It takes a village to raise a child… It’s a statement that’s often bandied about, especially in western societies where we mourn the socially isolated culture we’ve largely become. Often, the only contact we have with our neighbours is a quick wave as we drive into our internal garages, closing the electronic door behind us. And while there are local communities we can tap into: mothers groups, church congregations, sporting clubs and school associations, breaking into these groups and forming meaningful friendships is not always easy. Sometimes, the parenting journey is lonely.
When my children were younger and I was caring for them at home, I can remember counting down the hours and minutes until my husband would return home from work. They were precious days spent with my little ones, but they were long and exhausting days too. Realising my need for a supportive community, I joined a playgroup, and before long, began coordinating the playgroup. For more than ten years, I met weekly with a bunch of mums and swapped stories of parenting fails and triumphs over multiple cups of tea. Often we only enjoyed rushed conversation, snatched between pushing our kids on swings, breaking up toy tug-of-wars and running potty-training toddlers to the toilet. But we shared our tears and fears, we cooked meals for each other when new babies arrived, we celebrated birthdays with cake and we ventured on outings together. I’d found my community, and I was a better mother for it.
When I heard about the Kibbutz communities in Israel, I was intrigued. This is community living on a much larger scale, where each child is literally raised by the whole village. Essentially, a Kibbutz is a group of people who voluntarily decide to live in a democratic and self-sufficient community. It is non-competitive, and is founded on the principles of communal ownership of property, social justice and equality. Although it sounds idealistic, it has been surprisingly successful. The first Kibbutz was established in 1909, and now, more than 100 years later, there are approximately 270 thriving Kibbutz communities within Israel.
Be a Fun Mum Editor, Kelly, was recently invited to Israel and spent time with a family living in a Kibbutz community. Neta and Noam were attracted to the Kibbutz lifestyle because they wanted to be more involved in the education of their three children, now aged 20, 15 and 10, and to ensure they grew up with strong, community-minded values.
Neta, Noam & two of their three children
Neta explained how self-sufficient community life worked on a practical level: “For example, if we want to have a pool at the Kibbutz, we will not bring in an outsider to build it for us. We will do it ourselves, together,” she explained.
“So our kids are involved in planting the bushes by the pool, and the pool will be run by the teenagers in the community. They will not earn any money, but at the end of the year they will be able to fund a trip for themselves.
“So the value here is giving to the community. The money is not the target, the way and what we learn during the project is the target.”
Neta said that the kids also run a coffee house, where they bake cakes, cookies and meals for the elders of the kibbutz. Over food and drink, the elders share stories with the children about how the kibbutz was built, and what life was like in the old days. Through these meetings, a valuable connection is forged between young and old.
But Neta said it is not only the children who benefit from this lifestyle. “I enjoy the people, the atmosphere, the community and celebrating holidays with my friends, she said.
“For example, soon we will celebrate Shavuot (the holiday that mentions Moses getting the Torah from God) and we will have a mother-daughter dance and announce all the new babies born this past year. We also give presents to the soldiers that protect us.”
It may sound like utopia, but I wondered if there were any challenges associated with this lifestyle.
“Of course there are challenges,” Neta conceded. “The kibbutz is so social and sometimes you want privacy… You need to know the balance between your social life, your private life and your family. Every day we learn the balance and try to keep it in the small community.”
Neta and Noam have three daughters, with their eldest serving in the air force. Their second daughter studies at the kibbutz school, and spends her afternoons dancing or in the scouts. Their youngest also attends the kibbutz school and spends her afternoons painting, drawing and with friends. Interestingly, the girls spend two nights per week sleeping at the school, as well as time volunteering in schools with autistic children.
“My daughters fit into the kibbutz in the same way I do,” Neta explained. “They have an active social life, friends of all ages, and they have a lot of fun.”
The Sabbath, on Saturday, is a very important day in the Jewish community; a day for resting, not working. Neta said her family often used the time to take trips all over their country.
“At Shishi night, the day before Sabbath, we light candles and blessing for good things, then we have a big dinner,” she said. “We cook special food for the meal, and my husband makes us a delicious kind of bread called a Halla.”
“The Halla opens the meal. At every Sabbath dinner we invite people to celebrate with us. It is usually friends and family and can get to 15 people.”
Neta said that before they begin eating, they “make a Kiddush”.
“We pray to God and thank him for having all this food. We stand around the table and sing a lot of songs together to accept the Sabbath that is coming. After the Kiddush, each one has to say something good about his or her week. It is a good opportunity to listen to our family’s experiences over the past week.”
Sharing regular meals with friends, valuing young and old, working together for unselfish gain, cultivating gratefulness, and creating family traditions – there’s a lot we can learn from the kibbutz way of life, and perhaps apply to our own lifestyles and communities. It’s certainly food for thought, and I must raise the topic at my next playgroup get-together. Although most of our children are now at school and we’ve moved into a different stage of life, we still meet up regularly for coffee or dinner. We may not be chasing runaway toddlers while gulping down cold tea anymore, but our need for community, support and friendship remains.
Sharing regular meals with friends, valuing young and old, working together for unselfish gain, cultivating gratefulness, and creating family traditions – there’s a lot we can learn from the kibbutz way of life.
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What I learned From Israel and the Women Who Live There
Chats over Good Food: Parenting in the Holiest Cities in the World
Images by Sharni Sadicario