Kibbutz in Israel's South Is Thriving Despite Rocket Fire

Recruitment drive for Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, which lies on the Gaza border and adjacent to Egypt frontier, yields new members and candidates.

Kibbutz Kerem Shalom, which lies on the Gaza border and adjacent to the Egyptian frontier, was having much difficulty recruiting members because of the problematic security situation; but then the leaders of the tiny cooperative community decided to change their approach and appeal to potential candidates' idealism. The campaign has worked. From 15 members two years ago, the kibbutz now has 22 members and 16 candidates for membership.

Uzi Manor, a resident of Be'er Yaakov, south of Tel Aviv, and a candidate for membership, arranged to spend this past weekend at the kibbutz. "When they invited me for Shabbat along with my family, to see if I was really a suitable candidate, I went with pleasure, but I will never forget this Shabbat, most of which I spent in a shelter," Manor said. "Every five minutes there were sirens and we heard explosions. It was absolutely terrifying."

Kerem Shalom
Guy Raivitz

Rather than deterring Manor from settling at Kerem Shalom, however, the rockets motivated him to want to stay.

Before Kerem Shalom changed its recruitment approach, it even encountered resistance from some people who recalled that recently freed Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted in 2006 by captors who dug a tunnel under the Gaza border near the kibbutz. Some wary of the prospect of living on the kibbutz even suggested that if Shalit, who was released last year, could be abducted in this way, a tunnel could be dug leading to the kibbutz dining room.

Despite the problematic security situation, however, the Eshkol Regional Council, which straddles the Gaza Strip down to the Egyptian border and includes Kerem Shalom, has grown in population over the past two years, and welcomed 70 new residents, notably to moshavim in the area.

Most of the newcomers to Kerem Shalom itself are professionals. One is in the defense field and found a job quickly. Two are wall mural artists. The widespread explanation of the newcomers as to why they decided to come to the kibbutz was the sense of community it provides that they could not find in the city.

The kibbutz was actually abandoned in 1996 and only reestablished in 2001. "Now the kibbutz is in excellent financial shape," said kibbutz coordinator Ilan Regev.

"There is great economic potential here," he added, noting confidently that plans call for Kerem Shalom to grow to 50 members next year, 80 members in 2015 and 150 members in 2025.