I was returning to Kibbutz Lotan, the nation’s newest kibbutz, where I had my very first experience with the country as a young volunteer, after living away from it for 25 years. These modest agrarian collectives, whose name in Hebrew means “gathering,” were established at the beginning of the 20th century as a communal, egalitarian manner for Jewish immigrants and settlers to live and work. Currently, Israel is home to over 270 such communities.
Over time, the kibbutz system’s objectives changed, and it eventually contributed to defining the borders of the new state of Israel. Many of these settlements were founded in the Negev and other remote desert regions in the late 1930s to attempt and claim land that they anticipated would be included in a future Jewish state.
After cultivating the once barren soil, these villages also contributed to the growth of the country’s highly regarded agricultural economy through innovations like drip irrigation technique, which Israel invented in the 1960s and is now utilised all over the world. The kibbutz movement has been at the forefront of world agricultural technology for everything from pest control technologies to water saving techniques.
A kibbutz’s revenues were first reinvested in the community, and all wealth and income were distributed among its members. Approximately 75% of these collectives now follow a more privatised format, giving its members more financial freedom and the option to continue living on the kibbutz while working outside of it.
Meals used to be cooked and consumed communally, but more and more kibbutz members are now eating at home with their families. However, voting is still used for all community decisions, including allocating cash for the kibbutz’s children to attend college and assigning employment based on rotation, preference, or skill sets.
Economic prospects, however, are attracting many young families away from these rural collectives and into towns and cities as times change. As a result, during the 2000s, the kibbutz movement has been rapidly declining. However, Kibbutz Lotan, which is four hours’ drive from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, has 200 inhabitants and is expanding.
It has also discovered a new purpose. The only kibbutz teaching tourists about sustainable living is Lotan, which was established in 1983. In doing so, it is redefining how visitors see Israeli culture and how Israelis view food and the environment.
On social media, I first learned of the kibbutz’s hippie “eco campus” years ago. Visitors may experience community life in a set of green, carbon-free mud domes. One of the kibbutz’s three sources of income is tourism. The kibbutz also includes a separate guest house, a dairy farm, and substantial date orchards.
Travelers to Lotan are aware that their trip will not be a typical vacation, therefore I rolled up my sleeves in my job attire. From Sunday through Thursday, we worked from 6:00 to 11:00 while learning gardening and seed-cutting techniques.
Anyone is welcome to drop in for a few nights or sign up for one of Lotan’s month-long academic programmes where they may acquire skills like solar cooking with a box oven and making useful products out of mud. Additionally, they can observe how compost may be utilised as a completely renewable energy source to power the kibbutz’s two biogas systems and grow vegetables in the organic garden.
In comparison to other buildings in the dry area, the air-conditioned mud domes (which are built of a combination of clay, sand, straw, and water) consume 60% less energy to heat and cool. They are encircled by the seemingly never-ending mountains in the distance, and at night the sky is filled with countless stars. Everything on the eco campus is environmentally friendly, including the biogas-powered kitchen, solar-powered hot water showers, and waterless composting toilets.
Your food is either grown on the small kibbutz farm or on Israeli farms nearby using Israeli methods and techniques, such as using brackish water from aquifers beneath the Negev, to grow a variety of crops like cherry tomatoes and avocados, which are more indigenous to the Mediterranean than the Middle East.