Kibbutz volunteers are people who come from all over the world to live and work in a kibbutz in Israel. These volunteers, mostly young people, usually stay at the kibbutz for a short period of time, working in various branches of the kibbutz economy (agriculture, kitchen, gardening and factory). Most volunteers typically come to Israel for a short period of two to three months under a volunteer visa and participate. Volunteers receive food and board, and sometimes pocket money. Some volunteers combine work with studying Hebrew at a kibbutz ulpan. Some kibbutzim organize trips and cultural events for the volunteers.
The volunteers Phenomenon in the kibbutzim began in the mid-1960s when the young generation of Baby Boomers from western nations became curious about kibbutz life and eager to experience it first-hand, and as a result decided to come to Israel, volunteer in a kibbutz and gain experience of living and working in a collective community. Although up until the Six Day War the kibbutzim only had very few volunteers, after the conclusion of the Six-Day War the world's interest in Israel grew, and in the aftermath large numbers of volunteers arrived, and as a result many kibbutzim started to arrange the necessary housing and infrastructure to accommodate this growing phenomenon. During this period there was also an increased interest in Israel among the Diaspora Jewish communities, from which initially the majority of kibbutz volunteers originated.
In the subsequent years the Kibbutz volunteering phenomenon gradually increased significantly and was institutionalized. With time the proportion of Jewish Kibbutz volunteers gradually decreased while the majority of the volunteers at the point were non-Jews whom originated mostly from Western Europe and whom arrived either in organized groups or as individuals. Initially the kibbutzim were very satisfied with the phenomenon as it brought cheap labor which minimized the need to hire workers and brought openness to the various cultures of the world, nevertheless, over time some kibbutzim also became aware of the negative aspects of the phenomenon as it became evident that some individuals among the volunteers used drugs, consumed alcohol, and as the growing rate of intermarriages with the kibbutz members often involved the migration of some of the kibbutz members to the country of origin of the volunteers.
During the peak of the Kibbutz volunteers phenomenon in the 1970s, around 12,000 volunteers arrived each year, and worked in hundreds of different kibbutzim throughout Israel.
Following an acute economic crisis many of the kibbutzim in Israel experienced during the 1980s many kibbutzim began adopting an action-oriented market economy and concluded that basing the economy on the volunteer workforce is not a profitable model. Meanwhile, some kibbutzim gradually began to employ foreign workers from Thailand in the agriculture branch of the Kibbutz and Israeli workers in the industry and services branches of the kibbutz.
Following the intensification of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the last decades of the 20th century, and in particular after the Second Intifada started in 2000, many countries ceased to cooperate with the project and as a result there was a significant decrease in the amount of the kibbutz volunteers. The decrease hit its lowest point in 2001, when only 100 volunteers arrived in Israel. In recent years, there has been a slight increase in the amount of volunteers and in 2007, approximately 1,500 kibbutz volunteers came to Israel.
In total, 350,000 volunteers from 35 different countries have volunteered in various kibbutzim in Israel since 1967, while most of the volunteers through the years have arrived from the United Kingdom (circa 50,000), South Africa (circa 40,000), Sweden (circa 25,000), Denmark (circa 20,000), and Germany (circa 15,000).
- Jerry Seinfeld, the American comedian and star of the television comedy "Seinfeld" volunteered at the age of 17 in Kibbutz Sa'ar in 1971.
- Sacha Baron Cohen, the British comedian best known for the roles of Ali G and Borat volunteered in Rosh HaNikra and Kibbutz Beit HaEmek for a year in the late 1980s as part of the Shnat Habonim Dror.
- Sigourney Weaver, the American actress who starred in the Alien series, volunteered in a Kibbutz for several months at the age of 18 in 1967.
- Helen Mirren, the British actress who starred in The Queen, volunteered in a Kibbutz for 6 months after the Six Day War.
- Simon Le Bon, the lead singer of Duran Duran, volunteered in Kibbutz Gvulot. The band's first album included a track called "Tel Aviv".
- Sandra Bernhard, the American comedian, actress, author and singer, volunteered in for a year Kibbutz Kfar Menachem at the age of 17 in 1972.
- Debra Winger, the American actress and the star of "An Officer and a Gentleman", volunteered on a kibbutz and even served in the IDF. (she has denied it stating that she only visited a kibbutz as part of a youth programme.)
- Bob Hoskins, the British actor and the star of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit", volunteered at Kibbutz Zikim at the age of 25 in 1967.
- Annie Leibovitz, the American portrait photographer, volunteered at Kibbutz Amir at the age of 20 in 1969.
- Heinz Fischer - Austria's president, volunteered at Kibbutz Sarid at the age of 25 in 1963.
- Michele Bachmann - American Congresswoman and 2012 US Presidential candidate, spent a summer volunteering at Kibbutz Be'eri at the age of 18 in 1974.
- In the footsteps of Dylan and Seinfeld: Kibbutz volunteering
- היה הייתה התנדבות
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- Zionism 2.0: Kibbutz volunteer work lives on in the 21st century - Israel News | Haaretz Daily Newspaper
- ידיעות הקיבוץ, קטעי "עובדה!" בגיליון מיוחד לרגל 100 שנות קיבוץ (גיליון מספר 1237, מתאריך 29.9.2010)
- American Jewish comedian Jerry Seinfeld in Israel to promote new movie - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News
- What do two Britons living in a small Israeli kibbutz have to do with a death in Dubai? - Middle East - World - The Independent
- תרבות - קולנוע nrg - סשה ברון כהן מתרומם עם ברונו
- Israel re-brands kibbutzim to lure eco-aware generation | World news | The Observer
- Sigourney Weaver Biography - Yahoo! Movies
- Helen Mirren recounts kibbutz life YNet. 09/07/2011
- Kibbutz Movement planning reunion for thousands of foreign volunteers - Haaretz Daily Newspaper | Israel News
- Sandra Bernhard Has a Real Attitude Problem, and Fans Like It That Way : People.com
- "הייתי בשוק כשביבי נבחר" - וואלה! תרבות
- He just keeps bobbing upIsrael News - Haaretz Israeli News source
- "Annie Leibovitz Biography". bookrags. Retrieved July 19, 2007.
- Austrian president vows to bring up Schalit case with Assad | Middle East
- Michele Bachmann on Israel, and considering herself Jewish | TC Jewfolk
- Focus U.S.A.-Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News source
- First-hand kibbutz volunteering guide by John Carson
- Kibbutz Program Center (KPC) official site
- Kibbutz Program Center (KPC) USA branch
- WWOOF Israel/ volunteer in organic kibbutz