The first Kibbutz, a communal farm in which everyone is equal, was established in 1909 -- now there are more than 250 Kibbutzim (plural for Kibbutz) in Israel. On these farms, all duties are shared equally among the residents, including child rearing and no one has more, or less, than anyone else.
For Lori Starr, Executive Director of the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, the Kibbutz has had a strong influence in the Bay Area's left leaning, socialist movement communities.
"The concept of the Kibbutz has had, and continues to have, a significant influence in the Bay Area," Starr said at the opening of To Build and Be Built: Kibbutz History. "The importance of shared effort and a connection to the land has found resonance in many community based movements, including the socialist leaning Petaluma chicken farmers, Camp Newman's Kibbutz Yarok in Santa Rosa, and Urban Adamah in Berkeley."
The small but fascinating look at the Kibbutz phenomenon, both in Israel and in the Bay Area, is currently on view at the CJM through July 1, 2014.
Farming is a hard life, and in the early years of the Kibbutzim it meant enduring extreme climates, intense physical labor, and less than comfortable living conditions. But Kibbbutzim created a food supply, and an exportable product for an emerging nation, and gave strength to a people who had long been beaten down.
"In crowded Jewish quarters, deprived of sunshine, our bodies become weak," said Max Nordau of the World Jewish Congress in 1900 (a quote posted as part of the CJM exhibit). "Let us again be wide of body and strong of gaze."
Alongside the quote are historic photos from throughout the 20th century showing Kibbutz residents hard at work in the field, at prayer, and engaging in group sing-alongs after their work is done.
The exhibit has a strong resonance today, with many people expressing concern for the GMO products being sold on store shelves. Kibbutz products might offer a sustainable, organic alternative. Conceivably, they could also offer another way of living in these times where the gap between the rich and poor continues to grow wider. In a Kibbutz, no one is homeless or hungry.
The CJM is also displaying Work in Progress: Considering Utopia as a companion to To Build and Be Built; it will be on view until January 20, 2014. It features photographs, videos, and installations from three artists; the work asks the viewer to consider a utopian ideal -- that emphasizes community and participation -- from both a Jewish perspective and from a contemporary perspective.
The Contemporary Jewish Museum is open every day except Wednesdays. Thursdays after 5 p.m. offers a $5 admission for all; memberships are available.