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Together Again

Inventing Our Life examines the kibbutz movement at 100 years old, facing a rocky past and a promising future.

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Collective Memory

Toby Perl Freilich’s forthcoming documentary examines the 100-year history of the kibbutz

My documentary film, Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment, has its roots in my own biography. In 1968, my sister, then 18, moved to Israel and settled on a kibbutz. My parents were horrified. Polish-born Holocaust survivors who’d immigrated to America after the war, they saw kibbutz as nothing more than a glorified kolkhoz, one of Stalin’s failed collective farms, a prison camp in the guise of a commune. They couldn’t understand why my sister would chuck the American dream in favor of something that smacked so much of Soviet oppression and limited opportunity.

I was surprised, then, when visiting my sister as a kid in the 1970s, to discover that her kibbutz more closely resembled a lush Israeli suburb than the impoverished collective I had been led to imagine. Food, electricity, health care, education—everything was free and liberally doled out. Communal life could be maddeningly close, but it was vibrant and thrummed with the energy of a shared enterprise.

As the years passed, the waste and inefficiency of a moneyless society gradually began to take their toll on Israel’s roughly 270 kibbutzim. Financial and social hurdles arose to challenge each one of the kibbutzim’s emblems, from communal child rearing to the joint dining hall.

Hit hard by a severe economic crisis in the 1980s and threatened by the arrant defection of its third generation, strict egalitarianism and doctrinaire socialism became luxuries few kibbutzim could continue to afford. For the past 20 years, many kibbutzim have teetered on the brink of collapse, and the movement itself battles obsolescence. But spending time on several kibbutzim, and interviewing scores of current and former members, I found a movement in flux, questioning its old pieties and testing out new ones. Though still passionately committed to social justice, the next generation is transforming the kibbutz movement, making it is relevant to Israel’s capitalistic society while struggling with a wide range of  problems, new and old.

Over the next five weeks, and commemorating the 100th anniversary of the kibbutz movement’s birth, Tablet Magazine will preview segments of my documentary film, still a work in progress, that deal with everything from the kibbutz’s proud history to its inspired reinvention.

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“Together Again”
I am delighted to see a documentary about the kibbutz at it’s 100 years anniversary!
I am a Sabra who still remembers the first celebration of the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. My parents came to Israel from Poland, we lost two large families and an uncle who escaped concentration camps, came to Israel, enlisted in the war for independence and was killed in Gaza 6 months after arrival to Israel, he was 23 years old.
I was a member of “The Shomer Htsair” socialistic youth movement from early age, almost till the army drafting age of 18, I did not sattle in a kibbutz as some members did, but my memories of working in the kibbutzim during the summers are unforgettable!
My friend from 8 years old lives at kibbutz Mishmarot and so does her whole family- husband, adult children and grandchildren, she kept in touch with me all these long years since I moved to the USA in 1964.
My great memory of the kibbutz’s life was when everyone eat in the large dining room (no individual cooking) and babies were raised at the nursery from infancy with parents visitation after their daily work. I have’nt seen the big changes yet, have been back once in 1978 and stayed at my friend’s kibbutz. I am looking forward to your next video and for the complete film when it’ll be done.I think it’s an important documentary.
Thank you for letting me express a small comment here,
Nilly Gill

I am delighted to see a kibbutz documentary at it’s 100 years anniversary!
I am a Sabra who still remembers the first celebration of the formation of the state of Israel in 1948. We lost two large families in Poland and an uncle who survived concentration camps, came to Israel, enlisted in the war for independence and was killed in Gaza 6 months after arrival.
I was a member of “The Shomer Hatsair” socialistic youth movement from early age, almost till the army drafting age of 18, I did not sattle in a kibbutz , but my memories of working in the kibbutzim during the summers are unforgettable!
My friend from 8 years old lives at kibbutz Mishmarot, and so does her whole family- husband,children and grandchildren, she kept in touch with me since I moved to the USA in 1964.
My great memory of the kibbutz’s life was when everyone eat in the large dining room (no individual cooking) and babies were raised at the nursery from infancy with parents visitation after their daily work. I have’nt seen the big changes yet, have been back once in 1978 and stayed at my friend’s kibbutz. I am looking forward to your next video and for the complete film ,I think it’s an important documentary.

Nilly Gill

janet says:

so, toby, when will it be completed?

For a non-Israeli,non-Jew it is a great pleasure to see the dreams of Eretz Israel kept alive by the (far too few!) people who have remained true to the ideals of their youth…and of the earliest days of the country…may their example become influential in the land,once again…

Donna says:

My husband and I and our two young sons worked for six weeks at Kibbutz Carmia in 1978 as a dental volunteer and a physical therapist. It was one of the most enjoyable and memorable experiences in our lives! When I was bat miztvahed, as an adult, in 1993 I wrote a paper on our experience and researched the Kibbutz Movement. I returned to Israel as a tourist in 2000 w/my, then, 80 year old mother (she is still living at 90+) and remembers how wonderful her visit was to a Kibbutz. But it was changing then and must continue to change in these times. May it survive for ever!

dina says:

the documantary ive been waiting for has finally arrived, the subject is without a doubt a fascinating one ,how many original ideas have been presented to the world in the past century, not only was the kibbutz original ,it was something that tried to make life better for people,it was a place where the almighty buck was not god, there was true niceness somewhere in its deep down original conception. this is the time, the past is still playing an important role, and the new order is becoming the new reality. cant wait for next week. kol hakavod toby pearl frelich

Larry Apple says:

Very interesting. I look forward to coming episodes.

