Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu
Sde Eliyahu was named in honor of Rabbi Eliyahu Gutmacher (1796-1875) who was one of the first rabbis to stand for religious Zionism. The founding members came to Israel in 1934 with the Youth Aliyah from Germany. After a training period they settled in the Beit Shean valley in May 1938.
The initial years of settlement were difficult. As in other "Tower and Stockade" settlements, guards had to be mounted on the tower day and night and a large part of available resources had to be devoted to defence and security. At the same time, natural conditions made life even more difficult for the pioneers. Malaria swamps took their toll, the oppressive heat in summer in a place 200 metres below sea-level, and freezing winter nights added hardship. These conditions also made it difficult to find crops suited to the harsh climate.
Today, there are extensive green lawns and giant trees in which varied and beautiful birds build their nests. Fish ponds also attract their share of birds as the kibbutz is situated on a main migratory route and is a haven for bird watchers.
Since its founding the kibbutz has expanded and absorbed new members from Italy, France, America and many other countries. Many of the earlier members suffered the iniquities of the Holocaust and came to build a new life in their own country.
GROWTH OF THE KIBBUTZ :
Over the years the composition of Sde Eliyahu's population has changed. The small, intimate group of people sharing similar backgrounds and mentalities has branched out by absorbing immigrants from various countries, youngsters from pioneer-training groups, Ulpan (Hebrew course) students, Bnei Akiva (youth organization) graduates and others. Many second and third generation children have also joined. Approximately 750 people now populate Sde Eliyahu. These consist of members and candidates for membership (about 300), about 300 children, and temporary residents participating in various programs: regular Ulpan, Ulpan in preparation for conversion, members of youth groups etc.
KIBBUTZ LIFE :
Sde Eliyahu continues to conduct its life along the classical kibbutz model. Members eat in the communal dining hall. Medical care, education, housing, laundry are communally supplied according to need. Each member is allotted a personal budget for clothing, vacationing and various cash expenses. A relatively high percentage of the potential workforce is given an opportunity to pursue advanced Jewish, general or vocational studies, either for personal edification or task-oriented.
The "general meeting" convenes once a week and constitutes the supreme authority of the kibbutz. It is a vehicle of the "direct democracy" characteristic of the kibbutz at its best. The (elected) administrative body is the secretariat, composed usually of five members. However, various spheres of the kibbutz life are governed by elected committees. These, though constrained by a budget assigned annually by the general meeting, have a considerable degree of autonomy. Foremost among these are the Education committee, the Culture committee, the committee for Religious Affairs, the committee for Economic Affairs and others. "Shibolet" is the local newsletter that provides current information and serves as a vehicle for members to express their views.
About 1400 pupils attend the regional school located in Sde Eliyahu. They come from the six religious kibbutzim in the region, Kibbutz Lavie in the Galilee, Moshav Meholah and other places. The school has modern laboratories, workshops for various crafts, fully equipped computer rooms, a department of agro-mechanics and one for domestic science. The school's aim is to train a new generation for our kibbutzim, a generation that will be have a Torah background, a grounding in contemporary culture as well as a capacity for engaging in a variety of technological pursuits..
In the Beit Midrash, next to the Synagogue, we have a lecture hall, a special Torah library, study rooms, a general and a children's library. Our Beit Midrash accommodates a considerable part of regional activities including regular lessons and special, intensive periods of study in Written and Oral Law. Besides these local activities, we have seen to it that over the years as many members as possible acquire higher education at yeshivot, universities and other institutes of higher learning.
TORAH V'AVODAH :
Going about their life of "Torah V'Avodah" (Torah and Work), settlements of the Religious Kibbutz Federation (Kibbutz HaDati) certainly have a great deal in common. Nevertheless, each kibbutz has its own particular traits, making it in some way unique. What is it that stands out in the collective image of Sde Eliyahu?
First, we are the only ones to make our living solely and exclusively from agriculture. We grow all of the seven varieties of plants that the land of Israel is praised for in the Bible. In spite of the limitations imposed on us by the nature of the soil and the high rate of evaporation (on account of the heat) our farm flourishes. It provides varied jobs and occupations such as vegetable fields (carrots and potatoes) fruit plantations, dairy cows, poultry, fish ponds and more.
Many of our field crops and fruit are special in that they are cultivated according to the principles of organic agriculture. We were real pioneers in this sphere in Israel fighting for the exclusion of toxic fertilizers and sprays. To replace the latter, natural enemies of pests have to be found and activated. With this aim in view our company Biological Control Industries (BCI) was established. Its laboratory is working on several projects, and now we sell pest-devouring insects to order. More recently, a sister factory BioBee was established to rear bumblebees for the use in pollination of hothouse crops and SDA Spice was built to process the spices that we grow.
AN OPEN HOUSE
Sde Eliyahu runs an Ulpan (Hebrew course), accommodating two groups of students a year. It is aimed at tourists and new immigrants who wish to learn Hebrew in a typically Israeli atmosphere, and to take part in kibbutz life. Similar to the ulpan is the Ulpan Giur, which caters for prospective converts to Judaism. We also train groups of the Bnei Akiva youth organization from abroad and receive volunteer workers for various periods. From time to time we also receive Israeli youth groups for periods of training.
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