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August 20, 2014 | 24th Av 5774

Pioneers

Galilee Diary #546, August 24, 2011
Marc Rosenstein

[The ultra-Orthodox] look like our grandfathers. How can you slap your grandfather into jail, even if he throws stones at you?
         -David Ben Gurion

In the early 1980s, around when Shorashim was established, a group of idealistic young Conservative Jews from North America established Kibbutz Hannaton just a few miles away - the first (and only) Conservative kibbutz. Hannaton focused on agriculture and educational tourism.  Over the years it struggled both economically and socially, as the founding families gradually became disillusioned and left. A decade ago the place was mostly empty, with just a handful of families remaining. The United Kibbutz Movement, which administers kibbutz lands throughout the country, gave up on the Conservative experiment and allowed a group of young people from the "Hanoar Ha'oved Vehalomed" socialist youth movement to settle on the site, with the intention of reviving it as a secular community. Meanwhile, the original kibbutz members had allowed a contractor to build and market a private suburban-style development on kibbutz land, and dozens of families moved in - people who were seeking a house with a yard in the Galilee, with no interest in the Conservative movement. And then, a few years ago, another wave of idealistic young families interested in a liberal Jewish community organized themselves to move en bloc to Hannaton and revive the dream of a Conservative/pluralistic kibbutz. They saw the settlers from the socialist youth movement as interlopers - while the socialist kids saw the new Conservative wave as a tool of the capitalist real estate interests who had built the private development. The two groups of idealists are now fighting it out in court.

Over the years, our education center at Shorashim has worked in cooperation with Hannaton on a number of occasions; in the past two years, we have included a visit there in the itineraries of groups interested in learning about the various denominations of Judaism in the Galilee. The adventures of the new group making their kibbutz home in the midst of the commercial development are interesting. For example, the kibbutz members want the pre-school in the community to include a certain amount of Jewish education - blessings over food, Shabbat preparations on Friday, etc. However, they share the pre-school with the entire community, and the dominant view of their neighbors, the secular homeowners who constitute the majority, is that such instruction is a form of religious coercion which must not be allowed in a public school. Negotiations continue.  Meanwhile, the Conservative kibbutzniks have revived the Hannaton synagogue, holding egalitarian services there on Shabbat and holidays. They extended an open invitation to their neighbors to join them at any time, especially on the High Holy Days. Just like in the Diaspora, many Israelis who are not regular synagogue-goers feel the need to attend on Yom Kippur, at least on Kol Nidrei eve and/or for the Ne'ilah concluding service the next evening. However, when the secular neighbors discovered that the Hannaton synagogue is egalitarian and has no separation between men and women, they turned to ultra-Orthodox Habad, and invited them to lead a Yom Kippur service in a different building in the community. 

This ironic situation is typical of the liberal movements' encounter with secularized Israeli Jewish society, which sees them as simultaneously too religious and not religious enough.  In recent decades, the Reform and Conservative movements' presence here has grown substantially, as has the number of Israelis who have encountered these movements through sojourns abroad. Still, the mainstream view is that "we may hate the Orthodox, but at least they are authentic." Perhaps the main point of trying to establish Reform and Conservative kibbutzim in the first place (there are two Reform kibbutzim near Eilat - Lotan and Yahel) was to prove that we are just as Israeli, and just as authentic, as anyone else. That challenge is still daunting - but I believe that eventually, our liberal approach will be a key element of a mainstream Israeli Judaism that is still very much a work in progress.

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