Givat Brenner Residents Fear Famed Kibbutz Will Turn Into a Just Another Suburb

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

A new neighborhood planned for Kibbutz Givat Brenner will turn the kibbutz into a suburb of Rehovot and strip it of its special historic character, charge a number of kibbutz members and architects who oppose the plan endorsed by the kibbutz management.

"We'll end up with a crowded suburb of Rehovot, with no character," warns Yuval Yaski, a descendant of kibbutz founders, who heads the Department of Architecture at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design.

"Entire expanses of shrubbery and old houses are going to be wiped out to make room for these new houses," says member Razi Regev, who has been living on the kibbutz since he was an infant. He points to a neighborhood that has already been built, its large houses protruding onto the kibbutz landscape.

Givat Brenner, founded in 1928, is one Israel's largest kibbutzim. When the economic crisis struck the kibbutz movement, Givat Brenner turned its land - centrally located, near Rehovot - into its main resource. Private businesses and community neighborhoods have been set up on its outskirts. Now kibbutz leaders are heading a drive to add hundreds of new members by granting them a plot of land where they can build a home.

Opponents of the plan say the kibbutz is selling its soul to real estate developers.

Among the structures slated for demolition are the kibbutz's pub, named after one of its pioneers. The pub, Gravitzky, has become the headquarters for those fighting the expansion. They talk of the imminent loss of historic values reflected in the architecture, ancient trees and public space. But they also object to the means of allocating the new plots of land to new "members."

The kibbutz decided to allow every veteran family to nominate one of its children as a membership candidate. However, the new member will have to finance the construction of his own house. This means many youngsters who have lived in the kibbutz from childhood will no longer be able to stay there, either because they don't have enough money to build a house or because one of their siblings has been nominated as a member.

"Some new members have hardly lived here one day, yet they became members," says Asaf Sarig, co-manager of the pub and one of the leaders of the opposition to the kibbutz management plan.

"People who have lived here their whole life are at a financial disadvantage next to those who come from outside after making some money," he says.

Sarig is a fourth-generation descendant of founders of the kibbutz. He was born on Givat Brenner and later moved to Tel Aviv, where he founded the rock band Eifo Hayeled, together with another kibbutz native, Hemi Rodner. Sarig returned to the kibbutz recently to live in a rented space. He is not eligible to be a member because he does not have the money to build a house.

He runs the pub with his cousin Razi Regev, who also isn't eligible to be a member, because his brother has been accepted as one.

Veteran member Pini Zak, 76, is also disturbed by the plan. "The kibbutz founders formed a society with a different morality. The second generation is more conformist. Today there is no room for anyone different in Givat Brenner," says Zak.

"When the only criterion for accepting members is their financial situation, you get a very monolithic community," adds Sara Regev, Sarig's mother. "One of Givat Brenner's charms was that everyone lived in the same houses and ate the same food, but there was abundant room for individualism."

The Gravitzky pub was named after Sarig and Regev's grandfather, one of the pioneers in the kibbutz. It has hosted hundreds of performances and patrons from the entire region. But it must be torn down to make way for the new neighborhood, along with several huts and trees from the kibbutz's early days. Most of the contents of the pub have already been removed.

"Instead of preserving the landscape they're ignoring it. It's painful," says architect Shmuel Groag, who specializes in kibbutz conservation and urban planning.

Kibbutz officials say the Israel Lands Administration refuses to rezone agricultural land for construction, forcing them to build the new houses inside the kibbutz.

The kibbutz management dismisses the charges of Regev and Sarig, accusing them of being "parasites." "Givat Brenner's members are not prepared to carry on their backs a small group of sons who will not take part in the work and contribute their share," Kibbutz Chairman Zviki Ramot wrote to Haaretz.

"Givat Brenner is acting vigorously to preserve its green areas and public spaces. The construction plans are supervised by a conservation architect...The kibbutz has been fighting to rezone land for construction without compromising on its character and appearance. We've suggested the members' children to move the pub elsewhere, but they refused."

Kibbutz Givat Brenner: Can it keep its character if city types move in?Credit: Emil Salman
At the cow-house of Givat Brenner: Residents are worried the kibbutz will lose its character.Credit: Emil Salman
Kibbutz Givat Brenner: The residents like it the way it is.Credit: Emil Salman
Unearthing a weapons cache from the pre-state era at Kibbutz Givat Brenner.Credit: David Bachar
Razi Regev, left, and Asaf Sarig in the kibbutz pub, Gravitzky. 'When the only criterion for accepting members is their financial situation, you get a very monolithic community.'Credit: Moti Milrod

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