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Kibbutz Closes Gates to Volunteers from Abroad

March 23, 1986

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) _ Israel’s oldest kibbutz no longer welcomes overseas volunteers because they are viewed as a bad influence on the communal farm’s children, the kibbutz director said Sunday.

″The volunteers bring in a spirit of instability, of hedonism, of cosmopolitanism, which our children are not mature enough to absorb,″ Eitan Peretz, the director of Deganya Alef, told The Associated Press. He said volunteers ″introduced values of sexual promiscuity.″

Deganya, just south of the Sea of Galilee, and two other kibbutzim have decided to reject applications by overseas volunteers seeking work, Peretz said. The Deganya decision takes effect this month.

The unprecedented decision by the kibbutzim could signal the beginning of the end of a volunteer program which has attracted thousands of backpackers and romantics worldwide.

A recession in the kibbutz economy meanwhile has forced most of the farms to slash the number of volunteers by 50 percent.

About 20,000 volunteers, arriving from as far away as Australia, South Africa and the United States, come each year to work on Israel’s 280 kibbutzim, according to Shlomo Leshem, spokesman of the United Kibbutz Movement, an umbrella organization.

About 3 percent of Israel’s 3.5 million Jewish population live on communal farms, which have long been viewed as bastions of idealism and clean living.

Volunteers were first recruited to fill in for farmers called to fight during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and soon became a significant work force for the kibbutzim. Typically, they stay several months and get free room and board.

Many are students seeking to combine a cheap vacation with first-hand experience of the unique brand of socialism practiced on the kibbutz.

Deganya, founded in 1911, grows wheat and bananas and typically accepts about 40 volunteers a year, including some Americans.

Some volunteers have little interest in Judaism and do not share the values the closed kibbutz society stresses, such as stability and love of the land, Peretz said.

He said the young people at Deganya ″absorbed mainly the negative aspects of this mind-set, not the positive ones.″

As a result, seven or eight kibbutzniks left Deganya in recent years to live abroad. Some married non-Jewish volunteers, Peretz said.

For Israel, founded as a homeland to draw Jews from abroad, such acts are considered traitorous.

The new attitude toward the volunteers is also a reflection of the soul- searching many kibbutz members have undergone following a series of financial scandals and stock market losses which jolted their traditional values of hard work and a simple lifestyle.

In Sha’ar Hagolan, a kibbutz at the southern edge of the Golan Heights which has closed its gates to volunteers, the decision was made as a result of a severe drug problem, Leshem said.

The volunteers were blamed for introducing drugs into the kibbutz and ″corrupting the young people,″ Leshem said.

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