Academic journal article Communal Societies

The Kibbutzim's Attitude toward Institutions of Higher Education: From Rejection and Reservation to Integration

Academic journal article Communal Societies

The Kibbutzim's Attitude toward Institutions of Higher Education: From Rejection and Reservation to Integration

Article excerpt

"The pursuit after degrees and certificates is foreign to the essence of our lives."

--Yaacov Hazan, 1964 (2)

"Over recent years we felt that we started lagging, given the level of education around us increased continuously. In order to sustain our status in the Israeli society, we must close this gap." --Santa Yoseftal, Secretary of the United Collectives and Kibbutzim Movement, 1969 (3)


In 1949 a major drama occurred in Kvutzat (Kibbutz) Kineret, near the Sea of Galilee. One of its members, Naomi Sapir, asked for permission to study music in the Rubin Academy in Jerusalem. The members voted unanimously against this request, arguing that the kibbutz needed working hands. Then one of the female members, a young widow from the recent War of Independence, asked for permission to speak. She argued that the members should allow Sapir to follow her destiny and leave for her studies. Her touching speech led the members to change their minds, and a few months later, Sapir started her studies in Jerusalem. Over time, Sapir got married, changed her name to Shemer, and became one of the most important songwriters in Israel. Upon the completion of her studies, she started teaching music in her kibbutz. (4) After Naomi Shemer passed away in 2004, letters from her mother, Rebecca, who taught her how to love music and simultaneously maintain her commitment to the life of the kibbutz, were found in her attic. One of the letters, which was written by Shemer's son, Ariel Horowitz, demonstrates Shemer's difficulties in coping with her studies in Tel Aviv while at the same time feeling that she abandoned the kibbutz. Among the things that her mother wrote to her was:

   This my girl is also the answer to the storm in your soul, your
   studies are the luggage on your ship-deck. Here tired laborers are
   already thirsty to your song but you have to continue rowing
   through all of Bach's fugues. (5)

Since the beginning of the first decade of the twentieth century, the kibbutz has been an original and innovative invention of the Jewish labor movement in Palestine. It symbolized, for both its residents and many people outside the kibbutzim, the possibility of voluntarily living in an equal society, in contrast to the aggressive Soviet model. (6) However, adopting this revolutionary framework for living included an uncompromising approach to external educational systems, most prominently universities. These developed parallel to the kibbutz and were perceived as the embodiment of the competing ideology. The story of Shemer is the exception and demonstrates the complicated and suspicious attitude of the kibbutzim members toward the higher education system in contrast to those who wished to join that system. This perception led many members to leave and choose academic studies over the life in the kibbutz and to suffer severe criticism, as they were characterized as "deserters" and "traitors." (7) Such criticism was especially strong during the years following the War of Independence, when many kibbutzim had to cope with losses and a shortage in manpower. (8)

As Zionists, the pioneers sought to settle in the land of Israel and to feel its soil in their hands. They wanted to overcome the harmful effects that life in the diaspora had on the Jewish division of labor, turning Jews into thin, cowardly intellectuals who were incapable of defending themselves. (9) Because they were egalitarian socialists as well as Zionists, the kibbutzniks resisted the idea of having a division of labor of any kind, whether between leaders and followers, farmers and factory workers, or dairy farmers and poultry specialists.

Economically, until the 1950s, a kibbutz was a farm and not much more. These farms produced modest incomes, and kibbutz members had a lot of chores to do. If a member wanted to listen to lectures for four years at a university, who would do their chores for them in their absence? …

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