Kinneret Kibbutz Celebrates Centennial and a History of 'Sacred Stubbornness'

Longtime residents of the small community celebrate 100 years of disagreeing about everything – except for the notion that they're the best at everything.

Ziva Laish, 79, the archivist of Kvutzat Kinneret, and Aharonchik Israeli, 92, who manages the kibbutz’s museum, agree on one thing – that they don’t agree on anything.

The archive is on the ground floor of “the house on the hill” – the first house built in the kibbutz, and the museum is on the floor above. They don’t agree on the awning in front of the building, on the sign on the wall, and especially not on the items chosen to relay the local history .

Israeli, who says he is “the oldest kibbutznik in the kibbutz movement,” arrived on his motor scooter to show us the museum, happy to give up his afternoon rest for people still interested in his community’s history. The kvutza (small kibbutz) marked its 100th year last week. A few hours before the centennial celebration started on Thursday, Israeli climbed the steps to the exhibit he had established, which glorifies the stubborn kvutza. “The kibbutz is done with. Because of the privatization, we’re not so much a kibbutz anymore,” he says, ready for a debate.

Amiram Idelman, 66, is a member of Kinneret and a tour guide specializing in the poet Rachel, the musician Naomi Shemer (both of Kinneret), and settlement in the Jordan Valley. “In the Kinneret DNA there are a number of very strong chromosomes, one of which is that it lives on the pride of the debate,” Idelman says. “If there’s nothing to argue about, we’ll find something.”

One of the famous arguments was whether to send a young woman by the name of Naomi Sapir (eventually Naomi Shemer) to study music. Only at the fourth community meeting did she get approval.

One of the most prominent debaters was Aharon Shidlovsky, one of the first members of the kibbutz, who lived a Spartan life and fought for his principles, according to the researcher Moti Zeira. For example, in the 1970s he said that if a tourist business opened on the banks of the Jordan River, he would launch a hunger strike and leave the kibbutz. “I didn’t come to live in Israel to sell soda. Wait until I die,” he asked the kibbutz secretariat at the time. The project was indeed frozen and was established a year after Shidlovsky passed away.

But Idelman says there’s one thing they don’t argue about at Kinneret, “that the people of Kinneret are the best at everything. We’ll argue over everything, but woe to anyone who says something bad about Kinneret.”

Another obstinate streak at Kinneret has to do with the land, says Idelman. “From the kvutza’s first day and to this day, we haven’t given up one furrow.”

Billie Ganor, the producer of the centennial festivities, joined Kinneret 15 years ago when she married a local. “It’s unbelievable; it’s seared into their consciousness that they are the best,” she says, adding that the children even sing a song about it.

Laish, the archivist, thinks the sense of superiority comes from the difficult land the founders settled on. Whereas the rest of the Jordan Valley kibbutzim settled in the valley, Kinneret is the only kibbutz west of the river that settled on the rocky slopes.

Their obstinacy was so well known that pioneering labor leader Berl Katznelson coined a phrase for it: “sacred stubbornness.”

But times have changed. “We are very far from the generations of the giants” who founded the kibbutz, says Yael Tzur, born on Kinneret and kibbutz secretary for eight years. “Those were people with vision but they didn’t write it on bumper stickers. They acted based on untiring, uncompromising commitment,” she says of the founders.

Some 1,500 former members and children of members who have left the kibbutz over the years came to the event on Thursday on the lawn in the center of the community. Festivities continued over the weekend, but Tzur concedes such events are rare. “Most evenings the center of the kibbutz and the area around the dining hall are dark,” she says. “The center of gravity has moved to the homes of the members; that’s the way it is in every kibbutz community.”

Unlike Idelman, Tzur is not convinced there is a Kinneret type, but concedes, “There’s something in that heroic story of the beginning that fulfilled a purpose over the years.”

Gil Eliahu