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Degania - The Mother of the Kibbutzim

The following was culled and translated from leaflets produced by Deganya and from the special 90th Anniversary Issue of the journal, Hakibbutz.

"On the 25th of Tishrei. 5671 (October 28, 1910), we, ten men and two women comrades, came to Um Juni, and received the inventory from the `pioneering group'. We proceeded to establish an independent settlement of Hebrew workers on national land. A cooperative community without exploiters or exploited - a commune."



The early days of Deganya (by courtesy of the Deganya A. Archives)

That was the beginning of the kibbutz movement. The uniqueness of the move was the fact that it intended to realize a social vision as a way of life, through working the land and permanent settlement in the Land of Israel. Two years later, the group moved to its permanent site, next to the outlet of the Jordan from the Sea of Galilee, on land purchased for the Jewish National Fund from its Persian landowners.

Long discussions after work slowly crystallized the principles of "the beautiful life".

  • Equality of the different kinds of work, between people, in consumption.
  • Freedom of the individual from material worries.
  • Democracy. No managers and no underlings. The abolition of all hierarchy and rank.


Many were the doubts, taking into account the difficult conditions then prevailing: the seering climate, the plagues of nature, diseases, relations with the neighbors and a hostile alien regime. Despite the problems and the sacrifices, their spirit did not waver. And there were happy events as well: families were established, children were born, years of blessing in agriculture came, which proved their economic ability and the justice of the idea.

With the outbreak of the War of Independence, Deganya stood courageously against a Syrian tank attack and forced it back.

With the passing of the years, Deganya underwent a surge of social and economic development: a stable economy was gradually built up, based on agricultural know-how and advanced, technology. Much later, an industrial enterprise was created, against strong opposition by agriculturally-minded members.

The seed planted in "Um Juni" laid the foundation for the national cooperative settlement on the Land of Israel.

Some Facts About Deganya

  • The name Deganya was derived from the Hebrew word "dagan" meaning "grain", because of the five species that grew there: wheat, barley, oats, corn and sorghum.
  • The children of Deganya never slept in children's houses.
  • Today Deganya has 359 members, with a total population of 509.
  • 17 descendants of the founders live in Deganya. The fifth generation has got off to a good start with 3 great-great- grandchildren!
  • The sophisticated diamond-tipped tool-making factory constitutes the major part (70%) of the kibbutz economy.


A Few Milestones Of Deganya
1910 - Deganya founded.
1913 - The first child in Deganya born. The first member killed by Arab bandits.
1916 - Decision in principle: cooperative care and education for the children.
1919 - A. D. Gordon the founder of the "Religion of Labour", arrived.
1920 - The land divided, to form Deganya 'B'. A group leaves to found the first moshav (cooperative settlement).
1927 - The founding of a joint regional school.
1932 - Electricity connected to Deganya.
1948 - The War of Independence; the Syrian attack repulsed.
1968 - The establishment of "Toolgal Degania" - the first industrial project in Deganya.

Some Gems from Deganya's Past

  • There were no watches. Instead there was a bell, hanging from a tree near the old dining room, which the night watchman used to ring to wake people up. But no fixed hour had been decided. Two of the veteran members would sniff the air to determine when the hour was ripe to go to work.
  • The poetess Rachel, in one of her poems, told how she tried to explain futurism to members of Deganya. A leading veteran asked, "What's that got to do with wheat?" Everyone continued the discussion - on wheat, instead of on modern art.
  • When one of the women veterans returned from a mission abroad, she enthused about the "new" artificial insemination of cows. One of the children - later the commander of Israel's air force " asked, "Why don't humans use it?" Her reply was that.... ( her husband) prefers the old system.
  • In the twenties, a visitor asked what Deganya does to a member who doesn't work. The answer was, "We wouldn't love him!"
  • In the twenties and thirties: "Democracy? The system was patriarchal. Without this, we wouldn't have achieved what we have. The veteran members were something special. You could express different opinions, but...things were decided not by the number of people but by their weight.
  • In the twenties, Albert Einstein and his wife visited Deganya. In the dining room, Mrs. Einstein asked if the macaroni is always cooked with raisins. The cook waved her hand and all the "raisins" flew away.
  • When the manager of the factory, in his pursuit for markets, bought a business suit, the accounting department agreed to pay for only the jacket. The reason: "You'll also wear the trousers on the eve of the Sabbath".


