An unknown kibbutz in the early 1900s (top), and Kibbutz Ortal in 2017.

An unknown kibbutz in the early 1900s (top), and Kibbutz Ortal in 2017.


small collective farms, 1909-present

Ki-betz” is a Hebrew root word meaning “to gather or collect as a group”. The kibbutz was a collective farming community representing the practical expression of the revolutionary socialist ideology that Eastern European Jewish immigrants were bringing into Palestine in the early 1900s. There was searing heat, backbreaking work, little infrastructure or machinery to help with the labor, swamps and disease, and a rigid ideological structure. To be on a kibbutz wasn’t just to sign up for a life of labor, it was to sign up for an entire way of life.

Labor Zionism joined the ideals of socialism with an emphasis on physical labor, most often agriculture, as the way to develop a new kind of Jew: strong, industrious, deeply connected to the land. The kibbutz became the manifestation of this ideology and profoundly influenced pre-state and Israeli life, playing a hugely significant role in statebuilding and immigrant absorption. Members lived communally, often turning over their income to the kibbutz and sending their children to live in the kibbutz’s “Children’s House” from an early age.

The first kibbutz was named Degania, meaning “Cornflower”, and was established on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in 1909 by ten men and two women. The kibbutz movement had its heyday in the 1940s and 50s, and then went through a period of economic and demographic decline. Today there are over 250 kibbutzim in Israel, partaking in a various industries, from agriculture to tourism to hi-tech.