Saturday, December 6, 2008

Visting the Kvutzat Shiller Kibbutz and Ayala Institute

Today I was lucky enough to visit the Kvutzat Shiller Kibbutz situated very near the Lensky house in Rehovot. Miriam and I were taken on a lovely tour of the grounds by a couple who have lived here for most of their lives. He (Ilan) is a self-made landscape architect and has designed many of the plantings found on the grounds, some of exotic plants from Florida and elsewhere. She (Shosh) retired as the kibbutz's zipper factory's accountant a few years ago.

The place was established in 1927; a website has been set up to tell the story in honor of Ruth Tetteles (Schwartz), who arrived at the Kibbutz with the Youth Aliya group in April 1941 from Europe. She also served in the British Army.

The history of the Kibbutz is fascinating, included the rationale for the name, significant events over the years, and location details.

This kibbutz like most of the rest in Israel is undergoing great change. Challenges for this one in particular include the rapid urbanization of the nearby town of Rehovot, which helped eliminate the orange groves that used to provide income, and now threaten the large dairy that the kibbutz runs. Water in particular could be a problem as the wells drilled decades ago to supply the place appear to be running dry, and the thirsty urban area nearby is in continual competition for this resource. Fortunately, there is a factory making zippers on the grounds, but it also appears to have been affected by change, particularly brought on by Chinese competition.

The Kibbutz movement in Israel is dynamic and rapidly changing. It will be interesting to see how those inhabiting Kvutzat Shiller kibbutz (also known as Gan Slomo) will face an uncertain future. Significantly, the section concerning "future plans" on the web site has yet to be written. A variant of the kibbutz is the moshav.

Elements of the Kibbutz and/or Moshav model appear to have been taken up by other communities to some extent, such as East Lake Commons in Decatur, GA. Different formats of the cohousing movement, exist in other places .

I also visited another Kibbutz with a very different purpose as it's rationale. This is the famed Ayalon Institute near the Rehovot Railway Station where a clandestine bullet factory was developed by the Haganah during under the British mandate. It was in reality a normal agricultural kibbutz on top of another developing kibbutz whose members were recruited to make bullets "right under the nose of the British," instead of the traditional activities Kibbutzim are known for. Now it is the focus of a new kind of kibbutz that will be based on education rather than agriculture, with the bullet factory museum as its base.

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