CHANGES. Kfar Hanassi ~
Kibbutz or Community Village?

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The changes I have described took place gradually. The, in 1988, an economic catastrophe that had been brewing for three years exploded into public knowledge. The kibbutz had a vast debt and no means to deal with it - bankruptcy in all but name.

First of all, it was essential to stop spending more than we earned. The finances of the business side of the kibbutz were separated from the costs of running the community, which now had to live within the income from work and from profits. This meant, among other things, costing wages for work realistically, instead of paying an equal sum to the community for every member's working day. The concept that some people's work is worth more than others' was a huge frog to swallow. Just as difficult was to instill the notion that there is a direct link between what members of the kibbutz earned and what they could spend.

A partial link between allowances for members and their individual wages was established for a trial period, while yet maintaining a wide spectrum of services, still provided according to need - education, food, health, housing and so on. Introducing even this degree of differential wages was an earthquake. Next, more and more of these services were incorporated into the personal allowance. One of the first, for example, was to install a meter in each house and give each family an allowance for the electricity it used (with adjustments for children and special health needs). Another example that was introduced early on was paying for telephone calls and postage. You could save money or cover the shortfall from your general allowance. The idea behind these moves was to encourage individual effort at work - you could augment your income by overtime or moonlighting - and thrift at home.

What made this possible at all, in addition to economic necessity, was the growing pressure, especially from the second generation, for each individual to set his own priorities in expenditure, and to benefit from his own efforts and abilities, that is, for personal responsibility and freedom of choice.

After two years of trial, the kibbutz took the next logical steps. Each member now receives his wages and pays for his living expenses from them. Today (early in 2004), most services are paid for by the individual. These include food: the dining hall, once the center of kibbutz life, now only serves the midday meal, which is admittedly still subsidized. We pay individually for clothes, furniture, house repairs and any health and education costs that are not covered by the Health Service or Ministry of Education. We pay the real cost of using the kibbutz's fleet of cars, we pay a municipal tax on our houses, for some optional insurance schemes, and so on. The remaining services - administration, infrastructure, etc., - are paid for by a local tax, which is assessed in proportion to the member's income.

Each individual is now responsible for finding his own job. We have members who are unemployed (the kibbutz gives them some relief), which was unheard of in the days when work was centrally organized. Other members have found very well-paid jobs outside the kibbutz. There is a marked and growing difference in standards of living. Curiously, a lot of private money has come out of the woodwork, to pay for extensions to houses, private cars and trips abroad. Many members seem to be better off than before, others are struggling - and the kibbutz is as hard up as ever.

Updated 14/01/04 GN

You can write to georgeney@hotmail.comt 3

 

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