Monday, May 6, 2013

First Volunteers on Kibbutz Yahel

In the beginning, there were no sidewalks. This is one of my most vivid memories of being a founding member of Kibbutz Yahel. It was February, 1977, and I was still officially serving in the army, but I was glad to be able to take off my uniform for six months of agricultural work at the kibbutz my Nahal garin had established in the middle of the desert, some 60 kilometers north of Eilat.

Kibbutz Yahel was set up in semi-circular rows of pre-fabricated housing units, planted down on the rocky ground at the output of a wadi and across the Arava highway from where our fields were located in the sandy soil along the Jordanian border. Everything was dry and barren around us. And there were no sidewalks.

We were all either teenagers, or barely into our twenties. We were young and idealistic, full of dreams as to how our kibbutz would turn out. We could look down the highway to successful Kibbutz Yotvata for inspiration. They had a successful dairy, date palm orchards, and vast expanses of vegetable fields. Everyone stopped at Yotvata's truck stop on the way south to Eilat.

We worked wherever we were needed, taking turns serving in the dining room, washing dishes, and pulling out weeds and removing rocks from our newly planted fields. We thought we could manage everything ourselves. As young pioneers we had endless reserves of strength. We would rise at the break of dawn, work long hours, and then relax and party at night. We were determined to succeed entirely on our own.

Yahel dedication ceremony

And then one day a bus pulled up at Yahel's stop. Two youths from England walked up the pathway into the kibbutz, each of them ready to collapse under the weight of a large backpack. By chance I ran into them near the dining room.

"We're here to volunteer," one of them informed me.

"Volunteer? Are we expecting you?"

"No, but we thought you could use the help."

I was on my way to do something else, but figured the least I could do would be to bring these two visitors to the office of the mazkira. When I introduced them she replied with our standard reply to all offers to outside assistance.

"We do all our work ourselves. We aren't accepting volunteers."

The two British youths looked devastated. Here they had come all the way to the middle of the desert, ready to join our agricultural community, and we weren't welcoming them with open arms.

"Perhaps we could make an exception in their case," I suggested. "After all, our work load is just getting bigger and bigger."

She thought it over for a few minutes. Where would they live? What funds would we provide them? Who would handle their work assignments? How would their laundry get done?

Like every problem set before us, as founders of a new kibbutz, solutions were eventually found in this case as well. The two unexpected arrivals from England were accepted as our first volunteers.

Our volunteers became an integral part of our community; one of them eventually became a kibbutz member and later served as our merakez meshek. Over the years Kibbutz Yahel would accept many volunteers, both as individuals and in groups. Our work efforts were shared with those who volunteered to help.

And we also got sidewalks.

Kite flying in the early days of Kibbutz Yahel.

Originally published in the newsletter of the Kibbutz Volunteers Program Center.

Related article:

Seinfeld's Kibbutz Days


  1. Really interesting story and I love these old photos.

  2. What a historic time, and to think you were part of it! Fascinating. I wish everyone had the same work ethic and idealism you and your friends had. What a different world it would be.