LITR 5439 Literary & Historical Utopias

Web Review



Modern Israel

(maps of Israel at bottom)

Kibbutz as "garden in the desert"

Oxford English Dictionary kibbutz [modern Hebrew "gathering"] A collective settlement in Israel, owned communally by its members, and organized on co-operative principles.

plural kibbutzim.

Wikipedia: Kibbutz

Two other Israeli collective settlements:

Moshav, Moshavim: Israeli agricultural settlements of limited size featuring community labor but individually owned lands.

Moshav Shittufi: comparable to Kibbutz (sharing of property & labor) but independent family structures and child-rearing.

Instructor's notes: The founding of modern Israel in Palestine in 1948 marked a profound convergence of intellectual, political, and geo-economic forces deeply rooted in ancient, medieval, and modern Western Civilization at its eastern border with Middle Eastern and Islamic civilization, where the Crusades or religious wars of the Middle Ages were fought between Christianity and Islam.

These converging forces appear in the history of Israel's utopian communal experiments known as Kibbutzim: intential communities of Jewish settlers who would embody principles of democratic socialism and "make the desert bloom."

Jewish settlement in Arab-occupied lands began in late 1800s-early 1900s, with the first Kibbutz founded in 1910. In the 1940s the Nazi-Jewish Holocaust drove hundreds of thousands of European Jews to migrate to the British Mandate of Palestine.

250,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled, leading to major wars (1948, 1967, 1972) and continuing border conflicts between Jews and Arabs. Palestinian refugee settlements in Lebanon and Jordan are desperately poor in contrast to the prosperous kibbutzim.

Jews have various historical connections with Socialism and liberalism. Nazis were anti-Communists, adding a political dimension to anti-Semitism. Jews were initially associated with the Russian Revolution (Karl Marx and Leo Trotsky descended from Jewish families), but anti-Semitism in Csarist and Stalinist Russia drove many Russian emigrants to England, the Americas, and Israel.)

International philanthropy helped provide start-up funding for kibbutzim in early Israel. Approximately 270 kibbutzim continue to function across Israel. Social structures associated with utopian literature and history include communal ownership of property, group decision-making, communal dining and child-rearing.

The kibbutzim's financial success complicates the spartan rigor and equality that motivated the original settlers to cooperate. In recent decades, children of kibbutzim have migrated to more cosmopolitan settings, and the kibbutzim have contracted professional management that seeks profit from tourism and other outside business.

Re Objective 4c. Do some interdisciplinary subjects underprivilege multiculturalism? Do utopian studies privilege western civilization? . . .

The Kibbutz movement flourished during the peak of influence and migration by European Jews with their political traditions associated with democratic socialism. Since the 1960s Jews of European descent have lost political power to more conservative Eastern European and Middle Eastern Jews, who support family-centric, state-dependent settlements on Palestinian lands, which they call "Greater Israel."


The Kibbutz (Jewish Virtual Library) (note "Work Ethic" & "Raising Children")

Kibbutzim (study of co-ops) (details changes; more critical than most postings, but tone or motive uncertain, maybe just neutral but eccentric)

International Communal Studies Association: the Kibbutz Movement

Isabel Kershner, "The Kibbutz Sheds Socialism and Gains Popularity." New York Times, 27 August 2007. (travel article)

Sarah Wildman, "Massage, not work, on the kibbutz in Israel." New York Times, 1 July 2007. (travel article)

Tourist Israel: What is a Kibbutz? (links at bottom give sense of variety)

Instructor's personal notes: In the 1960-70s a number of Baby-Boomers (Jewish & Gentile) spent summers or years abroad working at Kibbutzim in Israel.

Support for Israel remains strong among current evangelicals and among Jews, but in mid-20c USA even non-Evangelical Christians were reflexively pro-Israel.

Israel appeared as a Social-Democratic oasis in a Middle East of kingdoms, military strongmen, and autocracies.

American Jews were among mid-20c USA's leading authors and intellectuals. (Jews as world leaders; Jews in film and comedy; anti-semitism)

Since 1970s, Palestinian voices are increasingly heard. Their displacement (Nakba) by a conquering Western Civilization is comparable to that of American Indians by European Americans, with resulting dilemmas concerning property, human rights, treaties, etc. (Refugee camps in Lebanon and Syria = Indian reservations?)

Also since 1970s, Israeli governments have trended increasingly hard-right, increasing settlements by fundamentalist Orthodox Jews of disputed lands taken by Israel in the 1967 and 1972 wars.

American liberals are increasingly conflicted about Israel and Palestine, but support for the Israeli government remains high among American Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians, who have traditionally harbored anti-Semitic attitudes but also see the 1948 return of the Jews to their ancient biblical homeland as an essential step toward the Second Coming of Christ.

scenes from kibbutz life


Israel location (yellow-brown) relative to Europe

Israel location relative to Africa & Middle East