Hundreds of members of the Kibbutz Movement (Hatnua Hakibbutzit) from across the country gathered at Kvutza Degania Aleph on the Kinneret on Wednesday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first kibbutz.
The event in the courtyard of the Founders House, one of the first buildings erected at Degania, was attended by President Shimon Peres and MKs Haim Oron (Meretz), who joined Kibbutz Lahav after the army, and Shai Hermesh (Kadima), who became a member of Kibbutz Kfar Aza after his military service.
Ze’ev Shor, head of the Kibbutz Movement, which was formed in 1999 by a partial merger of the United Kibbutz Movement and Kibbutz Artzi, spoke of the contributions of kibbutzim to the agriculture and defense of the state.
“We must remind ourselves and others that building the land, defining and defending its borders are not empty words or clichés,” he said.
Despite changes that have taken place over the years in Israel, kibbutzniks “hold our heads up high” for their contribution to Israeli society, Shor said.
Peres also addressed the crowd, reminiscing over the old days in Israel and the simple joys of living on a kibbutz. Peres, who lived on Kibbutz Geva for several years as a young man and was one of the founders of Kibbutz Alumot, said that Israel “wouldn’t be what it is today without all of the security and social achievements of the Kibbutz Movement.”
Wednesday’s event included a celebration for five kibbutz members celebrating their 100th birthdays.
Founded by immigrants from Russia and Ukraine in 1910, Degania has loomed large in Zionist lore for many years, partly due to its role in stopping the Syrian advance during the War of Independence. On May 20, 1948, during the Battles of the Kinnerot Valley, Degania Aleph and Degania Bet repelled a Syrian attack. Outside the main gate of Degania Aleph, a Syrian tank still stands, testament to the kibbutz’s role in defending the earliest borders of the state.
The kibbutz on the southern shore of Lake Kinneret was also the birthplace of legendary IDF chief of General Staff Moshe Dayan, and was home to a number of prominent residents of the nascent state. The poet Rachel, the “prophet of labor” A.D. Gordon and Zionist hero Joseph Trumpeldor all worked at Degania Aleph.
Tamar Gal-Sarai, the cultural director of Degania Aleph, said
celebrating the 100th anniversary “means a lot of pride, as simple as
that. It’s one thing to be an entity for 100 years, it’s another thing
for a living thing to be around for 100 years.”
Gal-Sarai, 49, a third-generation resident whose grandparents were the
first family on the kibbutz, said that despite the changes in Israel
and those adopted by the movement, the role of the kibbutz remained “to
be the light, the torch leading the camp.”
She described the Kibbutz Movement as “always on the periphery,” always
on the front line of contribution to the state. She said that for her,
being a kibbutznik meant “we make the choice that we aren’t only going
to take, that we’re giving a lot and making a choice to perform extra
“The Kibbutz Movement has a lot to contribute, and we’re not done,” Gal-Sarai said.