Return of 'kids' fuels kibbutz growth

Kibbutz movement's population up 5,000 over past five years.

kibbutz babies 224.88 (photo credit: )
kibbutz babies 224.88
(photo credit: )
The kibbutz movement's population has grown by almost 5,000 over the past five years thanks to new members who grew up on kibbutzim and are now returning home after living in cities for years. According to Aviv Leshem, the movement's spokesperson, many of the new residents are young families who want to take advantage of the unique privileges presented by the kibbutzim while still being able to work outside of the kibbutz and own cars, rights that have been afforded to kibbutz members now that many kibbutzim have privatized. "There are several things that are unique to the kibbutz," Leshem said. "It has its own education system, which is important to young families. Another advantage is the country atmosphere, an environment with a lot of green, without noise or cars. People want to slow down." Three-fifths of these new residents grew up on a kibbutz and moved away, only to come back with families. This return, according to Amikam Osem, central coordinator of kibbutz demographics, comes from the returnees' revived faith in the viability of kibbutz communities. "The children have seen that the kibbutzim have risen from an economic crisis," said Osem, a resident of Afikim. "Today, going to a kibbutz does not mean [taking] an economic risk. There's a desire in people over 30 with families to connect with communities. They see one where they come from, and they're going back." The rise in membership comes in the wake of new housing options offered by many kibbutzim in order to attract residents, including the ability for residents to build homes in kibbutzim using their own money. Osem added, however, that this increase in population does not mean that there will be an increase in kibbutz privatization. About 60 kibbutzim still maintain the movement's traditional socialist model. "The kibbutzim that still have economic partnership are successful and guarantee a good life and social security," he said. "There's no reason to start privatization. A kibbutz will only change its way of life for economic reasons." In addition to moving to the kibbutzim, many families are opting to become full members of the kibbutz as opposed to temporary residents. Leshem attributes this decision to a desire to have full rights within the community. "When you're a member like everyone else, that has meaning," Leshem said. "You can decide things and you can suggest things. If you're just a temporary resident, you're not a whole part of the community." From 1995 to 2003, the kibbutz movement had lost close to 15,000 members, and has not seen growth on this scale since the 1980's, when several kibbutzim were in heavy debt and faced an economic crisis. The kibbutzim convened a conference in 1989 to resolve the debt issue and, according to Leshem, they are paying off their debts and the movement is economically secure. "Several kibbutzim that privatized have improved their economic situation," he said. "There are no kibbutzim living beyond their means nowadays. People don't live just by ideology anymore. You need to act to secure the kibbutz. The new members understand that." The movement still faces a challenge however, in that most of the growth has occurred in the coastal and central regions, while kibbutzim in the Negev and Galilee continue to stagnate. The movement has formulated plans to attract families to those kibbutzim, and held a conference of kibbutz residents on Wednesday to discuss the issue. "We need to create a feeling that we still need to enlarge the periphery," said Osem. "Every kibbutz can actualize its potential. As long as there is still potential, there will be requests for membership."