Putting the Individual Back at the Center

The kibbutz youth movement has started an adult branch - on the theory that some of its pioneering ideals can best be realized by adults.

Yair Raviv and Inbal Paran-Perah grew up in kibbutzim, Yair at Kibbutz Revivim and Paran at Beit Ha'emek near Nahariya. As youngsters, they were members of the youth movement Kvutzat Hebehira, which is what the kibbutz youth movement was called until it united with Mahanot Ha'olim about a decade ago. But having concluded that the youth movement's pioneering ideals could only be realized after the army, Mahanot Ha'olim established a movement for adults, part of a joint venture among the three socialist Zionist youth movements (Hano'ar Halomed Veha'oved, Hashomer Hatza'ir and Mahanot Ha'olim).

The means for realizing these ideals have remained what they were in the past - the establishment of kibbutzim. However, in contrast to the past, the new kibbutzim do not engage in agriculture or industry, but rather in education and social action.

"The idea is to continue the same spirit that characterized my father when he went to establish Revivim, shocking his yekke mother [yekke means a Jew of German extraction], who wanted him to teach at the university. But the method of fulfilling [our ideals] and the aims have been adapted to new needs," said Raviv.

Raviv and Paran are members of one of the movement's three kibbutzim - a strange kibbutz that consists of 100 members who are scattered in apartments throughout Upper Nazareth and Migdal Ha'emek (the other kibbutzim are located in Petah Tikva and the Jordan Valley). The kibbutz members earn their living at various jobs, most of them in the field of education. But as in a traditional kibbutz, the earnings go into a central treasury and decisions are made at a general meeting that convenes once every three weeks.

Raviv, who coordinates Mahanot Ha'olim's guidance and leadership department, stressed that the adult movement's primary goal is to operate the youth movement. "One of the bad things that has happened in the context of the general loss of values is that the youth movements have lost their value-based character and have become a center for after-school activities, like the community centers," he said. "Without deprecating the community centers, we don't think that the movement needs to supply enrichment classes and 'stimulate' the children. The youth movement's role is to instill an education in values and ideals."

Not 'putting out fires'

In the same spirit, Paran added: "Our aim is not 'putting out fires,' but rather a desire to change the face of society - to bring the value of the individual human being back to the center, rather than seeing him as just a consumer of the market economy. Therefore, the emphasis of our activities is to show young people the deep processes that are occurring in this country: the economic rat race, the alienation and the cheapening of the individual."

Many of the 300 members of Mahanot Ha'olim's adult movement are engaged in running the movement's 50 "camps" (branches) around the country. This is not easy, said Raviv, adding that "even though there is a lot of good feeling toward us in the city, joining a youth movement is not taken for granted nowadays. But all in all, the seeds that were sown in the past are still blooming and there are still many people who recognize the value of a youth movement."

As part of its ideological activity, the kibbutz in Migdal Ha'emek and Upper Nazareth has set up a "children's society," just like in a real kibbutz. "Ostensibly, this is like an ordinary after-school setting: We give extra lessons and play with the children. But our emphasis is on the social aspect, discussion and dialogue," said Raviv.

In addition, members of the movement conduct ideological seminars at schools throughout the country, at which they educate toward Zionism and the equal worth of each individual. Thus, for example, last Herzl Day, movement members taught approximately 1,000 lessons about Theodor Herzl all around the country. According to Paran, who coordinates the movement's seminar activities, "the aim, of course, is for youth to join the movement. But even if someone says to me after a seminar that we opened his eyes, that is a success as far as I am concerned."

Swimming against the current

The worst feeling, the two agree, is the Sisyphean effort, the swimming against the current. "I really want to cry when I read the newspaper in the morning," said Paran. "We aren't even succeeding in stopping the decline, never mind reversing it. But in our everyday work, there are many moments of satisfaction, and we are discovering that beneath the surface, even in the schools that are most obsessed with the matriculation exams, it is also possible to find interest in educating toward values."

Raviv's summation once again referred to his father's example: "In his generation, too, the pioneers were few, but they shaped the ethos of the entire society. Today the action is harder, because the prevailing ethos is an ethos of dismantling, of a society that is divesting itself of responsibility for its members' fate."