City-raised Whippersnappers Get Taste of Kibbutz Summers

Grandchildren of kibbutz founders return to the countryside for a week.

Whenever it was time for summer vacation or the holiday recess, they would appear, their ears sporting a device from the bourgeois world on the other side of the fence - headphones from a popular portable music player. They would be pedaling to and fro on bicycles that they found along the way, naively thinking that they belonged to "everybody." At the pool, they would jump into the water haltingly, noses held.

These are the grandchildren of the founders of the kibbutz, whose sons and daughters had long left for the big city, or, even worse, left the country altogether. During vacations they would come for a visit with grandma and grandpa to allow their parents to rest and to let "the old folks" derive some pleasure from the offspring.

"The harbingers of vacation" was the sardonic nickname given by kibbutz members to the visiting grandchildren, the sons and daughters of parents who "betrayed the ideal."

Yonat Klein, who left her native Kibbutz Neve Ur years ago and relocated to the United States, was watching her three children, together with 30 other kids, hard at work cleaning their living quarters on the kibbutz. The children were joined by grandparents from the kibbutz, who staged the activity as part of their week-long "hosting of grandchildren" celebration.

As the pace of privatization has accelerated and the outside world has become less foreign, the visits by the children of "urbanites" have become far more frequent in the last 20 years.

Neve Ur grandchildren climbing a date tree
Gil Eliahu

The initiative conceived by a number of grandmothers and grandfathers at Neve Ur has evolved into an event for the entire family, which brings its children to the kibbutz for a series of fun-filled activities that range from yoga in the morning, to barbecues and bat-listening tours in the evening.

Ilana Rinot, a grandmother of 10 children who live off the kibbutz, is the brainchild behind "grandchildren week." The special attention with which she hosted her grandchildren every year led a number of her friends to consult with her in hopes of organizing an entire week that would include family-friendly activities beyond the usual routine of swimming pool to television to dining room.

The grandparents banded together for the task. After a number of meetings, each grandparent was assigned a specific role. One was responsible for preparing breakfast, another took on the job of readying dinner. Grandpa Zviki was in charge of the barbecue.

At Kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan, this year will mark its sixth "grandchildren week."

"The camp provides a good solution to parents who do not have any other options for their children since the camps offered in cities are mostly closed [in August]," said Nurit Katziri, the kibbutz member who began the initiative at Sha'ar Hagolan. "Beyond that, this is something that strengthens the bond between the grandchildren and the kibbutz, and it also offers that special dimension of allowing the children to experience something that their parents did."

At Neve Ur, the grandparents make sure to offer activities that are exclusively available on the kibbutz. "The program is comprised of activities that require limited means, but a lot of thought went into planning them," said Rinot. The plan includes camping out on the kibbutz lawn and sleeping in tents built the old-fashioned way - with ropes, stakes, and pegs.

"There are no purchased tents here," said Klein. "Everything is done through simple means, like it was before."

"This week gives a lot, not just to the grandchildren, but to us, the grandfathers and grandmothers," said Rinot.