Ever thought of being a kibbutz volunteer in Israel?
My name is John Carson, I'm an English backpacker and I was a kibbutz volunteer for over two years -- and had a fantastic time! This free guide will offer tips, hints and information on being a kibbutz volunteer, what Israel is like and what you can get up to over there.
Let me just state that I am not an agency of any kind so can't organize a place on a kibbutz for you. I get no money for this guide or my Web site from an official kibbutz volunteer office; it's just a passion of mine that I produce for the fun of it.
A kibbutz is a commune in Israel where the members all work and contribute to the running of the kibbutz. In return, their basic living necessities such as food and accommodation are provided free.
If people do have jobs away from the kibbutz in the cities then they submit their wages. Lately this ideal has been changing as more members fight to keep more of the money they earn, but the majority of kibbutzim follow this pattern of sharing resources.
The good part of all this is that most kibbutzim need volunteers from around the world to work with them. Volunteers work for a very small wage -- it’s probably closer to pocket money -- but get free accommodation, food and use of the amenities. Sometimes these can include a swimming pool, tennis courts, gym and the pub.
I have been a kibbutz volunteer four times on three different kibbutzim in the Negev Desert region and by the Dead Sea. Having lived in Israel for just over two years, I can attest to this being the best experience of my life. It gave me a lot of confidence in myself, and I had the opportunity to meet some fantastic travellers from around the world... some of whom I still keep in touch with 15 years later.
Even though I personally enjoyed the kibbutz volunteer experience, it is definitely not for everyone’s taste. You work hard (sometimes in very dirty jobs!), live in very basic rooms, earn a pittance and have no privacy at all. The kibbutz life is a melting pot of different cultures, gossip and communal living.
Having said all that, the majority of volunteers I have spoken to always say that memories of those days are some of the best of their lives, and they fondly recall being a kibbutz volunteer.
Of course it’s not all work! Volunteers have lots of parties, go on trips around Israel, spend a lot of time in the kibbutz pub and generally let their hair down during the times when they are not working.
There are romances too between volunteers, and also with the kibbutz members on some occasions. I had some of both!
I can guarantee one thing: kibbutz life is unlike anything you would experience at home, and you will remember those days for ever. It is up to you whether it’s a good or bad experience. Go with an open mind and see what happens.
Going To A Kibbutz
There are basically three ways to get on a kibbutz:
1) Just turn up at the gates. Not recommended!
2) Apply at an agency in Israel. Bit risky, if you have paid to travel all that way and don’t get accepted.
3) Apply at an agency in your home country. This is the safest way in my opinion, as you can check out the facts before flying over.
All the agencies I know of will take a fee for arranging a place on a kibbutz for you. For example, the Kibbutz Program Center in New York charges $150 for registration and $80 for insurance.
This sounds high, but if you factor that into the overall cost of your trip then you also have peace of mind knowing that a kibbutz place has been arranged for you. You also have to take into account that a kibbutz won’t accept you without some kind of insurance, so bear that in mind when saving up for your trip.
I have included the actual application form on my Web site at http://www.kibbutzvolunteer.com so you can see some of the questions you will be asked. Again, I must stress that I have no affiliation with the agencies mentioned here -- the information is provided purely for your research and knowledge.
Let’s not lie about it—the main reason kibbutzim want volunteers is to work! And work hard!
Depending on the job, the day starts between 6-7 a.m. (earlier if in the cowsheds or fields) and finishes between noon and 4 p.m. (again, varies depending on the job you do).
And it is a six-day working week = Sunday to Friday.
Jobs include: dishwasher, fields, gardening, cowsheds, chickens, factory, picking dates and bananas, dining room, garage, supplying the nurseries with supplies, laundry, looking after children (normally only the female volunteers do this work), swimming pool maintenance (lucky to be assigned this one!) and general duties as required.
It’s not unusual to be given one particular job on one day, and another the next... but generally the volunteers are kept in the same jobs for at least a month. Newcomers usually start on the dishwasher or in the dining room, and move on “up the chain” when other volunteers join the kibbutz. So don’t feel disheartened at starting on a crappy job; you will have a chance to change eventually.
In my two years on kibbutzim I worked in most of the jobs mentioned above, my favourite being a gardener. I could basically set my own hours within reason, and the boss just let me get on with it. Had my own tractor and moped too... it was great!
