Ein Gedi Gets a New Lease on Life

For newcomers to be admitted to the kibbutz, two-thirds of all the existing members had to vote in favor.

It's been years since Kibbutz Ein Gedi has known such excitement, residents said, proudly proclaiming the day "a holiday for the kibbutz." The cause of the excitement? Thirty-seven new members were joining it.

All but three of the kibbutz's 176 existing members took part in the secret ballot on whether to accept the newcomers; the three who didn't come were abroad, said kibbutz secretary Ruti Yovel. For the newcomers to be admitted, two-thirds of all the existing members had to vote in favor.

Kibbutz Ein Gedi - Eliyahu Hershkovitz - 26092011
Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Fifteen years ago, Kibbutz Ein Gedi was in the throes of a deep social and economic crisis. Its debts had ballooned to NIS 100 million, members were fleeing, and nobody new wanted to join because of the uncertainty over its future.

Moreover, the kibbutz didn't want new members. "We froze absorption because people didn't want to share with others," Yovel said. "This was a big mistake."

"If the kibbutz hadn't accepted new members, we'd be in a very difficult situation," agreed Ilem Raz, the kibbutz official in charge of demographic growth.

Until Sunday, for instance, the average age of the kibbutz's members was almost 62. With the new members, it has dropped to 52.

"We have a black hole: We have no children on the kibbutz," Yovel said. "The people running the kibbutz are elderly. I'm 68, the business manager is 65 and our treasurer, whom we call young, is only 60. We want high-quality young people who will contribute to the kibbutz."

From sub commander to kibbutznik

Shohrat Sedikov walked around on Sunday with a big smile on his face: On Monday, he would finally become a member of the kibbutz where he has lived for the last seven years.

"I was the deputy commander of a submarine in the Russian army, but life there was very difficult," he said. "Here, everyone is like family. I wanted very much to be a member of the kibbutz, because I want to contribute my share to the kibbutz that absorbed me [when I immigrated] to the country and gave me so much. I want to give back to them, and build my house in this place."

Eldad and Moriah Levi-Hevroni came to the kibbutz two years ago from London. "We thought about where we'd go in Israel," the couple said, speaking in turn. "We debated between Zichron Yaakov [in the north] and kibbutzim in the center of the country, but in the end, we chose Ein Gedi," which is located in the south.

"We chose the kibbutz because of the peace and quiet and the quality of life, and also to live near our parents," they added. "The kibbutz has many advantages, but it has one disadvantage - employment. Still, this is the best place to raise children."