The days of travellers flocking to Israel to work on a kibbutz or moshav are, if not over, certainly much reduced. The rise of cheaper, less bureaucratic work exchange opportunities elsewhere combined with the slow decline of the kibbutz movement have led an 80 per cent drop in volunteer numbers from their heyday in the 1970s, according to figures in the working abroad guidebook Work Your Way Around the World.
For those still drawn to volunteering in Israel, a kibbutz offers the basics for living and working abroad in exchange for work in its fields, factories and tourist facilities. An alternative option is to stay on a moshav, which pays a pocket money wage but is less communal. The necessity of obtaining a work visa also makes this a far less realistic choice.
The work, on a kibbutz or a moshav, is physically demanding. Volunteers are expected to work hard in the fields, factories or, increasingly, service industries for six to eight hours a day, six days a week. For kibbutz workers, an option to divide their time working and studying Hebrew on an Ulpan programme may also be available, though places are limited.
Volunteers should ideally be aged 18 to 35, physically and mentally fit, single (or married, without children) and able to stay for a minimum of two months. You need not be Jewish.
On a kibbutz a volunteer receives free accommodation and meals, toiletries, and other minor personal needs. On the flip side, registration and programme fees totally several hundred dollars need to be paid.
First time volunteers usually turn to a placement organisation in their own country. Addresses of these can be found here. Volunteers arrive in Israel, in a group of fellow countrymen, with work arranged in advance and transportation from airport to kibbutz taken care of.
The other way is to register directly via the Kibbutz Program Center. More details at www.kibbutz.org.il/volunteers/registration.htm.
Kibbutz Maabarot, halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, recommends volunteers arrive with: two towels, waterproof shoes for work, hiking shoes, a hat, an alarm clock, two passport photos, warm clothing for winter (Nov to Apr) and light clothes for summer (May-Oct).
Kibbutz Volunteer by Vacation Work is the best guidebook on the subject. We also like Beer And Bagels For Breakfast by John Carson, a contributor to this site. Though not a guidebook his book is very popular both with reminiscing ex-kibbutzniks and with those travellers looking forward to the experience for the first time. Also check out his Kibbutz Volunteer website.
The latest editions are available from amazon.co.uk
Image courtesy Epiclectic