Kibbutz information (Frequently Asked Questions)

Free Kibbutz Volunteer Guide
A 20-page PDF file that I wrote containing a summary of information on how to be a kibbutz volunteer. Download, read online, e-mail to friends or print out for handy reference. (You will need the free Adobe reader to view it which can be downloaded from here.)

Kibbutz Volunteer
Very famous book about being a kibbutz volunteer in Israel.
This is the working traveller's guide to Israel and the Palestinian territories including: kibbutzim & moshavim, archaeological digs, tourism, conservation, au pair work, etc.

School Books And Gas Masks
An essay I wrote about being in Israel during the first Gulf War.

This section of is designed to give those of you pondering about whether or not to join a kibbutz ALL the answers.

Just click on any of the questions below...

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?

    What is a kibbutz?
    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. The plural of kibbutz is kibbutzim.

    Why do kibbutzim need volunteers? 
    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.


    What kind of job might I be doing? 
    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. You might get lucky and find a great job you want to keep doing (like I did as a gardener -- out all day with my own tractor!).


    How much will it cost me? 
    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 you do use another organization make sure they are reputable.


    What hours will I work? 
    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.


    What's the accommodation like? 
    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.


    What's the age restrictions? 
    Officially you have to be between the ages of 18-35.


    How long can I go for? 
    Nowadays you can stay on a kibbutz for anything from two months 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.


    Do I have to go with a group? 
    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.


    How much will I get paid? 
    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. Some kibbutzim also give you free cigarettes, aerogrammes, condoms and candles. After a while you can also ask for a pay rise!


    Are there any other benefits for volunteers? 
    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.


    What's the weather like? 
    Israel has long hot summers and short mild winters. December-March are the rainy months but if you're from Northern Europe you'll find it still rains less than in your home country. It can also snow in Israel. There was a serious snowstorm in January 2000 that affected even the hills of the Negev Desert in the South of Israel although the biggest problem was the traffic congestion caused by the Tel Aviv population driving out of the city for snowseeing tours! The north is the coolest area but even there it will get as hot as 32c in summer. Jerusalem is built up a hill so it can get cold in winter time. The south is very hot and has extremely mild winters. The resort of Eilat on the Red Sea is a winter playground for people escaping the European weather. The Jordan valley can also be surprisingly warm in winter.


    What's the catch? 
    As far as I can tell, there's not one! 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! There are still people I keep in touch with from my two years as a kibbutz volunteer in Israel -- members and volunteers.

    Is Israel safe? 
    At the moment there is renewed violence and tension in the West Bank, and Gaza Strip. Unfortunately, the threat of terrorism and civil unrest is something that the Israelis have to deal with on a daily basis. It is highly unlikely you will experience any dangerous situations as long as you follow local advice about where and where not to travel. Israel lives in a type of siege mentality. You'll see armed soldiers everywhere. You may be alarmed by this at first but you'll soon get used to it. Security is very important all over Israel including the kibbutzim. When you arrive at your kibbutz you may be surprised by the perimeter fence and watchtowers. They're there to keep terrorists out, not you in! There are bomb shelters throughout Israel. Often they are used for holding parties or discos (and occasionally hiding from the bombs of surrounding countries). Before you arrive in Israel you'll get the pleasure of being quizzed by Israeli security staff at the airport or port of departure. Don't consider making flippant remarks along the lines of "oh yeah, the bomb's in my other bag." If you do, you'll find they won't share your sense of humour. Basically because of the prevalence of soldiers and vigilant civilians Israel is safe to travel in and visit. A word of warning though: don't change money on the streets no matter how good the vendor's rate of exchange may be, you're sure to get ripped off. You're advised to only use registered taxis because unlicensed ones may rip you off, beat you, steal from you or worse. You might be offered some dope in the old city of Jerusalem. Don't even be tempted. Often the police have paid these guys so they can catch you in the act. Unlike Europe, there are still stiff penalties for soft drugs possession and use. However, crime is relatively low.

 

 

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