Finding Shared Values on Kibbutz
By Hannah Smith, Liberal Arts Summer Intern “Be at the bus at 6:45” said Karen, one of my Birthright staff members, before we arrived at our hotel from Tel Aviv Airport. A jetlagged chorus of groans echoed throughout our bus of college students from Clark University (my school) and other colleges around New England and across the United States. Despite my best and most deliberate efforts, I was unable to get more than an hour or two of semi-interrupted sleep on my first night in Israel. By the time my alarm went off to signal that it was time for me to get out of bed and shower, I had already been awake for three hours.
Alas, thirty-nine cranky, jetlagged, and exhausted college students piled into our bus at 6:45am and departed for Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan in the North. Most, if not all of us were completely unfamiliar with the Kibbutz movement, so anticipation for our morning on a farm was rather low. However, all pre-conceived notions of what our time on kibbutz was to be like flew out the window the second we stepped off the bus. Once we absorbed the atmosphere and man-made beauty of the kibbutz, I felt that I had truly arrived in Israel. We began our morning eating breakfast in the cafeteria with a colorful variety of food picked no more than two to three hours before. Never in my life have I eaten fresher or more delicious produce, or had better tasting cheese and cappuccino. Any predispositions I had had towards visiting the kibbutz had dissipated.
This particular kibbutz, Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan, was a traditional, but secular, dairy kibbutz founded in 1932, before the founding of the State of Israel. Its rich history included lookout towers throughout its grounds, each adorned with Israeli flags. Leadership of Ramat Yohanan shifts from year to year so there is never an imbalance of power. Additionally, all income goes toward the collective kibbutz account, whether or not someone works on or off the kibbutz. Our tour guide, Navee, taught us about the kibbutz’s founding principles. What stuck with me was how the motto it and other traditional kibbutizim live by, “Take as much as you need and give as much as you can.” He then went on to further describe what this truly meant and how his parents, who did not work on the kibbutz, gave their entire income to the kibbutz so that there were more collective resources for Ramat Yohanan’s members.
Navee walked us around the entire kibbutz where we met lots of little children who all wanted to practice their English with us and I cannot count how many dogs came up to me wanting to be pet. Since it was a dairy kibbutz, we were invited to pet all of the new born cows and even got to try freshly cured ice cream. Frequently, they hold weddings at this particular kibbutz and when we were there, one was to be held later that very day. Everyone who passed our tour guide said hello to him and to us, making us feel right at home. A value of Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan was magically consistent with a value upon which I was raised—it takes a village to raise a family. The entire morning I spent at Kibbutz Romat Yohanan I felt incredibly safe, supported, and happy and that can be attributed to the societal values of Israel which are reinforced on the kibbutz.
Although I absolutely fell in love with Kibbutz Ramat Yohanan, I did not realize the effect that it had on me until I saw the rest of the country. Ramat Yohanan showed me the very basic principle of “take as much as you need and give as much as you can” which was very fundamental to the kibbutz and proved to be a common theme throughout the entire state of Israel. It was amazing to see people living so simply but so happily, and experiencing socialism in its truest form. Kibbutzim were founded on pure socialist values and in homage to the giving nature of Kibbutzim, I feel it is my duty as an American Jew to give as much as I can possibly give of myself to the pro-Israel movement. It has been an absolute joy to come back from Israel and begin working with The David Project shortly afterward. Relationship building in Israel felt so effortless because of the way the society is structured, and after returning I have found a new passion for trying to relate to people I would have previously thought I’d have nothing in common with. Now, I am truly able to apply my personal narrative to the pro-Israel movement.