Kibbutz Volunteers Following in Their Parents' Footsteps

New generation of volunteers realizes dream deriving from childhood stories of parents' experiences.

It may no longer be the egalitarian, modest and naive traditional kibbutz of the 1960s and 70s that their parents knew, but in any case the generation of the future still wants a small taste of kibbutz life.

Shirley Lehrer came to Kibbutz Sha'ar Hagolan 33 years ago from Philadelphia as a volunteer. The 19-year-old spent a year and a half in Israel and even found herself a husband here. Her stay in Israel now seems a distant memory, but it turns out that her daughter, Rena Sharon, is continuing in her footsteps in the fish ponds of Kibbutz Hazorea - or as she describes it - fulfilling the kibbutz experience.

Sharon has been volunteering at Hazorea for the past two months. She says she followed her mother's story, but as opposed to her mother whose kibbutz experience was her first visit to Israel, she has been here several times to visit family. But this time is different - she is also experiencing something of what her mother did when she was young.

Other volunteers have been arriving recently, emulating their parents from 20 and 30 years ago.

When Lehrer was on kibbutz in the Jordan Valley, she was adopted by a family from the kibbutz, Betty and Levy Leshem. "Shirley spent quite a long time on our kibbutz," recalls Betty, adding, "a number of volunteers passed through the family over the years. We hosted them in our modest home, we ate together, talked and they played with our children. The young State of Israel excited them: the kibbutz ideal, the large community, modest living, togetherness and cooperation and agricultural work," she explained.

"We kept up the connection with Shirley to our great pleasure. She has friends here from the time she was a volunteer," she added.

Sharon says she heard the stories about her mother's kibbutz experiences as a child. She said she already decided six years ago to come and volunteer, as soon as she could take a break from her studies. Sha'ar Hagolan no longer takes in volunteers, but her experiences on Hazorea have been amazing, she says, saying she has fulfilled her dream.

Most of the 22 volunteers at Hazorea, from a number of countries, are Jewish. Sharon says they are having a very good time on the kibbutz, both because of the work and the togetherness. She says there are political disagreements among the volunteers, and another important reason for the volunteer program is to show other, prettier sides of Israel.

Sharon is not the only one following in her parent's footsteps. Avi, Anika, Liam, Lotte, Nikita and others are among the young people who have come following their dreams, after hearing their parents' stories of Israel and kibbutz.

The Kibbutz Movement said that only 35 kibbutzim still participate in the foreign volunteers project. About 350,000 people have volunteered on kibbutzim over the program's 40 years. "Now it is summer and vacation time in many countries, and there is a huge demand to come to Israel as volunteers and a waiting list weeks long," says Rina Keren, the director of the overseas volunteer program in the Kibbutz Movement.