Ellis Shuman

Ellis Shuman

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 hisbook
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

@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, Raute, 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 


The Virtual Kibbutz

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