz more closely resembled a lush Israeli suburb than the impoverished collective I had been led to imagine. Food, electricity, health care, education—everything was free and liberally doled out.  Communal life could be maddeningly close, but it was vibrant and thrummed with the energy of a shared enterprise.

As the years passed, the waste and inefficiency of a moneyless society gradually began to take their toll on Israel’s roughly 270 kibbutzim. Financial and social hurdles arose to challenge each one of the kibbutzim’s emblems, from communal child rearing to the joint dining hall.

Hit hard by a severe economic crisis in the 1980s and threatened by the arrant defection of its third generation, strict egalitarianism and doctrinaire socialism became luxuries few kibbutzim could continue to afford. For the past 20 years, many kibbutzim have teetered on the brink of collapse, and the movement itself battles obsolescence. But spending time on several kibbutzim, and interviewing scores of current and former members, I found a movement in flux, questioning its old pieties and testing out new ones. Though still passionately committed to social justice, the next generation is transforming the kibbutz movement, making it is relevant to Israel’s capitalistic society while struggling with a wide range of  problems, new and old.

(via Tablet Magazine)

Part I (Toby Perl Freilich introduces Inventing Our Life)

Part II (in second installment Toby Perl Freilich looks at the birth of kibbutzim and their service to the struggling, nascent Jewish state.)

Part III (in third installment Toby Perl Freilich looks at joys and heartbreaks of growing up in a kibbutz.)

Part IV (in fourth installment Toby Perl Freilich examines the challenges facing the third generation of Kibbutz members.)

Part V (in the fifth and final installment Toby Perl Freilich considers the movement’s  future.)

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