Earlier this year I spoke with author David Leach and learned some fascinating lessons from the complex history of the Kibbutz–lessons that really pushed me to rethink what community and coexistence can mean.
David Leach is the author of Chasing Utopia: the Future of the Kibbutz in a Divided Israel and chair of the University of Victoria writing department. During our conversation we explored David’s experiences on Kibbutz Shamir, where he volunteered in the late 1980s, and where he returned in the late 2000s to discover that the entire communal movement in Israel—and the nation itself—had radically transformed. Our conversation touched on urban design, gender and equality, Zionism, tea kettles, and I learned that “to be a good kibbutznik, you have to be a good ‘kibitzer’”.
David’s humour articles, profiles, reviews, investigative journalism, columns, memoirs and travelogues have appeared in national and international publications, including The Globe & Mail, The National Post, TIME Canada, Reader’s Digest, THIS Magazine, Canadian Geographic, Today’s Parent and Communities. Along with Chasing Utopia: the Future of the Kibbutz in a Divided Israel, David has also written Fatal Tide: When the Race of a Lifetime Goes Wrong.
Some big ideas exchanged:
- The noble modernism of “homo kibbutznik”, i.e. the idea that the kibbutz would experiment with secular communalism and inspire the world to pursue the same course. (Today, “changemakers” are way less idealistic about the “ripple effect” of their actions.)
- How do you de-familiarize social relations to transform the conditions of possibility for people to come together? (A live question for the future: how can we quickly experiment with new social relations and configurations? How can we come together differently without waiting for the revolution?)
- What builds community? What strengthens a community so that it can face difficult decisions without falling apart? How do you build a living utopia? (These are pretty essential questions, and the certainly aren’t new.)
- The debate about the tea kettle! What if one’s entitlement to a kettle in one’s private space had to be debated by members of your community? After all, if your private space is more comfortable than the communal kitchen, won’t you end up hanging out there more often, and not with everyone else in the dining hall? (We take privacy and personal space for granted, and yet we strive for connection and community every day. What if it were the other way around? What if friendship and camaraderie were built into the fabric of the everyday, but your desire to have a kettle in your private space had to be debated by the group?)
- The problem of the nuclear family was apparent to the early kibbutznik: how would the community be affected if the mother and father were focused inward with their children? (Family is a side-note to community life… Although shocking to outsiders, family is a side-note to economic life in much of the western world: after 8-10 hours at the office and on the commute, we return to our families to have dinner and go to bed!)
- A kitchen and a dining hall is a very radical and heartwarming thing indeed. (Cooking and feasting together are at the heart of communal living on and off the Kibbutz. Let’s have more breakfasts, potlucks and “shitty dinner parties” together. The best social change comes at the tip of a fork.)
References, allusions, and mentions implied:
- David Leach’s new book Chasing Utopia: the Future of the Kibbutz in a Divided Israel;
- David Leach’s blog “Look Back To Galilee”, which has more information on Kibbutz Shamir and more background on the Kibbutz movement;
- The Israeli startup scene on Medium;
- The First Intifada;
- Kibbutz Ga’aton and the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company;
- Kibbutz Artzi: socialist-zionist youth movement;
- The less well-known Urban Kibbutz;
- Hand in Hand: Centre for Jewish-Arab Education in Israel;
- Wahat al-Salam – Neve Shalom (pronounced “waaḥat’ as-salaam/nevei shalom”) is Arabic and Hebrew for Oasis of Peace: an intentional community jointly established by Jewish and Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel. They teach their founding principles to Arab and Israeli youth and adults through The School for Peace;
- Ray Oldenburg’s book The Great Good Place (amazon) and his notion of “Third Places” which “host the regular, voluntary, informal, and happily anticipated gatherings of individuals beyond the realms of home and work.”
Credit where credit is due:
- Intro music: Kosmiche Slop by Anenon, licensed under CC BY 2.0.
- Break music: “Untitled” by Stefan Morales.
- Outro music: Whispering Through by Asura, licensed under CC BY 2.0.