Radical Israeli kibbutz rewrites the family rules
Kibbutz Snir, Israel
Members of this young communal settlement have defied the ideology of their kibbutz movement by permitting children to sleep in their parents' homes rather than in communal ''children's houses.''
Although the main kibbutz organization to which Snir is affiliated virtually drummed the kibbutz out of its ranks, Snir's decision relects a growing trend among Israel's kibbutzim toward adaptation of ideology to human nature.
''We believe that for us, at least, this is the best way to bring up children ,'' said a young mother who had voted with the kibbutz majority to abandon one of the basic precepts of kibbutz life.
With the establishment of the first kibbutzim more than 70 years ago in an avowed effort to create ''a new Jewish man in a new Jewish society,'' children were raised in communal houses, permitting their mothers to work in the fields alongside the men. In addition to freeing the women, this arrangement came to be viewed as a way of freeing the children from the randomness of fate, granting them equal education and values regardless of the family they happened to have been born into.
From infancy, children lived in houses with children of their own age presided over by housemothers. They would sleep and take all their meals in the children's house and visit their parents at the end of the day, usually for two or three hours. The parents would usually come to tuck the small children in at night.
Although two or three generations of children have been raised this way by now, it has not subdued the instincts that say that a child's bed should be in his parents' house.
''I felt all through my childhood that it was wrong to sleep away from my parents,'' says Dvora, a young mother at Kibbutz Ein Carmel near Haifa who was brought up on the kibbutz. ''The children at Kibbutz Sdot Yam used to all sneak out to their parents at night, but we couldn't. I don't want my children to have to go through this.''
Ein Carmel is one of many of Israel's 230 kibbutzim which have decided in recent years to switch to family housing. These kibbutzim are all members of the two major movements, Ichud and Meuchad, which gave permission to member kibbutzim to make their own decision in the matter.
Kibbutz Snir, however, belongs to a third movement, Artzi, which is ideologically purist. The movements, separated by ideological nuances, provide vital fiscal and organizational support to member kibbutzim. The Artzi movement reduced Snir's status from full membership to ''candidacy,'' reduced financial aid to the decade-old settlement, and said it would not channel volunteers or potential new members to the kibbutz for two years. The other movements, however , have indicated they will assist Snir if requested.
At Ein Carmel, new housing is being built with extra rooms for children. Dvora and her husband are meanwhile sleeping in their living room, leaving the bedroom to their year-old son.
Family sleeping arrangements are only one of the changes away from rigorous communality in Israel's kibbutzim. In the early days, there was a single, communal tea pot and a centrally located radio so that even leisure was a jointly shared experience. The idea of private telephones in members' apartments was anathema, threatening the face-to-face relationships that are at the heart of the kibbutz system and encouraging individual ties outside the kibbutz.
Today, kibbutz members not only have their own tea pots but well-furnished kitchenettes, and many families choose to take their evening meals in their own homes rather than in the communal dining hall. Virtually every kibbutz apartment has its own television set and some kibbutzim are introducing party-line telephone extensions into members' apartments.
The kibbutz remains probably the most viable commune in the world, with a high level of productivity in agriculture and industry - far higher than the Israeli average - and an active cultural life that includes chamber orchestras and theatrical groups.
To remain viable, it has had to allow increasingly for personal development and the right to privacy. It has also had to acknowledge that the nuclear family , initially viewed as a rival of the collective for members' loyalties, is a critical element in the vitality of the kibbutz.