Israeli families fleeing rat-race revive once-doomed kibbutzim

Tue Jun 2, 2015 6:16pm EDT
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By Maayan Lubell

DEGANIA ALEF, Israel (Reuters) - This year's harvest was especially merry at Degania Alef, Israel's first kibbutz, founded in 1910 on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The community celebrated the birth of 11 children, its largest crop of babies in a quarter century.

Twenty-five years ago kibbutzim, collective communities traditionally based on agriculture, seemed all but doomed.

The pioneering socialist and Zionist spirit that drove the movement in the 1950s, '60s and '70s ran head-on into the consumerist, free-market 1980s and came off worse.

The kibbutzim were hit hard by financial crisis that gripped Israel in the mid-1980s and youngsters abandoned the communal dream and headed to cities. Kibbutzim found themselves graying and failing.

But the last few years have seen a surprising turnaround, with young families seeking to escape the high cost of living and alienation they find in cities for a cheaper, rural lifestyle in a closely knit community.

In some cases the new "kibbutzniks" are those who left to try something different only to return later in life. Others include career city folk who want a complete change of lifestyle.

At the annual harvest festival in Degania, girls donned white dresses and danced with flower wreaths to their heads. Tractor-carts carried children and fresh crops past stacks of hay, and the new babies were presented on stage.

"Instead of old people's mobility scooters, you're suddenly seeing so many baby's pushchairs rolling along," said Bosmat Viner-Shwarzbard, 38, as she nursed her baby daughter.   Continued...

Children play on swings in Kibbutz Degania Alef on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, northern Israel May 23, 2015. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun