When I was a guest at Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the Beit Sh’ean Valley in Israel, I had to get up at four or five A.M. to get to the fields on a cart driven behind a tractor, with other young people, so that I could pick vegetables before breakfast. These where huge smorgasbord affairs with lots of oatmeal (because it was cheap, hot, and filling) and whatever was the most of the crop of the day. Of course, I wasn’t a paying guest, I was a worker volunteer.
Years later I became a guest again at another kibbutz, Ramat Rachel, at that time a half-hour ride from Jerusalem. I didn’t have to do any work at all, because this time I paid to be a guest. I still had the smorgasbord breakfast (which all kibbutzim with guest facilities offer), but this time it included a variety of cheeses, cereals, sweets, juices, and fish, among other things. Cappuccino was offered along with coffee and tea. I no longer had to work for my meals, and could enjoy all the recreational offerings of Rama Rachel which included a huge swimming facility, and even water slides. I recently revisited Rama Rachel and since Jerusalem has expanded so much, it is now on the edge of the city with a bus stop which offers buses constantly. It also has been the site of an archaeological excavation and offers an archaeological garden to tour.
Being a guest at one of the many kibbutzim that offer accommodations is a wonderful way to stay in Israel. It offers a different view of the country. There are still old timers who can tell you about the settlement of their kibbutzim. Some may even invite you into their homes. These communities are unique in the world, where its members have joined together to share their lives.
Some of the kibbutzim have special children’s houses, while others offer more customary individual family accommodations. Home accommodations have been generally tailored to the size of the family. Newlyweds generally have smaller apartments than those who have children. Members rotate jobs, so that whoever is now the manager, cook, or server when you visit, may not be the next time you are there.
The kibbutzim are predominately in the country so that fresh produce grown on their farms are served at the meals. No more are the kibbutzim the spartan places they once were. Most have pools, tennis courts, and other recreational offerings. At Kibbutz Lavi, which is perched on a hilltop overlooking Tiberius and the Sea of Galilee, there are even horses, which guests can ride. Lavi also has some ancient artifacts on site, which include a 2000-year-old olive oil press, a huge contraption, in its garden, there are also signs in Braille so even the sight impaired can learn about its flora. Lavi also has a new pool facility with an in pool whirlpool.
Most kibbutzim, along with the de rigueur smorgasbord breakfasts included in the kibbutz hotel price, offer the same type of lunches and dinners, so that you can sample a variety of different food for each meal.
Some of the kibbutzim offer programs with kibbutz members talking about life in their kibbutz.
The kibbutz hotels are located all over the country and offer visitors a chance to experience every geographical aspect of this small, but very physically diverse county. Visitors can stay in kibbutz hotels on, or near also almost every body of water in Israel, from the Dead and Red Seas in the far south, to the Jordan and the Mediterranean Seas. You can stay at a desert kibbutz which often offers jeep tours in the desert itself.
Views in many of the kibbutzim are spectacular. Kfar Blum, for example, is on the Jordan River at the foot of Israel’s highest Mountain, Mt. Hermon, and in the Northern Galilee. In season, Kfar Blum also offers kayaking.
Kibbutzim are usually designated as either religious or secular. On a religious kibbutz the food is kosher and the kibbutz members observe the Sabbath, which starts at sundown on Friday through dark Saturday night. Candles are lit in the homes and in the members’ or guests’ dining rooms, and the men go to Friday night services. They also go daily as well. Everyone dresses in their good clothes, though generally Israeli men don’t wear ties.
Two special large meals, one on Friday night, and one at Sabbath lunch, and a third meal in the later part of the day, are eaten with blessings said before and after the meals. If you do stay at a religious kibbutz, then this is a wonderful way to see the traditional Jewish religion fully observed. You can ask about the customs so you will be able to know what they are for this special day. Depending when you decide to stay on a religious kibbutz, there are also a number of Jewish Holy Days, like Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, which is also strictly observed.
Many other kibbutzim, though they are not considered officially religious, may also have synagogues, and kosher food. The most religious kibbutz is Chofetz Chaim near Tel Aviv and where the ultra-Orthodox vacation.
You can plan your kibbutz stays in the areas which you would like to tour. You might want to stay at one in the north to tour the Galilee, another in the middle of the country, one in Jerusalem, like Ramat Rachel, another in the desert, so that you can experience the entire country. By being at a kibbutz, you will also be able to interact with its people, not just its tourist sites.
Some kibbutzim offer packages which include items like cars, tours, or special activities. The Kibbutz Guest Chain has its own web site where you can view the offerings of several kibbutzim in different areas of the country.
Editor’s Note: Be sure and check out the previous installments in Arlene’s exciting travel series. See “Why You Should Visit California’s Wonderful Dark Place, Borrego Springs,” “Sarasota, Florida: America’s Circus City,” and “The Keys to a Great Florida Vacation.”