Volunteers are Returning to the Kibbutzim

Foreign volunteers working on the numerous kibbutz communities have long been crucial to Israel’s agriculture

By Yossi Aloni | | Topics: Kibbutz
Israel's Kibbutz Movement relies on foreign volunteers.
Photo: Kibbutz Movement

A year after the program of volunteers from abroad to work on kibbutzim was frozen following the spread of the coronavirus around the world, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri agreed to the numerous requests from the Kibbutz Movement to reopen the skies for those who want to come and volunteer.

With the spread of the coronavirus throughout the world and in Israel in March of last year, the Kibbutz Movement halted the entry of international volunteers into the country. Despite the various difficulties and complexities, the kibbutz movement continued to run the program in a limited way, allowing the volunteers who remained in the country to experience up close a kibbutz community in crisis. Throughout that period, hundreds of inquiries continued to arrive from interested parties and partner organizations from abroad who were just waiting for the skies to open for volunteers to enter the country.

The Kibbutz Movement’s volunteer program has been operating for over 50 years and has received volunteers from 130 countries. The program allows for a special combination of volunteering in agriculture and various kibbutz industries with exposure to diverse group of people and acquaintance with the unique kibbutz community. This is a flagship program, which since its inception has absorbed more than 400,000 young people from around the world and over the years has coined the term “kibbutz” as a brand associated with Israel and with positive values ​​of democracy, cooperation, community solidarity and pluralism.

Volunteers from Brazil working at Kibbutz Ein Gev.

The Kibbutz Movement views the program of volunteers from abroad as a unique platform for promoting diplomacy, improved foreign relations and special bilateral ties with dozens of organizations in many countries all over the world. During the program, close social ties are formed between the volunteers and the communities in which they live. Not only do the volunteers return to their country at the end of the period as goodwill ambassadors and important allies for Israel, but some express this formative experience in positions such as public opinion leaders and politicians – such as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

In order to preserve all this, the Kibbutz Movement worked throughout the crisis period, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Hevel Eilot Regional Council to find a framework that would enable the entry of volunteers from abroad in a way that ensured public health. Representatives from the kibbutzim also helped by explaining the importance of the volunteers’ great contribution, especially in agriculture. In light of the changing situation, approval of the program had been delayed until now.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, MK Alon Schuster (Blue and White party) said: “I welcome the expected return of the volunteers from abroad to the agricultural work in the kibbutzim. For many months, even during a period of a faltering and transitional government, we continued to demand that the Interior Ministry open the gates of the country for volunteers from abroad in agriculture. That volunteers’ desire to come to Israel even in times of global crisis is a testament to the unique experience on an Israeli kibbutz that draws many young people from around the world.”

A volunteer from Holland working the fields at Kibbutz Ein Gev.

Kibbutz Movement Secretary General Nir Meir: “The kibbutz movement’s volunteer program is an important Zionist enterprise that has made a significant contribution to explaining Israel’s beautiful face over the decades. The connection created between the kibbutzim and the hundreds of thousands of volunteers who come over the years remains many years after they leave, leaving them with a warm and sympathetic view of Israel in the most authentic way possible.”

Ofri Raviv, Director of the Young People’s Division and involvement in the kibbutz movement: “I am very happy that we will be opening the door to the prosperity and renewal of a longstanding and significant program. We are very excited to resume our activities with our partners abroad and invite young people from around the world to recognize and experience volunteering in a kibbutz community. We have struggled together with many partners to open the land to the volunteers and we thank everyone involved for helping.”

Braydon Wally, who is currently volunteering at Kibbutz Yotvata in the south of the country, recounts his experience: “I came to volunteer at Yotvata shortly before the closure of the country’s borders in March 2020, and spent my first two weeks in Israel in isolation. Despite this, I could feel the heart of the kibbutz beating. What was supposed to be a temporary home crystallized into something so good that I have no words to describe it. The beautiful view of the surrounding gardens, the amazing smells from the dining room and the people who have always been welcoming. Today, I have a new family in the form of volunteers and kibbutzniks. I so appreciate this time on the kibbutz, which gave me a warm and welcoming home during such a complex period.”

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