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The Book of the Week is “We Were the Future, A Memoir of the Kibbutz” by Yael Neeman, published in 2016. Readers might argue that the author and her cohorts were raised in a cult– brainwashed from birth. The kibbutz movement strove for 100% socialism– the economic system in which all the people (not the State) collectively owned everything; and collectively governed themselves.
In 1947, the total population of kibbutzim as a proportion of Israel’s (Jewish) population reached a high of 7%. It waned after Israel achieved sovereignty in 1948. The first half of the 1950’s saw global historical events (the trials of: Prague , the Doctors in the U.S.S.R. and the Rosenbergs in the U.S. [both 1953]) that were jarring to Jews. The kibbutz movement split over ideological disagreements, especially after Stalin died in 1953 and his crimes were revealed in 1956. Adults around the the author held zero discussions about this recent history.
Neeman was born in 1960 in Kibbutz Yehiam (founded in 1946) in Western Galilee near the border with Lebanon. Her kibbutz was a branch of Hashomer Hatzair (meaning “Young Guard”), the movement’s umbrella organization that began in 1913. Their motto was, “For Zionism, Socialism and Brotherhood Amongst Nations.” Her children’s group consisted of eight boys and eight girls, who did everything together, every day. She was raised among them by women who collectively took care of the kibbutz’s children grouped by age; she visited with her biological parents, but didn’t live with them in the same building.
The lifestyle encompassed a number of major ideas:
- “Family and education in the rest of the industrial world were considered bourgeois institutions.”
- “Everyone knew after all, that work [on the kibbutz] was more important than school, more important than anything.”
- Egalitarianism for all the people was key– all decisions were made by committee.
- There was a hierarchical division of labor– upper and lower. The former consisted of high-level positions in the fields and factories; held by the founders of the kibbutz, the (mostly Hungarian) First of May group. The latter consisted of low-skilled, dead-end jobs such as peeling potatoes.
- The kibbutz undertook a number of enterprises through the years, including a banana “plantation” which was the most “profitable.” [these words with nuanced meanings were translated from Hebrew, but even so, these were capitalist endeavors.]
Kids whose behavior was troublesome were exiled from the kibbutz, and sent to a “special institution.” At twelve years old, all the conforming kids began to attend what amounted to boarding school, located off the kibbutz campus. They had previously received an eclectic education of hands-on instruction on a myriad of topics. Beginning in adolescence, they were allowed to shape their own education, or lack thereof.
Currently, analogous experiments are underway in American education in which adolescents are placed in front of computer screens with no teachers. Educrats and profiteers expect the software to teach them. At that age, most kids have neither the judgment nor the discipline to acquire the knowledge and skills required for becoming mature, responsible adults who can financially support themselves.
Kibbutzniks were afforded too much freedom and not enough guidance and supervision within their tiny, limited community in their early childhood. So they had a rude awakening when they were permitted (on rare occasions) to see how other kids in the rest of the world lived.
One other interesting factoid: Neeman wrote, “In our biological home, we [she and her three siblings] were already allowed to smoke on Purim when we were in the first grade.”
Read the book to learn about a boatload of other ways Neeman’s upbringing was extremely unconventional due to her fledgling homeland’s exceptionalism.