The residents of kibbutz Kerem Shalom in the Eshkol region, on the border of the Gaza Strip, are looking for a unique way to save the kibbutz and attract new residents. The new campaign is called "Zionism 2011" and makes the appeal for people to come live in Kerem Shalom precisely because of its proximity to the border.
Kibbutz Kerem Shalom is remembered mostly as being close to the place where soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted and for the mortar shells that have been fired at it in recent years. On the kibbutz, adjacent to the border fence, lives a small community with a communal-secular way of life, which marks holidays and holds culture evenings together and observes total mutual responsibility - in education, culture, health and its economy. The kibbutz members support themselves through agriculture and high-tech and some of them work in the free professions.
The kibbutz has had difficulty in increasing its membership in recent years and today it numbers 35 members and candidates (families and individuals ) and about 30 children. There is also a group of eight members of a youth movement settlement nucleus at the kibbutz on a year of service before entering the army. Since Operation Cast Lead, eight families have joined the kibbutz.
"At Kerem Shalom there is a crystallized, warm and embracing community. The members have great openness to new people and a warmth that is hard to put into words. Despite the proximity to the border and the distance from the center of the country, the experience that has accumulated enables the members to conduct a vibrant social life in a friendly and supportive environment, and this is the great advantage of the kibbutz," says Ilan Regev, the community manager at the kibbutz.
Kerem Shalom is currently investing NIS 100,000 in a campaign to absorb new residents. They are inviting families that are not deterred by living near the border and want to be partners in a secular, Zionist and values-based community. Among the benefits offered to new members who join: an apartment of up to 100 square meters and complete funding of academic studies for young people.
About 25 families and single people have expressed interest but the inhabitants of the kibbutz fear that if new members do not join soon, it will be in danger of falling apart. "The kibbutz, which was founded in 1967, fell apart in 1995, after members left, but in 2001, it was reestablished," recapitulates Regev.
He says that since the disengagement plan, the kibbutz has been subjected to Qassams and security incidents, including the abduction of Gilad Shalit. That incident was traumatic for all the members. "There are also internal and external problems: The internal problem is that as in every small society, it is not stable and every problem of an individual is significant. A large society can absorb more. The external problem is that the state is demanding of us, the kibbutzim, to populate within a given amount of time at least 40 percent of the residential slots of the 100 that have been allocated. We need to get to 80 members and candidates within a short time. If we don't reach the required number, the state will take away some of our means of production - land, water and the like."
Regev notes that Shalit's abduction is still identified with the kibbutz. "There is a part of the population that is being kept away from the kibbutz by Shalit's abduction, and they say a tunnel like that could also surface from under the kibbutz dining hall, but those who do come don't think about this."
The campaign, adds Regev, can bring new inhabitants to the kibbutz. "In fact, the place is unique in the country in an area that in effect determines the borders of the state, the way it was at the start of Zionism, with an attempt to shape a just and egalitarian society." Regev notes: "In campaigns of the 'come to the kibbutz' sort they always stress what we give to the inhabitants of the kibbutz and the show window has always been what, in fact, people gain in terms of the economic advantages of the kibbutz. This time we decided to stress the subject of the proximity to the border, for example, and the fact that the kibbutz is collective, secular and Zionist. We decided to focus on that, and perhaps in that way to attract people for whom these characteristics are important and challenging."
Amit Caspi, a member of the kibbutz, says that since the abduction everyone knows where Kerem Shalom is located, and this is a point they are taking into account. "We aren't hiding anything and we are telling the truth, because most of the time our life is quiet and calm. We are inviting people to see for themselves."
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