The word "kibbutz" means "grouping" or "gathering" in Hebrew
It is a modest word for something unique: a voluntary democratic community where people live and work together on a non-competitive basis. Its aim is to generate an economically and socially independent society founded on principles of communal ownership of property, social justice, and equality.
The first kibbutzim (plural of kibbutz) were organized by idealistic young Zionists who came to Palestine in the beginning of the 20th Century. Their dream was not just to settle the land, but to build a whole new kind of society. Despite many hardships, they succeeded in creating a social system and a way of life which has played a crucial role in the development of the State of Israel both culturally and politically.
Over the years the kibbutzim have multiplied, prospered, and adapted themselves to changing realities. Today some 270 kibbutzim, varying in size from 80 to over 2,000 people, are scattered throughout Israel. With a total populace of around 120,000 they represent about 2.8 percent of Israel’s population.
In the early days of the kibbutz movement, all kibbutzim were based on a foundation of agriculture. These days, however, the economies of kibbutzim cannot be sustained by agriculture alone. Most kibbutzim have branched out into industry to increase their productivity. Kibbutz factories manufacture a wide variety of products from electronics, furniture, household appliances and plastics to farm machinery and irrigation systems.
Most kibbutz members work in some section of the kibbutz economy: orchards, factory, dairy, fishponds, or in one of its maintenance units. Routine jobs such as dining room duties are rotated among members. When too few members are available for a particular job, outside workers may be hired and paid wages or receive room and board on the kibbutz.
As mentioned earlier, kibbutzim have adapted themselves to a changing world and changing realities. This means also that some of the kibbutzim have changed their ideological foundation and have undergone a process of "privatization". A privatized kibbutz is still a community that shares and lives together, but the various work branches have been turned into co-operations that earn their own wages and make their own profits.