All the jobs have coffee and lunch breaks, and sometimes you can earn extra time off for working overtime or putting in extra effort. That is negotiable between you and your boss, so don’t be afraid to ask. Members have an uncanny knack of spotting the volunteers willing to make an extra effort and those who are along for an easy ride. (You won’t last long if you are in the latter category.)
Don’t worry about spoiling your designer jeans either; kibbutz work clothes and boots are provided for you, and also coats in the winter.
Yes, kibbutzim need volunteers 365 days a year, but obviously the summer months are most popular and competition for places is higher. Don’t be turned off going in winter—Israeli winters are not that cold, mainly rainy, although Jerusalem gets a bit chilly during the winter months. Eilat is nice all year round.
Allow me a small plug for my book. It is called Beer And Bagels For Breakfast and is a diary of my time as a kibbutz volunteer.
I had such a great time I decided to commit my memories to paper. Not for financial gain (I get peanuts a copy!) but just because I wanted my future kids to see what their dad got up to as a young lad ;-)
A lot of friends and family also asked me about my experiences, so I decided to get it published for other potential volunteers to read and learn from. Be warned: it is a “warts and all” account of my adventures and observations, so there’s accounts of the good times, the not-so-good times, the parties, the volunteer trips, mishaps, kibbutz characters that you meet... and a lot more than I can describe here.
Feel free to read testimonials on my Web site or at Amazon.
Just to show there’s room for more kibbutz volunteer research, I am also going to plug a “rival” book... although I see it as a complimentary one to mine, not competition.
It has been around a long time and is simply called Kibbutz Volunteer. I actually read one of the first editions of this book and can recommend it as a useful “how-to” type of book on being a kibbutz volunteer.
This one is more about the aspects of arranging a place, what to expect etc... whereas mine is more about the stuff you don’t normally hear about in the straightforward guides!
Anyway, feel free to check them out and make your own mind up.
Israel Facts To help you more with research, here are some basic facts about Israel: Israel is a small country founded in 1948 in the Middle East between the eastern shores of the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. Israel was established on May 14, 1948, as a Jewish state. Israel is located at the land bridge between Asia and Africa and has had a full share of history. But Israel is not all ancient and religious sites, for Israel is also a thriving and modern nation packed full of attractions. From the sanctity of the old city of Jerusalem to the chaos of Tel Aviv discotheques to the dazzling corals of the Red Sea, Israel has something for everybody.
Israel -- The Holy Land Israel is considered the Holy Land for Christians, Jews, and Muslims holding many holy sites from the biblical era. Many tourists and pilgrims come to Israel for Holy land tours. The diversity of sacred sites invites all religions and denominations: Christian holy land tours, Catholic holy land tours, as well as Jewish and Muslim Holy land tours to places held sacred such as: Jerusalem, the holy city for Christianity, Judaism and Islam, "Sea of Galilee" where Jesus walked on water according to Christian tradition, Nazareth, the birth place of Jesus, and many more.
People In Israel Israel is home to a diverse population from many ethnic, religious, cultural and social backgrounds. Of its more than 5.5 million population, we can find Jews, Arabs, Druze Bedouins, Circassian and many other minorities. After Israel was founded as a national home for the Jewish people, many Jews from around the world have immigrated there, creating a melting pot of different cultures and languages. The wealth of different ethnic groups creates a beautiful mosaic of traditions, as can be seen in the language, music and food of the people in Israel.
Languages The official languages of Israel are Hebrew and Arabic. English is widely used as a second language, and recently Russian has become commonplace.
Religion Freedom of religion and the inviolability of the holy places and centres of worship for all religions are guaranteed by law. The main practiced religions are Judaism 80.1%, Islam 14.6%, Christians 2.1% and others 3.2%. All three of the major western religions have special places of worship in Israel, many of the located in Israel's capital, Jerusalem.
Climate In Israel Israel, despite being a small country, has a very diverse climate. Mediterranean in the north and arid in the south. In summer the cloudless skies and no precipitation are the norm. In winter, the southern half of the country remains under the subtropical high keeping it dry, but weather in the northern half is influenced by depressions that pass over the Mediterranean, bringing moderate rainfall. Precipitation in the north averages 700 mm (28 in), falling primarily from October to March. Rainfall amounts diminish rapidly to the south making the southern end of Israel, the Negev, an arid desert area. Average summer temperatures range from 18 degrees to 32 degrees C (65 degrees to 90 degrees F) over most of the country. Winters are quite mild, with temperatures averaging 14 degrees C (57 degrees F) along the coast and 9 degrees C (48 degrees F) in the mountains.
