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The centennial celebration of the establishment of Kibbutz Degania Alef, considered the "mother" of all kibbutzim and kvutzot (the precursor of the kibbutz commune), provides kibbutz movement members with an opportunity to stand tall and address the naysayers and eulogizers.

Smiles were aplenty Wednesday in the Hatzer Harishonim event hall in Degania Alef during ceremonies to mark 100 years since its founding. In stark contrast with Tel Aviv's centennial extravaganza, replete with fireworks and big concerts, the kibbutz movement staged a relatively modest celebration.

"We, who authored the history of Israel," said Ze'ev Shor, secretary of the Kibbutz Movement, "not with poetic speeches, but with our hands, our sweat, our tears, and our blood, raise our heads in pride, even if there are those in Israeli society who forgot, or who don't want to remember or remind others of who we are and what we did."

Among those in attendance was Yossi Vardi, who heads the Emek Hayarden Regional Council and whose grandparents helped found Degania Alef. "Could they have ever envisioned the dimensions of their enterprise?" he wondered.

President Shimon Peres, who was one of the founders of Kibbutz Alumot, felt right at home during the event and was greeted with vociferous applause. One after another, speakers reminisced about their experiences at Alumot, which lies atop the hill overlooking Degania Alef.

"When I ask myself 'Why do I miss it?' I remember why I should me miss it," Peres said to the assembled group of kibbutz veterans. "I miss savoring the experience of a day's work that I learned in Kibbutz Geva. I miss Alumot, from whence we beheld the astonishing beauty of Emek Hayarden. I miss the simplicity of the long walks, the wrinkled khaki clothing. I miss the flowerbeds of Kibbutz Ashdot, the bushels of bananas on Kibbutz Degania, the plywood of Kibbutz Afikim. I miss the dates of Kibbutz Kinneret. I miss the green fields of crops and orchards."

"I miss the dairy barn, the animal pens, and the chicken coops - from which various smells emanated," Peres continued. "I miss the wonderful hikes just before dawn and the grazing excursions to Wadi Fijas, where I fixed my eyes to the stars that were born with the new dawn. To this day a vibration courses through my body whenever I hear the name 'Degania' - whether it's Alef or Bet. The order does not matter."

"I ask myself why I miss it, just so I can figure out to whom I belong," the president said.

'Our young president'

The event also honored five kibbutz members celebrating their 100th birthdays. Hava Ashuri, who was born in 1910, had warm words for "our young president" and the movement which she has been a member of for 79 years.

Aside from honoring the movement's history, the event also featured six kibbutz members feted for outstanding contributions in the fields of education, defense, agriculture, science and sports: Yariv Ya'ari of Kibbutz Ma'abarot for founding the Givol Democratic School in Givat Olga; Kfir Cohen, a resident of Kibbutz Kremia, who is a battalion commander in the Kfir infantry brigades; Boaz Hanuchi of Kibbutz Beit Hashita, for his development of software that will help manage the kibbutz; Oded Rozenkier of Kibbutz Kfar Masaryk, for running a successful architectural firm; Inbal Pezaro of Kibbutz Jezreel for her achievements as a paralympic swimmer; and soccer player Dekel Keinan of Rosh Hanikra for making it to the Israel national team.

"For us, marking 100 years since the founding of the kibbutz movement is not just a celebration of a time that has passed us by," said Tali Gordon, a member of the Working and Studying Youth and a resident of Kibbutz Ravid in the Lower Galilee. "It is also a warning sign which states that, as time goes by, Israeli society is distancing itself from the vision of its founders and its pioneers."