Recollections the Early Days of Communal Education

  • One of the first children recalls: "It never occurred to me that I could have an orange and not share it with all the children. I miss the togetherness and the mutual concern for one another.... Studies were nothing special. When tomatoes had to be planted, we small children would be woken at three in the morning."
  • "We were raised with perpetual guilty consciences. We were made to feel responsible, not only for ourselves but for society, for the whole world."
  • "We had to read books, prepare lessons, go to all the celebrations, even to eat. The problem was that everyone had to like the same things. The other children hated spinach, but I liked it - so I was boycotted. On the other hand, we had a great deal of freedom. "


Deganya Alef - February, 2006

A recent kibbutz event drew the attention of the international news media! 97-year old Deganya Alef, the "Mother of the Kibbutzim", decided by a vast majority to go over to "graded salaries", while maintaining a generous Social Security network for its weaker members. Some of the media regarded the event like the breakup of the USSR! - despite the fact that many other kibbutzim have made similar privatization decisions. (I'm enclosing a couple press reactions. Not that I agree with all their content, of course, but you should find them of at least partial interest.) In a nutshell, they've gone over to the classic definition of socialism - not communism - "From each according to his ability, to each according to his contribution". Thus Deganya will remain far more communal than most ICs.

Their decision was taken from a very strong economic position. Ironically, their close neighbour, Deganya Bet, which is somewhat worse off financially, has recently decided against such a change. This runs against the conventional view that lack of economic success is a big factor encouraging privatization.

A Hundred Years of Kibbutz (Almost)

The following is the response of journalist Yael Paz-Melamed, a daughter of Deganya Alef, to the privatization decision.

"Deganya Alef are we, all the world knows,
For without us, the world would not exist."

Thus I sang from my parched throat during my whole childhood, which couldn't possibly have been happier. That is what I really thought throughout my whole childhood. That without us, the world would not exist. Because we were Deganya Alef. The very best. The elite of the elite. For the rightest of reasons, we had earned this title. We were the grandchildren of those who first conceived and then carried out the noble idea called kibbutz.

We were privileged to meet only a few of them, and we considered it a great honour to meet those we did. We were proud to meet those who, as children aged 17 and 18, left their parents, their home, their homelands, and settled alone on the soil of Um Juni, in order to create a new society on the basis of everyone giving what he can and receiving according to his needs. At no time since, has a movement arisen with more lofty ideals than this principle.

My grandmother and grandfather arrived in Deganya when everything was already crystallized. One tiny woman, ultra-religious, and one big-bodied man, an atheist. She had arrived from the USA, he from Russia. My mother was born into a society where the community was sacred and work was holy. The children had to manage by themselves. And they did. Nature was their home, the fields, the Jordan, the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). No one worried about them because, surrounded by all that beauty, there was no cause for concern. I myself was born into the most protected society that one could ever find. We, the children of the sixties, were "wrapped up" on all sides. That we should eat, that we wouldn't be cold, that we would be happy. And we were. And above all, the adamant spirit of the elders was always hovering. The same children that left everything didn't know that one day, as the years would go by, everybody would leave them. That they would sink into the abyss of forgetfulness of a state which sends its pioneers and builders to die alone, not in the snow, but in the blazing sun.

And now, privatization. No longer will everyone give what he can and receive according to his needs. Almost 100 years after the founding of the first kibbutz in the world (1910), the way was found to keep it alive by means of an artificial heart. Another chapter has ended and nothing remains but to ask that those brave-hearted trail-blazers be remembered. But no way! Who will remember them?

