Kibbutz: Communal life
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The principle of equality was taken extremely seriously up until the 1970s. Kibbutzniks did not individually own animals, tools, or even clothing. Gifts and income received from outside were turned over to the common treasury. If one kibbutz member received a gift in services—like a visit to a relative who was a dentist or a trip abroad paid for by a parent—there were arguments at evening meetings about the propriety of accepting such a gift.
The arrival of children at a new kibbutz posed certain problems. If kibbutzniks owned everything in common, then who was in charge of the children? This question was answered by regarding the children as belonging to all, even to the point of kibbutz mothers breastfeeding babies which were not their own. For most kibbutzim, the arrival of children was a sobering experience. "When we saw our first children in the playpen, hitting one another, or grabbing toys just for themselves, we were overcome with anxiety. What did it mean that even an education in communal life couldn't uproot these egotistical tendencies? The utopia of our initial social conception was slowly, slowly destroyed." (Segev, 254) Overall though, kibbutzim always had a very low birthrate.
In the 1920s kibbutzim began a practice of raising children communally away from their parents in special communities called "Children's Societies" (Mossad Hinuchi). The theory was that trained nurses and teachers would be better care-providers than amateur parents. Children and parents would have better relationships due to the Children's Societies, since parents would not have to be disciplinarians, and there would be no Oedipus Complex. Also, it was hoped that raising children away from parents would liberate mothers from their "biological tragedy." Instead of spending hours a day raising children, women could thus be free to work or enjoy leisure.
There is much to be said about the role of women on kibbutzim. In the early days there were always more men than women on kibbutzim, so naturally kibbutzim tended to be male-dominated places. Memoirs of early kibbutz life tend to show female kibbutzniks as desperate to perform the same kinds of roles as kibbutz men, from digging up rocks to planting trees. At Degania at least, it seems that the men wanted the women to continue to perform traditional female roles, such as cooking, sewing, and cleaning.
Eventually the men of the kibbutz gave in and allowed, even expected, women to perform the same roles as men, including guard duty. The desire to liberate women from traditional maternal duties was another ideological underpinning of the Children's Society system. Interestingly, women born on kibbutzim were much less reluctant to perform traditional female roles. It was the generation of women born on kibbutzim who eventually ended the Societies of Children. Also, although there was a "masculinization of women," there was no corresponding feminization of men. Women may have worked the fields, but men did not work childcare.
Social lives were held in common as well, not only property. As an example, most kibbutz dining halls exclusively had benches. It was not an issue of cost or convenience, but benches were considered to be another way of expressing communal values. At some kibbutzim husbands and wives were discouraged from sitting together, as marriage was a kind of exclusivity. In The Kibbutz Community and Nation Building, Paula Rayman reports that Kibbutz Har refused to buy teakettles for its members in the 1950s. It was not that the teakettles were expensive, it was that couples having their own teakettles would have meant that people would spend more time in apartments, rather than in the communal dining hall.
The communal life was naturally hard for some people. Every kibbutz saw new members quit after a few years. Since kibbutzniks had no individual bank accounts, any purchase that could not be made at the kibbutz canteen had to be approved by a committee, a potentially humiliating experience. Kibbutzim also had their share of members who were not hard workers, or who abused common property; there would always be resentment against these "parasites."
Children's Societies were one of the features of kibbutz life that most interested outsiders. In the heyday of Children's Societies, parents would only spend two hours a day, typically in the afternoon, with their children. In Kibbutz Artzi parents were explicitly forbidden to put their children to bed at night. As children got older, parents would sometimes go for days on end without seeing their offspring, except from chance encounters on the grounds of the kibbutz.
Some children who went through Children's Societies said they loved the experience, others are ambivalent, but a vocal group says that growing up without one's parents was very difficult. Years later, a kibbutz member described her childhood in a Children's Society:
- Allowed to suckle every four hours, left to cry and develop our lungs, we grew up without the basic security needed for survival. Sitting on the potty at regular intervals next to other children doing the same, we were educated to be the same; but we were, for all that, different…. At night the grownups leave and turn off all the lights. You know you will wet the bed because it is too frightening to go to the lavatory. (Gavron, 168)
Kibbutz and child rearing
Despite reports by individual journalists or reporters, there is a large body of empirical research dealing with child rearing in kibbutzim. Such research has been criticial of the way children are raised in a Kibbutz.
In a 1977 study, Fox compared the separation effects experienced by kibbutz children when removed from their mother, compared with removal from their metapelet (The care giver in an Israeli Kibbutzim is called as metapelet). He found that the child showed separation distress in both situations, but when reunited children were significantly more attached to their mothers than to the metapelet. The children protested subsequent separation from their mothers when the metapelet was reintroduced to them. However, kibbutzim children shared high bonding with their parents as compared to those who were sent to boarding schools, because in a kibbutz a child spends three hours every day with his parents.
In another study by Scharf (2001) The group brought up in communal environment within a kibbutzim showed less ability in coping with imagined situations of separation than those who were brought up with their families. This has far reaching implications for child attachment adaptability and therefore institutions like kibbutzim.
For more specifics on the Kibbutz Lifestyle, please go to: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kibbutz#Communal_life
Daniels note: We must keep in mind, as we consider the criticism that is leveled at the Kibbutz Lifestyle, that the implementation of these ideas were not subject to the counsel of the children, themselves. So far as I know, the principle that "father and mother know best" is still the operating factor. I invite the reader to consider that it may be this one factor that determines the effectiveness (or lack thereof) for any operating principe for child rearing. Indeed, are the children of today truly needful of being "reared," beyond a basic orientation into society, and its resources? Only the shadow knows..................