Communal Living : Kibbutz Life Gets New Look

Associated Press

Dina Netzer helped build Kibbutz Huqoq 40 years ago on barren hills overlooking the Sea of Galilee. She has tried ever since to adhere to the socialistic ideals of its communal living.

But she says her generation’s offspring are putting the whole concept into jeopardy. And one of them is her own daughter.

“The whole social structure of the kibbutz has changed,” the 58-year-old Netzer said. “People worry less about the collective and more about the individual.”


“We have to take everything apart, not take anything for granted,” said her daughter, Ruti Braten, 31. Braten doesn’t believe that kibbutz ideology should be viewed as sacred.

Gap in Generations

It is a dispute increasingly common to kibbutz members across Israel as younger people rebel against the ideals of their parents.

The younger kibbutzniks often want more individual freedom and a more traditional family life, with children moving out of communal houses and into the homes of their parents.

At Huqoq, children now sleep in their parents’ apartments.

The first kibbutzim, as the communal farms are called, were established in the early 1900s by East European immigrants who rejected what they saw as stifling religious traditions and sought to forge “a new man” who worked with his hands and lived in a society founded on equality.

Collectively Run

The collectives owned all property and provided communal services--the rearing of children and the serving of meals. People washed clothes in a central laundry. Work assignments, including leadership positions, were rotated to ensure equality.

When Huqoq was built after World War II, 80 pioneers lived six to a room in a hilltop stone fortress.


“If you wanted to be alone, you couldn’t,” Netzer said. “But we were young and we knew it wouldn’t stay this way.”

Huqoq today is home to 180 adults and 120 children. It operates a mirror factory along with growing bananas and raising chickens.

Couples now live in two-room garden apartments with refrigerators and color television sets. The kibbutz has an outdoor swimming pool, and members can buy imported perfumes at the well-stocked general store and take vacations in Europe.

TV’s Influence

But the greater affluence and a growing influence of capitalist values reaching the kibbutz via television have led younger kibbutzniks to re-examine their basic beliefs.

At Huqoq, the debate centers on collective child-rearing. Under the usual system, children sleep, study and play in communal children’s houses and visit their parents for three hours in the afternoon. The arrangement frees adults for work and prepares children for life in the collective.

A few months ago, young parents at Huqoq demanded that their children sleep at home.

After heated discussions, the general assembly agreed but only on condition that apartments be enlarged first. For financially troubled Huqoq, that meant an indefinite delay.


So the “rebels” took their children home anyway.

Children Come Home

Braten was one of the first to insist that her two boys come home. The issue created a lot of tension.

“When we started talking about sleeping arrangements, I was hurt by Ruti,” Netzer said. “It was as if she was telling me the children’s house was a terrible thing.”

Braten, who is pregnant with her third child, said, “My mother was hurt because I made her feel that by wanting my children at home I was a better mother than she.”

She said she pushed for the change primarily because she wanted a more intensive family life.

But some kibbutzniks vehemently oppose the change.

Yehuda Ben Gigi, 43, said he came to Huqoq 25 years ago to live in a society based on mutual help. He added that because his young children now sleep at home, he and his wife, Yvonne, can no longer attend kibbutz meetings or visit friends at night.

‘City Living’

He said many families stay home to watch television and eat less often in the communal dining hall, the kibbutz’s central meeting place. “It’s like living in the city now.”


At Huqoq, each member still gets the equivalent in Israeli currency of $400 a year for clothing and other personal items, and the kibbutz has distributed color television sets and refrigerators according to seniority.

But many young families are unwilling to wait, so they buy their things with money from relatives in the city.

Netzer concedes that some of the changes on the kibbutz are good and have made her life easier. “But you cannot ignore the collective,” she said. “We need to find the right balance, and if we don’t, I think it’s dangerous.”