And I, who also left my home many years ago, know that by so doing, I contributed my bit to the ending of this chapter. One day I sat with my parents in our home above the shore of the Kinneret, the exact spot where the Jordan flows out of it. When, with down cast eyes, I announced to them that I would not continue in their path, I placed a little stone on the grave of the kibbutz. All my life, I long for the low-stemmed palm- tree near our home, for the fields now turning green, to the hidden beauty spots of the Jordan. But I left, like so many others of my comrades, to search of a different future. And thus, we all contributed to the downfall of this beloved place.

Fare you well, Deganya Alef, my beloved! And thank you for all the moments of bliss and for all the days, months and years that fill my heart with joy to this very day. A great privilege was granted me to be born and grow up in Kibbutz Deganya Alef, which this week announced that it would no longer be a kibbutz.

Translated from the kibbutz weekly, "Hadaf Hayarok", 22.2. 2007.

 

 

First kibbutz Degania celebrates 100 years

By Ban Hartman

Jerusalem Post 04/01/10

The Kibbutz Movement has a lot to contribute, and we’re not done,” says 3rd-generation resident.

Hundreds of members of the Kibbutz Movement (Hatnua Hakibbutzit) from across the country gathered at Kvutza Degania Aleph on the Kinneret on Wednesday to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the founding of the first kibbutz.
The event in the courtyard of the Founders House, one of the first buildings erected at Degania, was attended by President Shimon Peres and MKs Haim Oron (Meretz), who joined Kibbutz Lahav after the army, and Shai Hermesh (Kadima), who became a member of Kibbutz Kfar Aza after his military service.
Ze’ev Shor, head of the Kibbutz Movement, which was formed in 1999 by a partial merger of the United Kibbutz Movement and Kibbutz Artzi, spoke of the contributions of kibbutzim to the agriculture and defense of the state.
“We must remind ourselves and others that building the land, defining and defending its borders are not empty words or clichés,” he said.
Despite changes that have taken place over the years in Israel, kibbutzniks “hold our heads up high” for their contribution to Israeli society, Shor said.
Peres also addressed the crowd, reminiscing over the old days in Israel and the simple joys of living on a kibbutz. Peres, who lived on Kibbutz Geva for several years as a young man and was one of the founders of Kibbutz Alumot, said that Israel “wouldn’t be what it is today without all of the security and social achievements of the Kibbutz Movement.”
Wednesday’s event included a celebration for five kibbutz members celebrating their 100th birthdays.
Founded by immigrants from Russia and Ukraine in 1910, Degania has loomed large in Zionist lore for many years, partly due to its role in stopping the Syrian advance during the War of Independence. On May 20, 1948, during the Battles of the Kinnerot Valley, Degania Aleph and Degania Bet repelled a Syrian attack. Outside the main gate of Degania Aleph, a Syrian tank still stands, testament to the kibbutz’s role in defending the earliest borders of the state.
The kibbutz on the southern shore of Lake Kinneret was also the birthplace of legendary IDF chief of General Staff Moshe Dayan, and was home to a number of prominent residents of the nascent state. The poet Rachel, the “prophet of labor” A.D. Gordon and Zionist hero Joseph Trumpeldor all worked at Degania Aleph.
Tamar Gal-Sarai, the cultural director of Degania Aleph, said celebrating the 100th anniversary “means a lot of pride, as simple as that. It’s one thing to be an entity for 100 years, it’s another thing for a living thing to be around for 100 years.”
Gal-Sarai, 49, a third-generation resident whose grandparents were the first family on the kibbutz, said that despite the changes in Israel and those adopted by the movement, the role of the kibbutz remained “to be the light, the torch leading the camp.”
She described the Kibbutz Movement as “always on the periphery,” always on the front line of contribution to the state. She said that for her, being a kibbutznik meant “we make the choice that we aren’t only going to take, that we’re giving a lot and making a choice to perform extra service.”
“The Kibbutz Movement has a lot to contribute, and we’re not done,” Gal-Sarai said.

 

You can find another article about Degania here.