Kibbutz Ma'ayan Zvi Riven by Row Over Renta Payments

Yesterday morning, a red-eyed women in her 40s cried as she left the little shack that houses the treasurer's office at Kibbutz Ma'ayan Zvi, on the coast west of Zichron Yaakov. A member of the kibbutz, she had gone to protest the kibbutz's decision to require payment of NIS 600 from her mother, who has been a member of the kibbutz for 51 years. Payment for the bill has already been withheld from the elderly woman's account, to cover medical treatment and medicines she received from the kibbutz

Yesterday morning, a red-eyed women in her 40s cried as she left the little shack that houses the treasurer's office at Kibbutz Ma'ayan Zvi, on the coast west of Zichron Yaakov. A member of the kibbutz, she had gone to protest the kibbutz's decision to require payment of NIS 600 from her mother, who has been a member of the kibbutz for 51 years. Payment for the bill has already been withheld from the elderly woman's account, to cover medical treatment and medicines she received from the kibbutz infirmary that are not included in the standard basket of medical services. The elderly woman was not given an itemized list of the deductions.

A week ago, Benjamin and Ruth Margalit received a similar bill. Benjamin, a 78-year-old man with heart disease, was told to pay the kibbutz NIS 360 for transportation to the Hadera Hospital where he undergoes medical supervision. "I've been a member of the kibbutz for 61 years," he says. "My whole life has been invested here. I never thought I'd reach such a shameful situation."

The bill sent to the Margalit family and to other elderly Ma'ayan Zvi members, is part of a series of sanctions the kibbutz decided to impose on members who receive monthly reparations monies from Germany, known as the renta, and who refuse to hand it over to the kibbutz coffers.

Ma'ayan Zvi has 290 members, and about 100 of them receive reparations from Germany. Paradoxically, actual concentration camp survivors - of whom three remain alive in the kibbutz - get less money than those who escaped Germany in the 1930s and managed to prove they had been trained in a profession.

The Margalit couple are not the only members who stopped transfering their renta to the kibbutz treasury. But Yossi Zivan, the kibbutz secretary, says that three quarters of the 100 renta receivers continue to give their reparations payments to the kibbutz. Only 20 have stopped the practice, keeping the money for themselves. In addition to the renta, in the past, during the 1950s and 1960s, members handed over the one-time payments made by Germany as compensation. When these sums, sometimes in the tens of thousands of marks, were handed over to the kibbutz, the kibbutz promised to return the money to the members when they reached old age, so the money could be passed on as an inheritance to their children.

In 1999, after years of arguments, the kibbutz general assembly decided to impose sanctions on those who don't hand over the renta. The renta would be deducted from the one-time payment, made in the `50s and `60s, and the pensioner's payments would be canceled for those who refused to hand over the renta. More recently, the kibbutz decided to halt payments for medical services outside the basket, for those who insisted on taking the renta.

Ma'ayan Zvi was known as a rich kibbutz, in large part because of the renta. It was one of the first kibbutzim to build a swimming pool, in the 1950s. Three of the kibbutz factories, which manufacture optical devices, parts for high-tech companies and parts for sophisticated weapons - were capital investments made from German compensation money.

The kibbutz became dependent on the cash flow from the renta - some NIS 2-3 million a year that looked like it was a separate profit center of its own in the kibbutz economy. The kibbutz, now facing economic difficulties, can't forgo that important source of revenue.

The decision for the sanctions is backed by the general assembly of members, but the main victims of the decision say they are suffering from discrimination. They say it's easy for the kibbutz to get its hands on the compensation money, but the kibbutz has never done anything about members who inherit apartments or pensions from jobs they had off the kibbutz.

Benjamin Margalit grew up in Austria. At 16, he left Vienna on his own. Two years ago he found out that his parents, who he had not seen since then, were shot to dead by the SS in Minsk. His wife, Ruti, was born in a little village in northern Germany to a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, who converted. On Kristallnacht, her father and two brothers disappeared into a work camp and she and her mother were sent to live in a shack on a roof. Later, in 1945, the Nazis reconverted her mother to Christianity and took the woman away. The girl ended up in Theresiendstaat, where she was permanently disabled in one eye and reunited with one of her brothers. In 1949, she landed in Israel. She met Benjamin and they married in 1950 in the kibbutz. She worked 40 years in the kitchen. He was a field worker and a kitchen worker. They have three children and 15 grandchildren.

For many years they passed their compensation money to the kibbutz, like all the other survivors of the Nazis. But in 1991, they learned one of their grandchildren was suffering from a chronic medical problem and the couple decided to help finance the treatment. They asked for the renta payments to stop going to the kibbutz. "I decided to help the children buying clothes, with medical help and the other things a grandmother does," says Ruti. "I look around and see others going overseas, with private cars, and I, who never went to school, who survived a concentration camp and only wanted to help my grandchildren, was looted."