Ellish Shuman

Author Ellis Shuman

Buy the book

The Virtual Kibbutz,
a collection of stories about contemporary kibbutz life, is a must read for
anyone interested in understanding the issues facing this uniquely Israeli
institution. The underlying theme of the collection is change – as Israel
evolves into a high tech capitalist economy, kibbutzim are struggling to stay
true to their ideology while making social and economic changes to maintain
their viability.

Author Ellis Shuman is the editor-in-chief of Israel Insider, a daily
news magazine. Shuman made aliyah from Sioux City, Iowa, in 1972, served
in the IDF, and together with his army unit, was a founding member of Kibbutz
Yahel near Eilat. He and his wife currently live with their three children
on Moshav Neve Ilan, in the Judean Hills.


@The Source Israel asked Shuman why he chose to call his book The
Virtual Kibbutz
. Shuman explained that in addition to being the title
of one of the stories, the title “represents something vague, abstract,
and futuristic. The kibbutz is changing, adapting to new

realities. The use of the word virtual connects the book to how technology
and the Internet are changing everybody’s lives. Where will the kibbutz be
two, ten, twenty years from now? It is impossible to say. It has already come
a long way from its idealistic past and the future could be full of changes….”

@The Source Israel found the story “The Clown and the Dancer” particularly
moving. In it a kibbutznik dresses up like a clown and performs small magic
tricks for a young victim of a terrorist attack. The young child had been
resistant to any therapy and refused to allow his bandages to be changed.
His delight and absorption in the clown’s magic and balloon tricks allow his
treatment to progress.  (Read a related
story about a medical clown organization in Israel.)

Given Shuman’s deep personal knowledge about kibbutzim and his experience
as a reporter, @The Source Israel asked him whether the stories in The
Virtual Kibbutz
are fact or fiction? “The book is most definitely
fiction, but it is based on facts, or more correctly, on things that really
happened (or could have happened). Yes, Jerry Seinfeld really did volunteer
on a kibbutz, and yes, a reporter actually did search for Jerry’s kibbutz
roots. But everything written in my story is fiction – I have no exact information
on what Jerry did or didn’t do. The lottery story is also based on fact, but
it is entirely fiction. Yes, a Golan Heights kibbutznik did win a lottery.
What did he do with the money, and what did the other members of the kibbutz

think? I have no idea. The fact that I know absolutely no real facts allowed
me the creative freedom to write my own fictional stories. Many of the events
described are based on my own kibbutz experiences, and I combined this with
research of actual events, reading academic papers and by talking to other
kibbutzniks (and former kibbutzniks).”

Shuman reflected on his experiences on Kibbutz Yahel and on the moshav on
which he now lives. “Jodie and I were the first members to get married. Our
daughter, Reut, was the first child of members born on the kibbutz. Our second
daughter, Merav, was the first second child born. And our son, Erez, was
the first third child of members born. My wife and I were changing

– becoming a family unit. But the kibbutz was still mostly composed of single
members, only a few of whom had evolved into married couples. For us, everything
was a challenging, and not always enjoyable, adventure:  getting the
first crib, the first baby carriage, the first youth bed. We decided we wanted
more control over our lives, and more importantly, more control over our childrens’
lives. That is why we left the kibbutz, and moved to a moshav shitufi. When
we first arrived on Moshav Neve Ilan, it was very similar to a kibbutz, except
for the emphasis on family life (no central dining room, no central laundry,

`Over the years, Moshav Neve Ilan distanced itself from the ideology that
was once quite similar to that of a kibbutz. Now, every family is a separate
economic unit, where the salaries of the husband and wife determine the family’s
standard of living. Certain things, like the homes and industries,remain communal
properties, but otherwise the families are independent. I was general secretary
of both Kibbutz Yahel and Moshav Neve Ilan. Only many years after we left
Yahel did the kibbutz even begin consider making some of the social changes
described in the book – but the members there are doing

everything slowly, and only after careful deliberations. During my years
as mazkir of Moshav Neve Ilan, we began making some serious social changes,
and unfortunately the process was extremely difficult and caused an irreparable
rift between groups of moshav members. There was a loss of the community

atmosphere of the moshav as a result.”

”It is quite likely that many other kibbutzim will undertake some of these
social changes as well, but manage to maintain the positive aspects of their
communal framework in the process. Some of the changes are negative and should
be avoided (loss of community) but others can only make things better for
the members, which in the end will lead to a more positive communal experience.”

Interview by Deborah Rosenbloom

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