The recent quiet in the Gaza vicinity has prompted members of Kibbutz Kerem Shalom to recruit new members to its ranks.
The kibbutz's remote location, nestled between the border between Israel, the Gaza Strip, and Egypt, has made headlines in recent years mainly in a security context, with the opening of the commercial crossing into the Gaza Strip that carries the same name as the collective settlement and the capture of Gilad Shalit, which took place just near the entrance to the kibbutz.
Today, the kibbutz members number just 26 people. Many of the houses stand empty. In the year and a half since Operation Cast Lead, only three new families have joined. This has lead the residents to launch a public relations campaign to encourage young people and families to move to the near-empty kibbutz by harkening back to Zionist values of settling the Negev with the promise of "a traditional kibbutz like the good old days."
Map of Kerem Shalom at the entrance to the kibbutz (Photo: Herzel Yosef)
"Maintaining a kibbutz in the long term with just 26 members is impossible," said Ilan Regev, the kibbutz coordinator. "Our weak spot is the small number of residents. Our first and foremost challenge is to increase the population here. From a financial perspective, the kibbutz is in a good situation. Whoever comes here is making a Zionist move of the first degree."
However, it seems as though the changes that have taken place on kibbutzim throughout the years have been internalized at Kerem Shalom. They understood that despite safeguarding its socialist nature, the kibbutz will have to open its wallet in order to realize their collective Zionist vision. With aid from the Eshkol Regional Council, the kibbutz members invested NIS 30,000 (about $7,900) in an advertising campaign for the settlement, in which just 60 people, including children, live currently.
Full funding for university tuition
While appealing to the ideological side, the kibbutz also offers those taking who take up residence there a list of benefits and incentives, including living quarters for families in apartments up to 100 sq meters and full funding for university tuition at any institute of higher learning. All residents of Kerem Shalom are offered a lively community life and a good education system. All of this is carried out through a joint cash account, in accordance with the customary practice on kibbutzim prior to privatization.
Zaor and Tanya. Not looking back (Photo: Herzel Yosef)
The enthusiastic residents are aware of the fact that their proximity to the Gaza Strip is likely to deter many people from choosing the location for their home. However, they, themselves, do not believe there is any reason for concern.
"The scariest place is the road," said Amit Kaspi, 40, who lives on the kibbutz together with his wife and three small children. "This is one of the safest places in Israel. There are no drunken teenagers here or violence."
Kaspi explained that life on the kibbutz allows for a high quality of life quite different than city living.
"Everyone who comes here understands that it is totally different. On the one hand, we are one big family, but, on the other hand, intimacy is also maintained. We aren't running after money here. When you compare a child from Tel Aviv to someone who grew up here, you see huge difference," Kaspi said.
"We decided to come here because of the positive atmosphere. We were impressed by the place and decide we wanted to move. There are good people here, and you can feel the love. I am enjoying every moment we are here. In the city, sometimes you don't even know who your neighbors are," explained Zaor.