Sunday 13th May 8:00,
· Hashomer House, 37A Broadhurst Gardens, London NW6 3QT
· Contributions: £5.50, £4 concessions, £2 members
The kibbutz is arguably the most widely recognised and admired Israeli institution in the world. Many kibbutzim are affiliated to Meretz and sister bodies like Hashomer Hatzair. They also once contributed to the Israeli economy and military out of all proportion to their size.
Yet recent decades have seen the system come under severe strain: many kibbutzim shrank, some closed, younger members deserted, members were accused of elitism, even racism. So is the kibbutz heyday truly over? Or can the institution reinvent itself as it embraces dramatically new roles?
Tracing the fascinating ups and downs of kibbutz history, David Merron [see potted biography, below] will speak from personal experience about the past, present and future of the experiment that succeeded and then seemed to fail. In 1999 he published memoirs of his time on a kibbutz near Gaza: Collectively Yours – Tales from the Borderline. Since then he has lectured in many places on this topic, and he will also consider what the future may hold for the kibbutz of the 21st century.
The story of the kibbutz began some 102 years ago when a few immigrants from eastern Europe set up Degania Aleph by the Sea of Galilee. Since then hundreds arose and kibbutzniks soon formed a highly motivated and influential sector within Israeli society. Imbued with radical theories on socialist living, the earliest kibbutzim even sought to alter the conventional family structure.
Kibbutzim exemplified the old “pioneer spirit” and they became a nursery for successive generations of Israeli politicians. And British and other foreign visitors to Israel often get their first taste of the country by working on a kibbutz.
Ideological disputes within the contending kibbutz movements in the 1950s, however, caused immense damage. A banking and economic crisis of the mid-1980s threatened to snuff out the entire system. “New historians” revealed questionable actions by kibbutzim towards their Arab neighbours during the 1948 war, and many post-1948 olim of Sephardi and Mizrachi background accused the kibbutz of snobbishness and exclusivity. Existential trauma followed the decision by many kibbutzim to shed the socialist beliefs and practices of their founders.
Recently, however, the kibbutz has discovered new roles. Light industry long ago replaced agriculture on many of these collective villages; now numerous kibbutzim serve as eco-sites, tourism locations, hostels and educational colleges. Numbers of kibbutzim and kibbutzniks have declined over past decades. So can recent transformations save the kibbutz ethos in the new century?
David Merron was born in London and educated at Grammar School. Following National Service, he dropped medical school and went out to a young border kibbutz in Israel where he lived for some years, including periods as general secretary and farm manager. He remarried and returned to England, qualified professionally as a Construction Projects Manager and a member of the Chartered Institute.
He has been writing for many years, has self-published three books and had articles published in various magazines. He holds an MSc in Palaeoanthropology and is currently working on articles for journals in the field. He has three children and lives in North London.
David has published two books this year:
Borderline and Delta – A Greek Triangle