Kibbutz history comes in focus at Contemporary Jewish Museum 

The kibbutz (Hebrew for “gathering”) foreshadowed the state of Israel.

The 20th-century movement of collective farms based on socialist and agrarian ideals not only influenced the structure and culture of Israel, it produced notable political and military leaders from the 1920s-60s and defined the country’s pioneer generation.

“To Build and Be Built: Kibbutz History,” a modest yet informative display at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, explores kibbutzim’s history and its effect on Israel’s development.

Some 30 photos from archives and museum collections, as well as audio video and text, offer a concise overview of the history of the kibbutz movement, from early settlements of 1909 to the present. The presentation also shows how the kibbutz has transformed through the decades, reflecting how Israel has become increasingly urban.

Degania, the initial kibbutz, was founded in 1909 — long before Israel existed — by a small group of Eastern European idealists who wanted to create a Jewish society. The settlers lived near the Sea of Galilee in a harsh, rural landscape, with the intention of developing a muscular Judaism, as opposed to the overtly intellectual nature of the Jews in Europe.

Their idealism and pioneering spirit drove them forward, helping them make innovations that set the stage for future kibbutzim.

The evolution of those skills — in farming, architecture, education, child-rearing and communal living — saw the emergence of a self- reliant Israeli personality able to respond positively to challenges. It was a different attitude than that of pre-World War II Jews, many of whom perished in the Holocaust.

Through the years, a variety of kibbutzim arose, some focusing mostly on community, and others on varied levels of traditional religious observance.

After the establishment of Israel, the role of kibbutzim in defining and defending territory became stronger. The kibbutz inspired Jewish youth movements and summer camps around the world and encouraged teens to travel to Israel and work the land.

In the 1980s, some kibbutzim were privatized due to economic pressures. Today, many are centers for urban farming and education, or are summer camps.

Some Israeli cities are homes of urban kibbutzim that serve their communities or focus on technology. Drip irrigation systems and solar energy are among the innovations established on kibbutzim.


To Build and Be Built: Kibbutz History

Where: Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission St., S.F.

When: 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except closed Wednesdays and 1 to 8 p.m. Thursdays; show runs through July 1

Tickets: $5 to $12

Contact: (415) 655-7800,

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Murray Paskin

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