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Volunteer as a Woman on a Kibbutz in Israel

Relax, But Be Careful 

Hitchhiking in Israel in between volunteer work at a Kibbutz
Hitchhiking in Israel when not volunteering at the kibbutz.

Volunteering on a kibbutz, a collective community, is one of the cheapest and most relaxing ways to immerse yourself in Israel. In return for about seven hours of work daily for six days a week, you get a room, three meals a day, pool access, interaction with an international community of volunteers, and a monthly stipend of about $70. 

Founded on socialist principles, the kibbutz is known for its emphasis on equality. But in everyday life, this isn’t always the case, as I learned as a volunteer on Kibbutz Yiftah in Israel’s Galilee.

While no one picks their work placement, women can assume that they will spend the majority of their time in the kitchen. Do not expect light labor there either. From seven in the morning until two in the afternoon, I mopped the floors, scrubbed the toilets, set and cleared thirty tables, and obeyed the calls for water from sweaty men who rose at five to work in the fields. In the kitchen, I learned to become immune to the cockroaches that hid beneath the tablecloths, discovered cats hiding in the dishwasher, and scrubbed vomit from the previous night off of toilet seats. While much of this was unappealing, I found the physical labor rather satisfying. Ever since my summer as a volunteer, I have never been more fit. 

Clearnup work at the kibbutz
Cleaning work at the kibbutz.

After work, while most of the volunteers napped or went to the pool, a German male friend and I often set out for the closest city, Kiryat Shemona. Because our kibbutz was located on a hill about a mile from the closest bus stop and we were low on funds, we often hitchhiked. This is common practice among kibbutzniks (people who live on a kibbutz), especially in areas of Israel that are far away from cities. Still, I would not recommend that women do this alone and would urge them to go with a male friend. My female friend, E. was always picked up when she hitchhiked alone, but was often sexually harassed and once even molested. Even if it takes a while longer to get a ride, it’s always worth it to hitchhike with a trusted male.

The pub had usually just opened by the time we returned to the kibbutz, but during the week, it was often most populated by dogs copulating on the dance floor. On Thursday nights, the beginning of the Israeli weekend (Israelis have Fridays and Saturdays off, but work on Sundays), the pub was filled with kibbutz volunteers from countries from all over the world, including South Africa, South Korea, Colombia, and Canada, as well as Israeli kibbutzniks, all swaying to the music of Bob Marley. A volunteer is responsible for bartending, and the gin and tonics served contain much more gin than tonic for little more than a dollar. Many of the volunteers tend to be well-traveled heavy drinkers.

Volunteers resting at a Kibbutz
A very international group taking a break from volunteer work at the kibbutz.

For the most part, the pub environment is one of camaraderie, but women still need to be vigilant not to go home with a visitor to the kibbutz. The kibbutz is a fairly small, tight-knit community where everyone knows everyone else’s business and talks about it incessantly. This actually benefits women because it safeguards them from potentially regrettable sexual relations with male kibbutz members. On the other hand, if you make one sober mistake, everyone on the kibbutz will judge you accordingly for the rest of your volunteering days.

For More Information

Accommodations: Kibbutzes throughout Israel.
Acceptance criteria: Ages 18-35.
Program dates: No specific start dates, but must commit to 2.5– 6 months.
Cost: US$645. (Includes registration fee, health insurance, and visa if you stay for over 3 months.)
Website: www.kibbutzprogramcenter.org.

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