Kibbutzim: Then and Now

Kibbutzim are very different today than in the early 1900s when they were first established by Jewish settlers as collective agricultural settlements.


Gone are the days of the children's houses and the communal dining rooms providing free meals. In many cases, tourism or industry has taken over from agriculture as the main source of income. Others have sold off some of the land for building - more profitable than using it for agricultural purposes - and today it's quite usual for members to work outside the kibbutz.

The main reasons for this are the social and economic changes that have taken place in Israel over the years. In the 1980s, rising inflation and the change in government caused financial problems. At the same time, the younger generation were becoming disillusioned with the old ideology and dissatisfied with equal salaries no matter what work they did. Many moved out to the towns and those who stayed were forced to revolutionize their lifestyle.

Tourism has become a big industry, and you can find various tourist attractions and some excellent country lodgings on many of the kibbutzim.


Before the establishment of the state of Israel, many Eastern European Jews came to Palestine to escape antisemitism. Groups of Jewish pioneers formed small farming communities called kibbutzim. At that time, large areas of the Galilee were swampland, so before any crops could be grown there, the swamps had to be drained and trees planted to reclaim the land. To allow the maximum amount of time for the men - and women - to work in the fields, generally, the children slept in children's houses and only spent a few hours a day with their parents. Everything was done for the good of the community and each member shared his income and gifts equally.

Most of the kibbutzim were made up of secular Jews but they made their own traditions for celebrating the Jewish Holidays. Religious Jews formed their own movement and their first kibbutz, Ein Tzurim, was founded in 1946.

Photos from the 1950s from Hashomer Hatzair Archives, Yad Yaari.

The First Kibbutz

Degania Aleph, known as "the mother of the kibbutzim", celebrated it's 100th anniversary in 2010.

NOTE: Not to be confused with Degania Bet - a neighboring kibbutz which was founded some years later.

Degania Aleph was founded by twelve Jewish pioneers
from Russia. They settled in Umm Juni, south of the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret) on 28th October, 1910 on land purchased by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). They renamed it Degania from the word "deganim " (Hebrew for grains) because of the five varieties of grain which grew there.

In 1912, they moved to its present position near to where the Jordan River flows out of the Kinneret. The original site is now called "Pioneers Yard" and the building which was once the dining room has been turned into a museum which traces the story of the community from its early years until today.

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