Since many of the early settlers in pre-state Palestine identified with the socialist ideology, Kibbutzim (communal farms or settlements) were the desired living arrangement. The first kibbutz was Degania, established on December 1, 1909, corresponding to the 18th of Kislev. It is situated between the southern Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, in what today is known as Northern Israel. They named their new settlement Degania after the five varieties of grain that would grow on the land.

Kibbutz Degania actually consists of two separate settlements: Degania Aleph and Degania Bet. The land for Degania Aleph, which is located just south of the Sea of Galilee, was purchased by Keren Kayemet Leyisra’el (the Jewish National Fund), and was settled by seven immigrants from Romny, Russia. This initial settlement, unfortunately did not succeed, until a second group of pioneers, ten men and two women, arrived from Russia and took over the land in October 1910.

Degania Aleph is often referred to as the “Mother of the Kvutzot” and was often a model for the establishment of other collective settlements in Israel. The second child born in Degania Aleph was none other than famed Israeli general Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) who was named for Moshe Barsky, a Degania resident killed in 1913 by Arab marauders. Noted Zionist activist and war hero Joseph Trumpeldor (1880-1920) had worked at Degania as well.

On May 20, 1948, only a few days after David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel, Degania Aleph came under attack by a Syrian tank unit that attempted to capture the nearby bridge over the Jordan River. The 70 residents of Degania Aleph fought valiantly, and succeeded to keep the Syrians out of their settlement. (One tank did cross the perimeter but was immobilized by a molotov cocktail.) The battle at Degania Bet was no less harrowing, but in the end the Syrians retreated.

Due to numerous factors, including the fall of the Communist Bloc, a strong Israeli economy built on capitalism, a waning of the secular Zionism ideology and a resilient Israeli military that no longer needs to rely on “minutemen” guarding kibbutzim, the Kibbutz movement today is unrecognizable compared to what it was during its heyday. Although as of the year 2000, 17,300 Israelis lived on 268 kibbutzim, the ideologies have changed with much privatization and many of the kibbutzim that had been anti-religious have even embraced religion.

A version of this Treat was last published on Friday, April, 12, 2013.

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