VOLUNTEER TRADITION IN KIBBUTZ GEVA
Kibbutz Program
 

VOLUNTEER TRADITION IN KIBBUTZ GEVA

Photos & text: Lydia Aisenberg 

Every year scores of young people from all over the world spend a period living and working at Kibbutz Geva in the Jezreel Valley.  An astonishing one-third of them request to volunteer at the 1920s founded Geva, one of the 25 kibbutz communities still accepting what were once known as ‘working guests’ but after the 1967 war became more commonly known as ‘volunteers”

The one-third who specifically ask for a place at Kibbutz Geva, tucked away in the corner of the Jezreel Valley in the shadow of the Gilboa mountain range and a few bus stops from the town of Afula on one side and that of Bet Shean on the other, heard about this rather special place from friends or fellow travelers they met before arriving in Israel 

In some cases they were following in their parents footsteps being as either mum or dad – in some cases both –squeezed in such a unique experience in their own youth quite some decades before

“There was a lapse of a few years when there were no volunteers in Geva but we did have a Hebrew language study course for non-Jewish people during that time and then  for a number of reasons 4 years ago it was decided take volunteers again with around 20-25 volunteers here at any given time,” explains kibbutz volunteer coordinator Brenda Landes

 “We also have quite a few young people from other countries who are related to kibbutz members and want to spend some time living and working here and so they are also incorporated into the volunteer group at the time - but only on condition that they provide all the necessary documentation for visas, insurance as long gone are the days when people could just turn up and ask if there was a place available.  These days the importance attached to having the right working visa and health insurance is paramount,” said Brenda who was born and educated in Cardiff, South Wales and living in Israel since the 1960s.  For many years Brenda, a drama teacher and theatre director was a member of Kibbutz Bet HaEmek in the Lower Galilee before moving to Kibbutz Geva in 1995.  She has two sisters and their families living in Israel, one at Bet HaEmek and the other at Moshav Tzippori near Nazareth

Kibbutz Geva volunteer coordinator Brenda Landes at work on recent volunteer trip and watching over her charges on Masada

Brenda, who recently celebrated her 71st birthday, works together with volunteer housemother Dutch born fellow kibbutznik and Holocaust survivor Henny Shvegler – who is six years Brenda’s senior!

“Between us and with some extra help from 33-year old kibbutz born Gil we do our best to make sure that the volunteers feel at home and their time living and working here be a positive experience.  The kibbutz is very supportive of the way we organize the volunteers themselves, their living quarters, work roster and of course educational activities such as lectures, workshops and trips to different parts of the country”

The rate of turnover is probably around 100 young people during the course of a year, some stay longer than others and there are those who come back for a second time so we must be doing something right,” says Brenda who is extremely energetic, constantly on the go and whose Welsh accent seems as strong as the day she arrived in Israel over four decades ago

Geva volunteers presently living in the community can be found working in the dining-room, with the sheep or dairy cows, in the fishponds (sometimes literally), gardens and in the horse stables – the latter being a riding school and ‘motel’ facility for horse owners who need someone to take care of their animals whilst away from home

“We also have volunteers working in our industry and in Bet Savion, a center for the elderly members who need assistance.  Of course those who come for a longer period have a better chance of getting to know kibbutz members and getting invited to visit them in their homes,” explains Brenda who took on the position of coordinator of the volunteers whilst still continuing to work part time in her chosen profession, drama.  Being as Kibbutz Geva is a kibbutz that still adheres to the ‘old’ ways of a co-operative with no individual salaries, Brenda’s earnings go into the kibbutz general kitty

 “The volunteers come from many different countries and whilst they are here they not only get to know the rather unique kibbutz way of life but also each other.  As they come from so many diverse countries and cultures there is the internal volunteer dynamics as well as the interaction between them and the kibbutz.  So many of our former volunteers have formed friendships to the extent that they travel to visit each other in their different countries and today with Facebook they maintain contact so easily”

The present group of Geva volunteers hail from the United States, Germany, South Korea, Argentina, Sweden, South Africa, Holland, France, Lithuania, Denmark, Russia and the UK

Brenda organizes a thrice yearly 3-day trip to the Negev and Eilat and other shorter trips around the country for her international charges

This writer recently joined Brenda and 22 volunteers on the autumn sojourn to the Joe Allon Center for Bedouin Culture at Lahav, Mitzpeh Ramon, the tombs of David and Paula Ben-Gurion at Sde Boker and a trek through the Ein Avdat national park – and that was just the first day!  The second day, after a night in a youth hostel in the town, was spent at the Eilat Underwater Observatory and Marine Park, after which an afternoon hanging out on a beach, snorkeling and cooking up a tasty meal for all on a bar-b-cue, all the food and equipment brought from the kibbutz.  The third day home began with a picnic breakfast in the date plantation of Kibbutz Samar where they had the opportunity to meet with some of the kibbutz volunteers breakfasting at their in the middle-of-nowhere building used for that purpose and known as ‘The White House’ even though painted blue!  Continuing on through the fascinating Arava after breakfast in the Samar plantation to the Dead Sea, a visit to Masada and before the long journey home to Geva through the Jordan Valley, a few hours  swimming – or rather floating – in the Dead Sea at Ein Gedi

Ieva Masliukaite (23) from Lithuania brings along bread she baked for the first breakfast stop whilst another young lady takes photos of Ibex at Sde Boker 

A few days later Brenda reported that the feedback from the volunteers had been fantastic with most coming to express their appreciation for all the effort – and expense – that had gone into arranging such a successful trip.

“It is also important to say that the volunteers were so impressed by everything we did during the trip that they shared so much of the experience with kibbutz members the next day at work  – and then members approached me to tell me how delighted they were to hear how successful it had all been,” said Brenda – already planning a day trip for the following month.