Hakhel Seminar: Day Five

by Hart Levine of the Beis Community in Washington Heights, New York

After a brief morning visit to Jerusalem, we visited two urban kibbutzim in Gilo and Lod.

Bet Yisrael is a more or less pluralistic urban kibbutz in Gilo. Kibbutznikim in Bet Yisrael are all interested in leading a spiritual, Jewish life, but not necessarily in a formally observant community.

Members work for the most part outside of the community. Some 9 core families pool wages. Many others live in the community, participate in some of the social action projects and learning with the bet Yisrael kvutza. About half the families are drawn from the mechina (service learning) year prior to army service.

Bet Yisrael’s key social projects revolve around the education of youth with preschools as a primary focus uniting members from Bet Yisrael with other residents in Gilo.

Bet Yisrael’s community version of Jewish practice was unique among the groups we visited, and spoke to many of us in the HAKHEL network. At its core, the et Yisrael community searched for the essence of Judaism to unify the secular seekers among them with the religiously observant members. Their solution was to emphasize Hillel’s Torah on one foot—clearly their primary value that unites Bet Yisrael is not religion, per se, but rather how people treat people, all people.

That said, their acknowledgement of the diaspora’s emphasis on the fences around the Torah – Shabbat and kashrut were two mentioned — become a key part of the practices of many members but do not form the heart of the socially oriented center of their community values. As our community guide let us know, Bet Yisrael neither uses nor seeks a datometer to measure any family’s practice.

Our second visit of Day 5 included a meeting with key members of a Garin Tornai in Lod whose approach to community development was different from all other kivutzot who met with us. Lod had been a city in decline – think Detroit. Lod’s population exodus led to a massive depression in housing values as well as a growing incidence of the social consequences of poverty – crime, violence, low educational attainment, dysfunctional families, etc.

About 500 families from Garin Torani moved in, worked with the municipality and together started or changed the ongoing school systems, community centers, and social services, constantly working with their own and their larger Lod community. Their integration with the government was impressive, and before we bunked down for the night, the Garin proudly showed us the new housing they recently built for their members.

Learn more about the Jewish Intentional Communities Initiative here.

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