I was a founding member of Kibbutz Kissufim, located in the northwest Negev. Its location, among other factors, have kept it small and impacted on its development. Being a 20-minute stroll to a troubled border, The Gaza Strip, was an heroic effort to help identify the borders of the Jewish state by a group of Israeli patriotic idealists, but Kissufim’s members have paid for it in blood and money.

I left Kissufim and returned home in 1958, but its panorama and experiences have marked me indelibly. There are not too many of its founders around. Time takes its toll. Its children’s houses and its collective dining hall no longer exist, and its future is dependent upon many factors, including the ability of Israel to make peace with its neighbors, the Gaza rulers being among the most difficult adversaries Israel has.

But Kissufim’s members also have nice memories of their neighbors from the other side of the border during those days before the intifadas when both sides were still optimistic about peace. I never heard a word of anti-Palestinian hatred during my entire life at Kibbutz Kissufim or during a recent visit to my Israeli home.

Jerry Blaz

Chloe Bornstein says:

american convert to judaism. lived in kibbutz merchavia from 1970 mostly till finally left for eilat in 1992 for personal reasons. fantastic place. fantastic people. fantastic and unforgettable memories.

Chloe Bornstein says:

also i should say i can’t wait till your film comes out. i hope i get to see it!

Florian Gase says:

Shalom, my name is Florian Gase and i am from Amsterdam. I was one of the last generations (period of my stay 11-1999/05-2000)of volunteers who worked and lived in kibbutz Kinneret ( 1 mile above kibbutz Deganya A & B). I lived there for 7 months and it was the best life time experience untill now. In a kibbutz you had no any worries was my experience. You had a job, you had a room, you had food. But most important of all you had a kind of people around you to share your experiences. In kibbutz Kinneret there are no more volunteers and i think its a pity.

Its a good learningschool for everybody to stay a period in a kibbutz. You learn other cultures, you learn to share, you learn to work and most important you learn how to be satisfied in what you do instead of what you own.

My complimants to the director of this documentary! Its is just beauifull!

Leahtraot

Ken Besig Israel says:

Let me see now, successive Israeli governments took this failed and failing kibbutz movement and poured literally millions upon millions of shekels of taxpayer money into it, all the while granting that same failed and failing institution massive subsidies on taxes, land, water use, and even income taxes, and after decades the kibbutz movement finally succeeds, sort of.
Yes life is fine and a just a week of holidays when the hard working Israeli taxpayer is footing the bill for your workplace, housing, food, swimming pool, and vacations abroad, while at the same time trying to keep his unsubsidized roof over his families head.
Too bad for the Israeli taxpayer, that his government generously supports the failed kibbutzim with his money.
It is a real nice experience for the kibbutz though!

leslie says:

looking forward to this film,not just for my family, but also for anyone i know who doesnt understand what judaism brings to the world

Harold says:

The volume isn’t loud enough!!

Velvy Appleton says:

I can’t wait to see the film– this trailer is so rich, thought provoking, and sensitively crafted…
~v~

Shalom Freedman says:

The Kibbutz and its people contributed greatly to the founding and survival of Israel. I do not know if this is still the case but once their members served all out- of – proportion to their numbers in the elite units of the Israeli Army.
The basic problem for the Kibbutz as I understand it that the ideal of Democratic Socialism no longer moves people as it once did. The opportunities and challenges of the greater outside seem more attractive to most young people, when there is not that ideal to be devoted to.
I would hope nonetheless that the Kibbutzim would continue to develop and prosper.

p. appleton says:

Dear Toby Fabulous forshpeis! Awaiting main “course”. You are admirably articulate and the subject is so meaningful. I found the readers’ replies interesting,too.

Bracha says:

Over 40 years ago, I went to Kibbutz as a young, idealistic Zionist. For 27 years I worked, studied, raised a family. In the early ’90’s I fought against change, but change would come. Privatization was the New Kibbutz. With a heavy heart, my family and I left Israel and returned to the U.S. For 27 years, my existance was defined by my being a kibbutznik. The lifestyle was pure, idealism was the Golden Rule, the importance of what one did was strong. If someone had a special talent, he was encouraged to pursue it. Our tiny Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch, on the Lebanese border, had a famous writer, a famous sculptor, a famous professor of history and nature. These people still wiped tables in the Dining Hall, worked Saturdays picking apples, and showed up for the dreaded chicken shipments. We gossiped, we loved, we lived. No matter what our job was, on or off the meshek(living area of the kibbutz) , our being there was vital to the State of Israel, and therefore to the Jewish people. Thank you for helping others to understand this life choice.

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Together Again

Inventing Our Life examines the kibbutz movement at 100 years old, facing a rocky past and a promising future.

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