Day off spent at the Dead Sea
Volunteer on a Kibbutz in Israel
Even though I personally enjoyed my kibbutz volunteer experience in Israel, it is definitely not for everyone. You work hard, live in very basic rooms, earn a pittance and have no privacy – but I still loved it.
What is a kibbutz?
In a nutshell, a kibbutz is a collective of farms where all aspects of production are owned and shared by the community.
Kibbutzim were first formed in the land now known as Israel in the early 1920s by Russian immigrants. These societies were established on the principles of social equality, where each member of the Kibbutz (a Kibbutznik) is to be treated as an equal. This means they work together collectively for the good of all and everything is shared equally. Although only a small percentage of the country’s population live on a kibbutz, they are an integral part of Israeli Society. And if you want to experience working and travelling in Israel I highly recommend volunteering on a kibbutz.
Where are kibbutzes?
Kibbutzes are found all through Israel. There are currently around 250 of them.
Why become a kibbutz volunteer?
There are a number of reasons that I can think of:
- The chance to experience a communal lifestyle;
- The ability to spend some time in Israel without spending loads of money;
- Immerse myself in another country and learn about the culture;
- Meet like-minded travellers from all over the world;
Who can work on a kibbutz?
Any tourist to Israel between the ages of 18 and 35 years can become a kibbutz volunteer. On saying 35 is the age limit, kibbutzes do take volunteers up to around 70 years of age. This is good news if you don’t qualify for a working holiday visa because you are over the 18-35 year age limit.
Do I need a special visa?
Volunteers enter Israel as tourists and according to the law of the State of Israel, volunteers need to change their visa status at the closest Ministry of Interior within two (2) weeks of arriving at the kibbutz. After arriving at the kibbutz the volunteer leader helps volunteers gain their three (3) month volunteer visa. After this period the visa can be extended for another three (3) months.
How long is a placement for?
The kibbutz population accepts volunteers for a minimum period of two (2) months and a maximum of six (6) months. It is, of course, preferred you complete your agreed volunteer period.
What work will I do?
Generally, the kibbutz offers work in three different categories: agriculture, tourism and other services/different kinds of work.
The agricultural work branches are dependant on the seasons and not all kinds of agricultural work is available to the volunteers all year round. The agricultural work branches in the kibbutz are varied and include:
- fruit picking (bananas, avocados, dates, apples, oranges and more);
- work in green houses (tomatoes, potatoes and plants);
- work with the irrigation systems, fish and fishing (both ornamental fish and fish for food);
- chicken houses, turkey houses and egg incubator;
- work with the cows (and milking).
Tourism is another work branch where volunteers help out in guest houses, restaurants, health spas, tourist shops and at nature sights to name a few.
The services/different work include work in the kitchen, dining room, laundry and sometimes in the garden, the metal workshop, the children’s zoo, the children’s houses, help in the kibbutz industry and in any other service-related work branch in the kibbutz.
What is a typical working day like?
Volunteers work 8 hours a day 6 days a week, Sunday to Friday, because the Sabbath is from Friday sundown to Saturday sundown. Depending on the job, your day can start between 6-7am (earlier if in the cowsheds or fields) and finishes between noon and 4pm (again, this varies depending on the job you do).
It is 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 dishwashing or in the dining room and move ‘up the chain’ when other volunteers join the kibbutz.
What do I get in return for being a volunteer?
In return for your work you receive:
- free accommodation (which is basic and you could be sharing with others)
- three (3) meals a day (either served to you or you might cook for yourself)
- free laundry service and use of the amenities which can include a swimming pool, gym or tennis court
- pocket money each month
- days trips on your days off (such as to the Dead Sea or Jersualem for instance)
- Work clothes are usually included
How do I find a position?
The best way to arrange a placement is through the Kibbutz Program Centre in Tel Aviv www.kibbutz.org.il. You can contact them beforehand to have a placement sorted for your arrival or you can see them once you arrive. If you choose the second option be prepared to wait for a placement as volunteering on a kibbutz is a popular thing to do. The warmer months (April to September) are the most popular times and this is when competition for a placement is high. Don’t be put off volunteering in the winter months as Israeli winters are not that cold (in my opinion).
If you do have to wait for a placement I suggest you book in to a hostel or hotel while you wait. I highly suggest using the Hostel World booking site as you can compare and book what suits you. For something a bit more upmarket check out Booking.com.
In conclusion, kibbutz life is a melting pot of different culture, gossip and communal living which I have not found replicated anywhere else in the world. Some people say that volunteering on a kibbutz is one way that Israel is able to get ‘cheap labour’. This could be a true statement for some, however, I enjoyed the experience and I didn’t feel this way as I got to go on trips around Israel and meet lots of other great volunteers. I hope you enjoy your time on a kibbutz as much as I did.
About the Author:
Jon (Jonno as I prefer) Edgerton left his native Sydney to travel the world. He started in Canada and worked in a bar in Vancouver then moved to the UK and worked in an office for a while then thought he would try volunteering on a Kibbutz. He is now home in Sydney with a mortgage and family but travels with his family every chance he gets. His next adventure will be to buy a camper van and travel around Australia – indefinitely.