Wednesday, October 26, 2011



You can find the KIBBUTZ PROGRAMME CENTER in Frishman Street 6 / Tel Aviv. Very easy to find, as the location is right next to Ben Yehudah Street. The office itself is small and reminded me of the good old Kibbutz days. A typical Israeli office style from the 80ies.

Three young people in their early twenties were waiting when I walked in. A couple from Sweden being happy because they obviously got a great Kibbutz place, and another young guy who also got an offer to volunteer. 

Being a Kibbutz volunteer has always attracted young people from all over the world. Including myself. While I was studying at the university in Germany, I was looking for a cheap vacation and thus found out about Kibbutzim. The Jewish Agency organized the trip and I just had to show up at the Kibbutz Office in Tel Aviv and pick a place. 

What do you expect from the life as a volunteer ? You work about six hours per day, share a room with two or three other people. Some Kibbutzim used to offer those volunteers staying longer their own rooms. In my very first Kibbutz I got my own room after about four months. 

What else ? You won't spend too much money while staying on a Kibbutz. The Kibbutz provides food, your laundry is being done, you get two or three days off per month and some pocket money. It is a very convenient way to live for a couple of months. Even too convenient. I have never slept so much in my life as on a Kibbutz after coming back from work. I read a lot, as almost every Kibbutz has its own library. 

My first Kibbutz was almost entirely American and called GEZER (outside Ramle, south - east of Tel Aviv). I was either working with the chickens or in the dining - room and I loved being there. There wasn't too much to do and those looking for action went to Tel Aviv. I stayed for nine months and can say that I had a great time. The volunteers were treated very well and we were free to choose our jobs. 

My second Kibbutz was a much bigger Kibbutz: Revivim in the Negev. There I wasn't a volunteer but in my first Ulpan (Hebrew language course). And where do people work in Revivim ? In the plastic factory "Raviv". We had one day work, one day class and also there I enjoyed my time. Already then, Revivim was huge and the difference to Gezer was that most of the members didn't really know us and we didn't know them. Volunteers and Ulpan had their own section in the dining - room and adopted families didn't really work out. 

My last Kibbutz was Givat Brenner, one of the largest Kibbutzim in the country. Located near Rehovot and famous for its Disneyland "Beit Chalomotai - The House of your Dreams" where I worked in the snackbar. This was in the days when they still had the old Beit Chalomotai. Now they have a new one with Mc Donald's downstairs. 

I was very lucky with all three Kibbutzim and always look back with great memories. 

On Monday I went to the Kibbutz Office for a very different reason. My volunteer days are over, not only due to my advanced age. The Kibbutz movement only accepts people until the age of 35. 

This time I wanted to find out some further details about being accepted as a volunteer, as one of my German blog readers had asked me some specific questions. The Kibbutz Programme Center has a very detailed website, however, I still had a few things to ask. 

Director Aya Sagi invited me into her office and explained the application process.


Aya Sagi - Director of the Kibbutz Programme Centers in Tel Aviv

I told her that I was a bit shocked learning from the center's website that now potential volunteers have to sign up in advance. Let's say your are thinking about becoming a Kibbutz volunteer, you go to the center's site and fill in the application form. Then you wait for an okay and go to Israel. 

Until a few years ago, you could only show up at the Kibbutz Office and got a place. Now everything seems t be very formal. Why ? 

Aya Sagi explained that the Ministry of the Interior (Misrad HaPnim) has changed the regulations. An applicant has to give his name and passport number in advance. Once a week or every second week, Aya Sagi is going to the Misrad HaPnim in order to show the list with all the names. The Ministry is checking the names in order to decide if there is a danger of certain applicants staying in Israel. 

As we all know, many people from Third World countries, Eastern Europe, Thailand, India or China have discovered Israel as a kind of new paradise. Europe as well as the US have closed their borders and for the past years, thousands of foreigners have been streaming into Israel in order to stay here. Israel, however, considers itself as a JEWISH state and wants to avoid non - Jews staying in the country and maybe changing its character. Some Kibbutz applicants may use the volunteer's visa and, later on, infiltrate into the country and keep on staying illegally. This is the reason for the Ministry checking names and passport numbers. 

Another reason is the volunteer's visa itself. Volunteers signing up in advance already receive their special visa when they enter Israel. Once tourists enter the country with a tourist visa and later decide to volunteer in a Kibbutz, can hardly change their visa status. 

Health Insurance

It doesn't matter what health insurance you have. When you get to the Kibbutz Office in Tel Aviv you have to pay 340 Shekels (approx. 95 Dollar) for a general health insurance from the Israeli Kupat Cholim Klalit. This procedure is binding to all Kibbutz volunteers, as there have been problems in the past. Volunteers came with all kinds of different health insurances and when something happened, they didn't have enough money to cover the costs in advance. The Kibbutz had to pay and the volunteers left without returning the money. Until today, many Kibbutzim are still waiting for the money to be returned.

For how long am I  allowed to stay on a Kibbutz ? 

For six months. Nine months are possible but the Ministry of the Interior has to agree.

For those who are not getting accepted, Aya Sagi suggest a different volunteer programme called SAR – EL. Maybe their conditions are not that strict. Furthermore, people have the possibility to sign up for WWOOF Israel  - organic farms in Israel.
In the past, most Kibbutzim were part of the Kibbutz Programme and accepted volunteers. Today, on the other hand, only a very few Kibbutzim are still receiving volunteers. "It depends on the season, said Aya Sagi. There are months when there are less applicants such as August or December but the Kibbuztim are looking for people. And there are other months when there are more applicants but less work". 

In case that people come to the Kibbutz Office and there is no work, they may have to wait for a week or maybe two. It looks like the most popular volunteers are actually Germans. They have the work mentality and show up on time. Moreover they do what they are being told and don't start trouble. I can tell you different stories about some Brits, spoiled American daughters, Australians or South Africans. :-) 

Generally speaking, becoming a Kibbutz volunteer is not that cheap. The application fee is about 400 Shekels (approx. 100 Dollar) + the health insurance of 340 Shekels. Furthermore, you should have at least 800 Shekels (200 Dollar) in your pocket. Aya Sagi stated that sometimes it can also be a little less than 800 Shekels. However, no one wants you to be broke and cover your expenses. In addition, some Kibbutzim may ask you for a deposit of 200 - 300 Shekels. The money is being returned to you when you leave. At least as long you didn't cause any damage.

If you are interested or have already been a Kibbutz volunteer in the past, the Programme has its own  Facebook Page  !  

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this article Miriam. David