San Diego Jewish Film Festival preview: ‘Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment’

By Gail Feinstein Forman

Gail Feinstein Forman

SAN DIEGO –In the early 1970’s, during the summer of my first year of teaching, I left New York City for the kibbutz adventure in Israel. I was first sent to Rosh Hanikra, a kibbutz right on the border with Lebanon. The kibbutz had just recently added some new volunteers to its workforce.

I worked in the nursery, caring for the rose bushes—with very limited support equipment. It was a pretty primitive environment for working at the time.

At night I could hear gunfire across the border. In the daytime, I could see Lebanese down on the rocks just below the kibbutz looking up at us. It was beautiful setting, I couldn’t help but be struck by the closeness of our neighbors and the friction between us.

But the kibbutz members were excited in their pursuits—they were helping to build Israel surrounded by political and economic challenges.  From their website today, you can see the many changes that have occurred over the years. There is a tram to scan the grottos close up, a guesthouse and even a kosher restaurant on the premises. You can say that it has moved with the times.

The film playing at 10:30 a.m.,  Friday, Feb. 11 at the JCC  Inventing Our Life: The Kibbutz Experiment  deals just with this main issue—how to keep the kibbutzim relevant in today’s world and what has to happen to make that work, such as privatization.

The film meanders across time and only superficially addresses the real issues of former and current kibbutz life such as separating the parents from the children and the consequences of that. The strength in the film is the anchoring in historic facts—the 100-year history of the kibbutz movement and its significance in the development of the new country, Israel.

Interviews with Israeli historians delve into the politics of the times from the early Zionist settlements to the beginning of the settlements of Jews from Arab countries, a time of discrimination for these new Sephardic Israelis.

We also meet first generation kibbutzniks who were the first to live on some of the earliest kibbutzim—Deganya, which began with just twelve people, Ein Shemer, and the first American kibbutz, Sasa. Idealistic and committed, they set the place of kibbutzim in the forefront of Israel history with the desire to build a new society based on socialist-communist ideals.

Second and third generation kibbutzniks add their voices to the importance of kibbutzim today as many younger kibbutzniks leave the kibbutz and then decide to return a few years later.

Viewers will leave with a” rah-rah feeling” for the kibbutzim but still might want a deeper discussion of today’s issues. But the moving archival film of the early kibbutzim settlement and preparation for a new life, one that required “inventing one’s life,” make a visit to this film well worth your while.

Director: Toby Perl Frelich

USA Israel

English Hebrew

Documentary 77 minutes

Friday February 11

JCC Garfield Theater

Forman is a freelance writer based in San Diego

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