About 100 years ago, small pockets of Israel lay dormant and unused. The Galilee was a swampy marshland.The Judean Hills were rock-strewn. And the Negev’s desert landscape was largely inhospitable. To waves of Jewish immigrants from Russia,Eastern Europe, and beyond, these seemed the perfect places to start Utopian communities.
The Jews who came to Israel during the First and Second Aliyahs wanted to be farmers. But they detested the class structures they had seen elsewhere. Instead, they wanted to create a community of equals. Their vision for communal settlements would not come easily: Most of the colonists came without any farming experience, and they learned quickly enough that this was an unwelcoming region that was often the target of hostile nomadic Bedouins.
They had to stick together. Living collectively in a commune-type environment provided the perfect security. Everyone contributed equally—with sweat equity, skills, and financial resources—to ensure the success of the group. Remarkably, these pioneers also received financial support from around the world as the Jewish National Fund, which was founded in 1901, placed “Blue Boxes” in Jewish communities everywhere; proceeds from the boxes helped to purchase land that came to belong to the entire Jewish population.
Settlers reclaimed the marshes and hills and desert, converting much of it for human development. They planted trees, drained swamps, and converted the soil into productive farmland. To encourage continued donations into those Blue Boxes, word got around about a miraculous transformation in Israel: “The desert,” so the gossip went, “was blooming.”
And that’s not all that was blooming. In a society where all were equal and free from exploitation, immense gratification and pride also blossomed. Throughout the 20th century and into this century, the kibbutz movement has grown into a kind of farm co-operative where crops are harvested, chickens are raised, and cows are milked…much of it for shipment throughout Israel and beyond.
Into the 21st Century
Our Israel, Ancient & Modern Culture trip features a two-night stay at the Pastoral Kfar Blum Kibbutz, founded in 1943. Like those before it, this kibbutz sits on land that was once barren, waterlogged, and inaccessible. Its original settlers were from the Baltic, England, the U.S., and Canada.
To stay in tune with the 21st century, the 600-member community has recently privatized. Its farm spreads out over 1,225 acres, where 1,200 tons of fruit are harvested every year, including the famous red grapefruit beloved throughout Israel. Prize-winning cotton is also grown here, as are peaches and nectarines. Each year, the kibbutz ships 3.5 million liters of milk throughout the country.
Pastoral Kfar Blum also supports itself through Israel’s thriving travel industry. Its intimately styled hotel boasts everything from a restaurant and spa, convention hall and Olympic-sized swimming pool to a synagogue, schools, and a center for music and dance. One visit is all it takes to see the community spirit of the kibbutz is still very much alive here.