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Volunteering on a Kibbutz, Israel

02 Sep Posted by in Volunteer | Comments
Volunteering on a Kibbutz, Israel

Kibbutzim began as socialist farming communities, which popped up across Israel from the 1920s. A popular stop off on the ‘70s hippie trail, many thousands of travellers volunteered each year to pick fruit or clean chicken coops. This was in return for lodging, food and pocket money.

I imagined a life of rusty tractors delivering cardboard packing boxes and dewy mornings, and took the opportunity to volunteer in the north of Israel in September. A commune of 425, it was nestled between pine trees and the Lebanese border, and looked and felt like a retirement village with its functional houses, pretty gardens and golf buggies. But its innocence was stolen by the barbed wire surrounding it.

Most volunteers were 19, of every religion or none at all, and looked beautiful and lost in their hippie trousers. The Latinos stuck together, their Spanish spoken like gunshots. The group who had already volunteered for a few months clucked across the common area with pride. And thirty new volunteers hovered around, nervous and thinking of home in Korea, South Africa, Sweden.

Each day we would slip into the pool in the late afternoon sun or wander round the Kibbutz, chattering as loudly as the birds above. Nights were shiny images of people laughing round the campfire, sharing shisha and playing guitar.

But these beautiful pockets of life could not negate the monotony of spending ten hours a day in the fruit-packing factory. 6.30 a.m., we would be stationed by streams of conveyor belts, apples trundling along to be packed into boxes. A depressed atmosphere with no windows and little thanks, meal times were snatches of happiness.

This was one rich Kibbutz; the canteen was fit for a cruise ship. But the food was ersatz: it would look like Bolognese but taste of water, or resemble quiche but taste like cardboard. Our taste buds learned to stay silent. We ate with our eyes and prayed for 4 p.m.

Two days off a week, Saturdays were guaranteed. But Israel closes down on Shabbat, and there is no point getting out of bed with nothing to do. So we used up our energy on Friday nights, by joining members at the pub/club. On those nights the bomb shelter became a lovers’ den, because the rooms were shared between volunteers and bed bugs.

However, the volunteers’ community lost its innocence as quickly as in Lord of the Flies, and in just six weeks in, I left in search of Utopia once more.

To volunteer on a Kibbutz, apply to the Kibbutz Program Center. This requires a medical, and you need to fill in the simple forms a month before you want to volunteer. Once you arrive in Tel Aviv, visit the KPC office and they will assign you to a Kibbutz in need of volunteers. If you feel uncomfortable with where you are placed, for example if it is near Gaza, you can wait for another offer though it may take days.

Image Credits: Ian McKellar
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