Pouring us each a taste of their homemade craft beer, Naama, a manager at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, explained the deep-seated socialist mentality of its kibbutz members.
“Give as much as you can and get as much as you need.”
A curious group of seven travelers from South Africa, America, Australia and Canada partook in Abraham Tour’s Kibbutz Experience, an intimate tour that gives an awesome inside look at life on Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael.
One of Israel’s largest kibbutzim, Ma’agan Michael is known for its successful fish-farming industry and picturesque landscape. An hour north of Tel Aviv, the community built along the Mediterranean Sea looks like a lush oasis that feels like neither countryside nor city, but rather its own quiet bubble protected from outside realities.
Sitting in the kibbutz’s small and modestly decorated bar, Naama and our local guide, Jenaviv, shared their unique perspectives and experiences. One of Israel’s few communal kibbutzim, Ma’agan Michael provides a fascinating glimpse into a functioning socialist utopia built on trust and the unique lifestyle of its members.
Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael’s history, rooted in Israel’s development as a new country, is one of hundreds of kibbutzim that became home to immigrants from around the world seeking refuge during the aftermath of post-World War II. Founded in 1949, Ma’agan Michael’s members created a collectivist society where people live and work together on the land, bound together by a social contract to serve the greater community. Each member has a designated role and receives equal pay and benefits, regardless if they’re a manager, teacher, or store clerk. What began as a small community of 154 people has grown to 2,100 people, 900 of whom are members.
Today, 120,000 Israelis are kibbutz members, and their egalitarian community structures are a key component of Israel’s culture and economy. Although still rooted in collectivist ideals, several modern kibbutzim such as Ma’agan Michael are challenged by the increasingly capitalist mentalities of its members, causing a shift in its management style and idealism.
The Kibbutzim way of life found throughout Israel differ in their size and industries, ranging from agriculture to industrial productions, and maintain their own economic models and principles. Unlike many kibbutzim that eventually became privatized and traded on the stock market, Ma’agan Michael remains a communal kibbutz. All proceeds from Ma’agan Michael’s many prosperous income sources, including fish-farming, avocado crops, and plastics production, are placed into a pool that serves the community and its members equally– a rarity in a modern kibbutz of its size and scale of production. The management process and dispersion of funds, although administered by a few community members, is entirely democratic and goes through elections.
“The community is a big family with no social or economic levels,” Naama explained. “Even if you are a member with wealth through inheritance, it goes back into the community pool.”
Through their joint efforts, families are provided with homes, children grow up together and attend the same schools, members partake in various extracurricular activities, and daily communal meals are prepared in large dining halls. Each member is given an equal allowance that is used to buy food in the communal dining room or clothes and everyday necessities from the stores and markets. However, the kibbutz isn’t just a quiet community that meets people’s basic needs; it’s full of culture and tradition that keep its diverse members together.
“I lived in Beverly Hills and managed a restaurant there for many years, and I can say that the quality of life is much higher here,” Naama concluded.
Kibbutz guide Jenaviv walked us through the kibbutz’s wide streets, abundant in tropical trees and plants and the sound of birds and children at play. As we strolled to our first stop, community members walking or passing by on their bicycles gave us a quick double-take. Their reactions were non-hostile, despite the fact that it felt like we were casually trespassing through someone’s backyard without notice. Stopping at a park filled with striking art and sculptures, Jenaviv made a few points about how the kibbutz supports its people.
“If you want to pursue an art or craft, the kibbutz helps people financially,” Jenaviv explained. “They will pay for its members to go to university and study.” She also added, “If you need an organ transplant, the kibbutz will raise the funds for you.”
To an outsider, the kibbutz seems like the ultimate support system to help its members grow their education, partake in extracurricular activities, and maintain their health. You can even propose a business plan and start your own endeavor, such as the homemade craft beer we tried at the beginning of our tour that was made by one of its members. Jenaviv led us through the many unique features of Ma’agan Michael, including its onsite zoo of rescue animals, surrounded by the scenic beach the kibbutz lies on. A highlight of the tour was the children’s playground. With no glamorous or shiny new toys in sight, it was a testament to the simple lifestyle children live, away from the materialism of neighboring big cities.
“Our playground allows kids to get creative and use their imagination,” Jenaviv smiled.
We concluded our tour at the dining hall, enjoying a delicious Mediterranean lunch overlooking the ocean and sharing our perspectives as travelers visiting our first entirely communal community.
The strong sense of community and trust permeates throughout Ma’agan Michael, a foreign feeling to visitors such as myself who hail from individualistic societies. Around the sidewalks, bikes are left parked and unlocked, worry-free from theft. Despite being a large kibbutz, everyone seems to know and trust one another. It’s a close community where people go to school and partake in all the same activities until age 18, a transitional time where members join the Israeli Defense Force and consider pursuing university and travel. At age 30, people decide if they will stay on the kibbutz as lifetime members or live life elsewhere.
The prevailing trust that surrounds kibbutz culture is influenced by the ongoing political climate and unrest in Israel. Kibbutz members have a unique feeling of camaraderie unlike any other in the world.
“Living here, people are tested on a daily basis,” Jenaviv added. “You’re never alone.”
Constant threats to the state of Israel and citizens’ mandatory participation in the Israeli Defense Force keeps people together with a mutual understanding of supporting one another. This attitude was demonstrated throughout Israel in November 2016 when it was hit by a wave of disastrous fires, leaving thousands of people homeless. Israelis throughout the country opened their homes to those affected, regardless of being strangers. In many communities, people hardly know who their neighbors are and maintain a general mistrust of others. At Ma’agan Michael, it seems like every member cares for one another like family.
Ma’agan Michael’s socialist utopia structure, although stable and functioning, is often challenged by its members evolving mentalities and the world’s globalization. In the past, the greater majority of kibbutz members were united by their socialist ideologies, willing to receive equal pay and benefits, satisfied with the respect and admiration gained from hard work. In the past few decades, many members hold a capitalist mentality, seeking reward for a tenacious work ethic outside of the kibbutz in other industries.
“You can’t force people to do things they don’t like” Naama acknowledged, who does not live on the kibbutz but was hired as a manager.
Ma’agan Michael, as well as multiple kibbutzim throughout Israel, now hire outside professionals to run their management in response to the wave of qualified members who left the kibbutz for alternative jobs. Furthermore, most of the laborious kibbutz tasks, including laundry, factory work, and maintenance are salary jobs outsourced to non-kibbutz members.
The socialist utopia and “give as much as you can and get as much as you need” mentality is alive but slowly diminishing. However, at Ma’agan Michael, visitors still have a rare opportunity to immerse themselves in a kibbutz that still upholds its communal values before it conceivably falls to the tightening grip of globalization and evolving realities. The peaceful and serene seaside community is a breath of fresh air from the surrounding hustle and bustle, providing visitors a different perspective of Israel and its diverse communities of people. Walking through a bubble existing in its own time and space, learning its history rooted in Israel’s beginnings, experiencing the universal sense of community, and seeing the daily life of kibbutz members, is a fascinating and enriching privilege.