A personal journey back to the kibbutz of the author’s youth prompts an examination of the larger reasons for the Israeli disenchantment with the pioneering enterprise.
In 1988, suffering a broken heart and at odds about what to do with his life, Canadian journalist Leach (Journalism and Creative Nonfiction/Univ. of Victoria, BC; Fatal Tide: When the Race of a Lifetime Goes Wrong, 2008, etc.), who is not Jewish, ventured to Israel to work on a kibbutz to experience communal living and hard farm labor. He ended up at the Shamir kibbutz and stayed for eight months as a volunteer in a commune of 500 people, working for his room and board and laboring at various tasks in the kitchen and on the grounds. Upon his return to Israel 20 years later, now a middle-aged father with children, Leach found enormous changes—not only to Shamir, which had embraced privatization in the mid-2000s and listed its Optical Industry on NASDAQ, but the whole kibbutz (“gathering”) system, largely privatized out of economic necessity. Since the establishment of the first kibbutz in the early 1900s, the grass-roots experiment has been envisioned as a “collective paradise for an evolved human species,” a utopian vision of absolute equality derived from ideals by Leo Tolstoy and first implemented by Zionist philosopher Aaron David Gordon. Although Gordon believed that Jewish immigrants could live peaceably with their Arab neighbors, as Leach learned, many kibbutzim were built on land confiscated from the Arabs with the establishment of Israel in 1948. Moreover, from Shamir to other kibbutzim Leach visited across the country, the communes had moved from “hard socialism to soft capitalism” with the advent of the Likud Party in 1977. Leach’s report is both affectingly personal, delving into many intimate stories of visionaries, and a sound historical study.
An eye-opening look at an Eden of eco-villages gradually giving way to economic exigencies.