Toby Perl Freilich’s feature documentary directorial debut on the birth and legacy of the Zionist Kibbutz movement has screened at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival, Haifa, as well as the upcoming Toronto Jewish fest. First Run Features is releasing the film in NYC this week, with LA coming in June.
While general audiences may have some vague understanding of Israel’s kibbutzim as some kind of rural communes, unless they have a grounding in Israel’s history, they may not know how far back in time the movement goes, or their instrumental role in the foundation of the modern Jewish state. Freilich’s film explores the kibbutzim’s fascinating century-long history, as Jews sought out a socialist agrarian existence in Palestine in the early 1900s. By the early 1920s, a new wave arrived, as Russian Jews escaped the pogroms and Jews from around Eastern Europe fled the rising tide of anti-Semitism between the world wars. These early Zionist pioneers laid the groundwork for Israel’s post-WWII statehood, establishing a pivotal infrastructure that could deal with immigration, military, agriculture, and of course new settlements in the fledgling country. Over time, however, the changing political landscape away from labor, and an economic turn that fostered individualism over the collective nearly destroyed the kibbutzim, with younger generations abandoning the principles of non-differential salaries and heading to urban life. The film interviews representatives of multiple generations of kibbutz members – those who have been there all their lives, others who have left, and some who have returned – as many kibbutzim have to face the reality that in order to survive, the community may have to compromise some of its socialist ideals.