During the '20s and '30s, the settlements' society of singles changed to one in which families were formed, leading to the establishment of schools and children's houses. Small industries began to appear, mainly as extensions of agriculture, and these soon became profitable enterprises. The kibbutzim emerged, aiming to become large, self-sufficient communities, combining agriculture with industry.
The '30s also witnessed the beginnings of a religious kibbutz movement, which - in contrast to its secular predecessors - saw the ideals of the movement, including equality, mutual help and building the Land, as a realization of the Jewish way of life.
By 1948, with the establishment of the State of Israel, the kibbutzim had not only succeeded in creating a unique society, they had also been instrumental in many aspects of the struggle towards the creation of the State and in its early development: they had assumed key functions in settlement of outlying areas and along the country's future borders, immigrant absorption, defense and agricultural development. Once these functions were taken over by the government, the interaction between the kibbutzim and society at large diminished; it has never stopped completely, but is marginal today.
The first decades after the establishment of the State, despite some ups and downs, showed accelerated growth of the kibbutzim, both demographic and economic. Third and fourth generation kibbutzniks were born, creating large family groupings. Living standards increased - in fact, in the 1960s they rose more rapidly than in the country as a whole. Over a period of some 75 years the kibbutz population grew continuously; since 1990, however, it has been slowly declining and the average age has been increasing. The process has been accelerated by the growing tendency of youngsters to leave.
(Yad Tabenkin, Facts and Figures, 2001)
The Crisis of the Eighties and Nineties
In the 1980s, triple-digit inflation and exorbitant interest rates caused near economic ruin for many kibbutz factories (along with their non-kibbutz counterparts) and for the communities they supported. Kibbutz debts with banks rose dramatically as inflation rocketed, peaking (at 450%) in 1984. This macro-instability caused great problems for the kibbutzim as they had borrowed heavily to develop industry and to change their internal structure. By 1985, one-third of the kibbutzim were in financial difficulties.
The government, banks and kibbutz federations hammered out two major agreements for canceling and restructuring kibbutz debts. The price was heavy: some kibbutzim had to sell agricultural land to pay off debts; others had to slash operating costs, find new sources of income and raise productivity. Often this required cutbacks in spending on basics like food, non-essential medical care, education and travel, as well as abandoning certain long-held ideological beliefs, particularly in the realm of equality.
Global and national factors also influenced kibbutz thinking: ideologically, the collapse of the USSR played a part; members spent more time traveling abroad and were exposed to new technologies of global communication; cable or satellite TV found its way into many kibbutz homes; and the use of computers and the internet, at work and at home, spread rapidly.
The result of all these factors was an unparalleled wave of soul searching, re-examination of basic principles and values, and change. All these developments continue today.