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Volunteer in Israel on a Kibbutz

Exchange Your Work for Room, Board, and Companionship

By Bret Scaliter

Kibbutz is the Hebrew word for 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 Jewish community.

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 to tourism.

Since hiring paid workers is contrary to the kibbutz principle of self-reliance, many kibbutzim host volunteers in exchange for work.

Who Volunteers?

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 are not.

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 from you.

From Each According to His Ability

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.

To Each According to His 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. When you wish to travel outside the kibbutz, you’ll have bus fare and pocket money as well.

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 fields.

In addition, the kibbutz organizes volunteer one- to three-day excursions to cities or archaeological and historic sites. All guides, security, transportation, accommodations, and food are provided by the kibbutz.

How to Enlist

How do you become a volunteer? If you’re in Israel, simply go to the Kibbutz Program Center at 18 Frishman St., Tel Aviv; 011-972-3-5278874 or 011-972-3-5246156, fax 011-972-3-5239966; kpcvol@inter.net.il. You may also try to contact the kibbutz directly, although some kibbutzim prefer that you use the Kibbutz Program Center, www.kibbutzprogramcenter.org.

In the U.S. contact: Kibbutz Program Center, www.kibbutzprogramcenter.org; kibbutzdsk@aol.com.

Official kibbutz representatives (a list is available through the Kibbutz Movement or on the Internet at www.kibbutz.org.il 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 you’re doing.