When To Visit The mild climate in Israel makes it comfortable all year round. In the winter, Eilat and the Dead Sea in the south of Israel offer warm sunny beaches and clear blue skies even in the height of winter. Five hours away by car, one can ski on the slopes of Mount Hermon. Spring and fall offer the splendor of Israel's natural beauty at its best. Hike in the serene beauty of Israel's deserts or settle down and relax in among the blossoming flowers of the Galilee. The summer heats things up making the sandy Mediterranean beaches more attractive than ever. Don't forget to check out the night life in Tel Aviv which is always hotter than the weather.
Flights To Israel: Airlines And Destinations Flights to Israel leave daily from many worldwide destinations. Many airline companies offer routine and chartered flights from European destinations. Ninety percent of international flights land at Ben-Gurion (airport code TLV or BGN), formerly known as Lod. Some international flights from Europe, Cyprus and Jordan also arrive at Eilat Airport, Ouvda Airport (40 miles north of Eilat) and at Haifa. Flights from Europe take between three and six hours depending on port of departure. Flights from India (New-Delhi) take around seven hours, and North American flights take between twelve and sixteen hours to arrive in Israel.
Travel Documents Every visitor to Israel must hold a valid passport. Visitors are allowed to remain in Israel for up to three months from their date of arrival, subject to the terms of the visa issued. Visitors who intend to work in Israel must apply to the Ministry of the Interior for a special visa.
Visitor's Visas: Citizens of the following countries will be issued visitors' visas free of charge at every port of entry into Israel: Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Germany (Persons born after 1.1.28), Gibraltar, Great Britain, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland. Asia & Oceania: Australia, Fiji Islands, Japan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea. Africa: Central African Republic, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, South Africa, Swaziland. The Americas: Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, St. Kitts, & Nevis, Surinam, Trinidad, & Tobago, The Bahamas, The Dominican Republic, Uruguay, USA.
Transit Visas: Visitors interested in stopping over in Israel en route to other destinations may request five-day transit visas that may be extended for a further ten days on arrival in Israel. Cruise ship passengers visiting Israel will be issued Landing Cards allowing them to remain in the country as long as their ship is in port. No visa applications are required. Extending your visa: Visas can be extended (for a small fee) at offices in the major cities.
Security Issues For obvious reasons security measures are especially stringent on flights to Israel. For this reason it is advised to arrive well before your flight as your luggage must be checked through airline security. You may be questioned as to your luggage, destination and purpose of visit to Israel. It is recommended as on all international flights not to bring sharp or weapon-like items as these aren't allowed aboard the plane, other than in the checked luggage. Security measures taken by Israeli airlines have made them recognized as the safest airlines in the world.
Customs : Some goods may be brought in duty and tax free if accompanying you at the time of entry: Clothing, footwear, and personal toiletries - of the type and quantities that would normally be brought in a person's hand luggage. Alcohol/spirits and wine -- for each entrant age 17 and above, 1 litre of alcohol/spirits and 2 litres of wine. Alcoholic perfumes—for each entrant, up to 1⁄4 litre. Cigarettes and other tobacco products—for each entrant age 17 and above, up to 250 grams of tobacco products. Other items not detailed above may be brought in as long as they are for your own personal use or intended as a gift for another person. The total value of such items should not exceed US$200. Included within this amount, each entrant may bring in up to 3 kg. of foodstuff, provided that the weight of each kind of foodstuff does not exceed 1 kg (source: Israeli Customs).
What Are You Waiting For?
Well, that is about it. I have explained as clearly as I can what it takes to become a kibbutz volunteer. The only way to really know for certain is to give it a go.
It goes without saying that Israel can be a dangerous country to be in sometimes... but, it has been like that for a long time and people still travel there to work on kibbutzim. It would not stop me if I ever decided to go back.
I lived there for two years -- including 1991 during the first Gulf War -- and never felt in danger. You just have to be observant, use common sense and ask the kibbutz members for help and advice when travelling around the country. In my opinion, there’s danger everywhere in the world these days, but it’s up to you whether Israel is for you or not. I can’t advise you one way or the other, just simply offer information from my own experience so you can make your own decision.
So, if you want a disclaimer, it’s up to you whether you decide to spend time and money being a kibbutz volunteer, and I can’t be held responsible. That’s all I can say really!
In summary... the experience is not for everyone, but I had the best time of my life and will always remember those days with affection, excitement and fondness.
Best of luck, and safe travelling!