So still interested in volunteering on a kibbutz? The following frequently asked questions and answers should cover the bases and give you an idea of what volunteering on a kibbutz is all about.
- What is a kibbutz?
- Why do kibbutz’s need volunteers?
- What kind of job might I be doing?
- How much will it cost me?
- What hours will I work?
- What’s the accommodation like?
- What’s the age restrictions?
- How long can I go for?
- Do I have to go with a group?
- How much will I get paid?
- Are there any other benefits for volunteers?
- What’s the weather like?
- What’s the catch?
- Is Israel safe?
A kibbutz is a communal agricultural settlement in Israel, usually in a rural location. The “members” of the kibbutz are known as kibbutzniks. All property on the kibbutz is owned communally and all income generated is shared by the kibbutz. Some kibbutzim also have factories that produce anything from plastics to sprinkler parts. Meals are prepared in a communal kitchen and eaten in a communal dining room.
Basically there are more jobs to do on a kibbutz than there are people to do them. Also Israel has a very demanding national service policy so there are often times when lots of men or women have to leave the kibbutz to do their national or reserve service. The members of the kibbutz fill these gaps but it still leaves a lot of vacancies in other jobs.
You could be doing anything from washing dishes to working on a fish farm to picking bananas to milking cows. Generally speaking the jobs that volunteers do are mostly, manual, unskilled and often boring tasks…could be in a factory or cotton fields or even orange groves. You usually start at 5-6am with some very strong coffee, then work out of the kibbutz in the fields until breakfast at 8, back to work at 9 till lunch at noon, another hour tidying up…then home. The good news is if you don’t like a job you can request a change. When you arrive you’ll probably have little choice in what you do, but after being there a short time you’ll find you can negotiate a better job.
If you organize it yourself all you’ll pay is the cost of your flight to Israel and a small administration and insurance fee to the kibbutz volunteers office in Tel Aviv where you’ll need to register before going to your kibbutz. If the kibbutz knows you’re coming they’ll often send someone to Ben Gurion airport to meet you so you don’t even have to pay for the journey to the kibbutz. If you use any other organization, such as Project 67 in the UK, you’ll pay a fee for them to organize it all for you. If you do use another organization make sure they are reputable.
Depends on the job! You’ll normally work between 6 and 8 hours a day, six days a week. Saturday will be your day off. Sunday is a normal working day in Israel. If you’re working outside during the summer months you’ll probably start early in the morning (sometimes 4am) to avoid the hottest part of the day. Factory jobs usually start at 7am while jobs in the kitchen start around 6am. You’ll put in a few hours then break for an hour to have breakfast. Lunch is served from 11.30am till 2pm.
Erm…are you sure you want to hear this bit? Unfortunately volunteer accommodation tends to be fairly basic. It’s considered normal for a volunteer to share his/her room with at least one other person or sometimes two. Some of the rooms have their own shower room/toilet; others are shared depending on the kibbutz. It’s all a bit of pot luck when it comes to your accommodation. There are volunteers leaving all the time and most of them want to leave their own little mark so you might find the walls of your room covered in graffiti. You can modify your room with posters and beer labels to make it look a little bit more homely. If the graffiti is so bad, ask the volunteer leader for a pot of paint and do a bit of D.I.Y. You can also move rooms if there’s enough space available.
Officially you have to be between the ages of 18-32. However, this is fairly flexible and it’s possible to volunteer when you’re 17 or over 32. Each individual kibbutz will have there own policy on age and its best to contact them regarding this.
Nowadays you can stay on a kibbutz for anything from a few weeks to six months. Some kibbutzim ask for a small deposit when you first arrive that is returned to you if you stay longer than two months. When you first arrive in Israel you’ll be given a visa for three months and this can be renewed when it runs out. It’s very difficult to get a visa renewed after that, so you’d need to leave the country then return. If you do leave Israel (i.e. to Egypt) on your return you’ll only receive a visa that matches the time you were out of the country. Obviously they can’t keep you there if you hate it so you can leave anytime you want.
No, you can go solo if that’s your preference, however the days of just turning up at a kibbutz and asking if they have any places for volunteers seem to be over. If you are arriving in Israel before you’ve organized a place you’ll need to report to the kibbutz volunteers office in Tel Aviv. They’ll ask you where you want to go, take some shekels from you for administration and insurance then send you on your way with a map and some directions to the central bus station. You could also try contacting the kibbutz of your choice and arranging it all yourself but the chances are you’ll still need to report to the Tel Aviv volunteers office.
Nothing. Just remember that you are a volunteer on the kibbutz. You won’t get paid as such but you’ll receive a weekly allowance on a type of credit card that can be spent in the kibbutz shop or pub. Currently, it is around 70 NIS / 11 UK pounds a week. Some kibbutzim also give you free cigarettes, aerogrammes, condoms and candles. After a while you can also ask for a pay rise!
Your work clothing, food, laundry and bedding is all provided for you. Most kibbutzim stock the communal volunteers fridges with a weekly supply of yoghurt, salami, cheese and fruit. You can take part in any of the social/cultural activities that are often organized by the kibbutz. Most kibbutzim have a pub that is subsidized for members and volunteers, and also a swimming pool. You’ll get an additional two days off per month that you can save for a longer break. There’s usually a day trip every month and every three months the kibbutz will organize a three-day trip for the volunteers. This could be beach bumming in Eilat and the desert, camping out in Galilee or visiting Jerusalem.
Israel has long hot summers and short mild winters. Check out our guide on when to come and visit Israel.
As far as I can tell, there’s not one! The only thing slightly disturbing is the compulsory HIV/Aids test for ALL new volunteers. They’ve been doing this since 1992. There doesn’t seem to be any pre-test counselling and it’s not clear what would happen if your test returned positive. Apparently you can use delaying tactics to put off the test (saying you’ve got a cold or foot and mouth disease). Some people don’t like the food in the dining room, others have a problem sharing a room with strangers (though they’re not strangers for long!). You might think the rooms are very basic and sometimes the members may be a little distant or even hostile to volunteers. Remember they’ve seen volunteers come and go for many years. If you take time to get to know them they’ll do the same in return. You might even make a friend from work and be invited for tea in the afternoon. If you can learn to live with these things you’ll have the best time of your life. Guaranteed!
* Thanks to John at www.kibbutzvolunteer.com for most of the above information.