As a rule, when we think of Chalutzim or of Kibbutzim, the first image that comes to mind is of farm laborers with dirty hands and muddy shovels, physically building their future state. Relatively few people today are aware of the fact that in the heart of this Zionist endeavor, another, no less important dynamic was budding in the fields of Jewish spirit and culture.
In the fourth decade of the 20th century a young pioneer named Aryeh Ben-Gurion came to Kibbutz Beit Hashita in the Yizrael valley. Intuitively, he immediately saw how the most revolutionary elements of Zionism were not just in those things previously foreign to Jews, i.e. physical labor, security, and settlements. The core of the revolution was, indeed, in Jewish culture itself.
Aryeh, nephew of David Ben-Gurion, identified this outburst of Jewish creativity as it developed in the early Kibbutzim. He perceived the necessity of documenting various initiatives of communal celebration of festivals and holidays.
He began collecting and preserving every page containing descriptions of how young Chalutzim designed Jewish festivals, the Shabbat, marriage ceremonies, indeed any event of Jewish communal life. These individual pages were collected into crates Aryeh obtained from the nearby Tnuva factory, and gradually came together to emerge as Aryeh's life-long project: "The Holiday Archives of the Kibbutz Movement".
As a visionary, Aryeh Ben-Gurion did more than simply document the inspirational creativity of new Jewish life on the Kibbutzim. Aryeh personally educated entire generations of teachers, youth leaders, and culture personnel in the Kibbutz Movement and throughout Israel and the Diaspora, while earning many accolades and recognition from the State of Israel, as well as from a variety of funds and foundations supportive of Jewish pluralism.
In time, the archive became the core of Machon Hachagim, a center for pluralistic Jewish culture and education which maintains the Zionist spirit of the early Chalutzim. That pioneering spirit remains extremely relevant to contemporary issues of Israeli-Jewish identity, celebration of festivals in a way that synthesizes the traditional with the modern, and events of the Jewish lifecycle.
Jewish pluralism with 'Eretz Yisrael' flavor
For many years, the Machon has been a harbinger of Jewish renewal in many ways, particularly through the "Chagim" website, still the most popular Hebrew-language site on Jewish festivals in the world.
Educators and students, community leaders and organizers of Jewish cultural events, together with families and individuals throughout the world, enjoy the wide range and variety of texts and activities displayed in the many sections of the Website. Some have suggesteded the uniqueness of the site is in the way it attaches to Jewish pluralism a special 'Eretz Yisrael' flavor.
This year Israel marks 100 years to the establishment of the first kibbutz, Deganya. Together with many others throughout the country, Machon Hachagim is actively designing school lessons, youth activities, regional events, and media programs as part of the celebration of this centennial landmark.
The Machon believes these programs of Jewish renewal could also be implemented in the Diaspora, and actively seeks ways to make its materials accessible to speakers of English, Russian, French, and Spanish. We invite anyone who can be of help to visit the site, see its special qualities, and feel free to contact us.