After Years of Decline, People Once Again Flocking to Join Kibbutzim

Survey finds that 86 percent of Israel's kibbutzim are involved in the absorption of new members under various initiatives and programs.

Following the socioeconomic slump that did considerable damage to the kibbutzim in the 1990s, many of them are trying hard now to revive themselves and thrive, and their efforts can be seen in the recruitment of new members.

Data compiled by Prof. Gila Adar, in a survey done under the auspices of Haifa University's Institute for the Research of the Kibbutz, shows that 86 percent of the country's kibbutzim are involved in the absorption of new members under various initiatives and programs.

Sde Eliyahu dining room Nir Kafri
Nir Kafri

A breakdown of the survey data shows that 45 percent of the kibbutzim absorb new members directly into their communal frameworks, whereas 36 percent recruit new residents who live in adjacent neighborhoods. The survey shows that the rise in the recruitment of new members stands in contrast to a reduction in the construction of private neighborhoods alongside the kibbutzim.

The trend of direct recruitment of new kibbutz members is reflected in another statistic: Fifty-eight percent of the kibbutzim allot portions of their land to house young adults who were born and raised on the kibbutz, as well as new members. The survey also shows that over the last three years, on average, any given kibbutz absorbed 26 adults; all told, 3,000 new members joined kibbutzim in this period.

Officials from the Kibbutz Movement were pleased by the survey findings. They believe the data reflect "a mini-demographic revolution on kibbutzim in recent years." The officials add that "from a nadir of 115,300 kibbutz members in 2005, the situation has turned around, and last year there were 126,700 members."

Kibbutzim that have seen the most growth in that period include: Afikim, Givat Haim Ihud, Barkai, Lehavot Haviva, Revadim, Mishmar Haemek, Maagan Michael, Nahal Oz and Mayan Zvi.

Professor Adar says that "the economic crisis in the communal settlement movement, which characterized the 1990s, had social and demographic implications.... Many middle-aged managers left their kibbutzim; as a result of such departures, the total kibbutz population dropped; small kibbutzim became tiny villages, and the number of persons on what had been considered large, stable kibbutzim fell, and the average age of kibbutz members rose.

Adar stresses that "most kibbutzim want to bring back young adults who grew up on them and left; they prefer their own grown-up sons and daughters to other candidates. Kibbutzim have set up programs to attract those who once belonged. Some have appointed one individual or a team to work on recruiting these young adults, and other kibbutzim provide their grown-up children incentives via discounts on preexisting houses or empty lots within the kibbutz.