How to Volunteer in Israel on a
Exchange Your Work for Room,
Board, and Companionship
By Bret Scaliter
|A very international group taking a
break from volunteer work at the kibbutz. Photo by Rachel
the Hebrew word for group or communal settlement, and
kibbutzim (the plural for kibbutz) are rural settlements
that immigrants to Israel began establishing just after
the turn of the century. Young Jewish pioneers, primarily
from Eastern Europe, came to make a new life for themselves
and to spread Zionism. By setting up the kibbutzim as
outposts, they also strengthened the security of the
Initially rustic farming communities,
today there are 270 kibbutzim with approximately 130,000
members. To their original agrarian base--raising grains,
fruits, vegetables, poultry, dairy and beef cattle--kibbutzim
have added various industries, from poultry-packing plants
Since hiring paid workers is contrary
to the kibbutz principle of self-reliance, many kibbutzim
host volunteers in exchange for work.
Who Volunteers in a Kibbutz?
A kibbutz volunteer is a guest of
the kibbutz. Marcelo, a volunteer from Denmark, compares
the experience to visiting friends in a remote location
for a few days and helping them to paint their house.
You wouldn’t expect a wage and your friends would
take care of all your basic needs. To be a volunteer,
you do not have to be Jewish. In fact, most volunteers
Ruth Ney, a member of Kibbutz Kfar
Hanasi, says, “Life as a volunteer is to find yourself
in an organized society where people have lived together
for a long time while many thousands of visitors have
come and gone. The success of your stay will be measured
by how well you fit in and pull your weight in your work.
As in any society, there are no real free lunches. On
the other hand, you get many of the same goodies that
the members enjoy.”
In addition to the “goodies,” one
of the benefits of becoming a volunteer in kibbutz is
that it offers you the opportunity to meet people from
all over the world and learn from them, as they learn
Volunteer According Abilities
Volunteer work varies from kibbutz
to kibbutz, depending upon the kibbutz’s needs.
Some jobs are physically demanding, such as banana harvesting
or cotton picking; others, like assembling irrigation
filters or washing dishes, can be tedious. But there
are fascinating and educational jobs too: helping to
birth calves, working with photographers, breaking horses,
or learning to drive a combine.
Some volunteers work six days a week
for six hours a day, but it is not unheard of to work
10 hours a day during the harvest, for example. The norm
is eight hours per day, six days a weeks with three extra
days off per month. You must be prepared, however, to
do whatever work is allotted to you. The kind of work
will depend upon the kibbutz, the season, your skill,
and the length of your stay.
The choice of kibbutz is usually
determined by the kibbutz office in Tel Aviv. However,
you may be able to request the area of the country where
you’d like to volunteer. If you are familiar with
a specific kibbutz, you may contact it directly.
Providing Your Needs
The kibbutz provides a room for you
and one or two roommates, bedding, and a dresser or closet.
Meals are taken communally in the dining room, which
is shared by members and volunteers.
In addition to room and board, the
kibbutz supplies work clothes, shoes, toiletries, and
laundry service. Your stipend is approximately $50-$100
per month, but check with each individua kibbutz for
the exact amount. When you wish to travel outside the
kibbutz, you’ll have bus fare and pocket money
The kibbutz allows volunteers to
use the recreational facilities enjoyed by its members.
Depending upon the kibbutz, these can include swimming
pool, tennis courts, movies, a clubhouse, and athletic
In addition, the kibbutz organizes
volunteer 1- to 3-day excursions to cities or archaeological
and historic sites. All guides, security, transportation,
accommodations, and food are provided by the kibbutz.
How to Become a Volunteer Member?
How do you become a volunteer? If
you’re in Israel, simply go to the Kibbutz
Program Center website for more information. You
may also try to contact the kibbutz directly, although
some kibbutzim prefer that you use the Kibbutz Program
Center. In the U.S. you may use the website or contact
via the Kibbutz Program Center, 424 W. 33rd Street, Suite
150, New York, NY 10001; phone (212) 462 2764 mail@KibbutzProgramCenter.org.
Official kibbutz representatives
(more background information and a list is available
through the Kibbutz
Movement) in almost every country will arrange a
volunteer stay for you after conducting an interview.
They will answer your questions, book your ticket, and
reserve a place for you on a kibbutz. In some cases,
the agency will provide free transportation from the
airport in Tel Aviv to the kibbutz; some will even send
a representative to visit you on the kibbutz to see how