When the first kibbutz, Deganya, started 100 years ago on the southern shore of the Kinneret, the original dozen members didn't plan on sharing and sharing alike. Equality only came later, when the pioneers found they had so little food, clothing and other resources that the little community would disintegrate if everyone didn't get at least enough to survive in return for their backbreaking work. Thus, it wasn't ideology but necessity that was the root cause of kibbutz socialism, says Daniel Gavron, author of the 2000 book The Kibbutz: Awakening from Utopia.
The era of ideological extremism came later, from the late 1920s through the 1930s, when the rising international fervor for socialism reached Zionist youth movements such as Hashomer Hatza'ir. "In those days on the kibbutzim, there was a great controversy if someone suggested bringing chairs into the dining room. It was considered bourgeois - everybody was used to eating together on benches," Gavron adds.
One of the little-mentioned reasons behind the evolution of the kibbutz from collectivism to individualism was the influence of foreign volunteers. "Between 1967 and 1985, a half-million volunteers worked at the kibbutzim," Gavron notes. (Jerry Seinfeld was one, British actor Bob Hoskins another, American actress Sigourney Weaver another.) The freedom and worldliness of the volunteers put ideas in the kibbutzniks' heads. Yet the communal ways of the kibbutzim put ideas in the heads of many volunteers. "Many of them went back to Holland and Sweden," says Gavron, "and started communal housing projects."
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