Monday, April 23, 2012

Toby Perl Freilich's INVENTING OUR LIFE explores the Israeli Kibbutz--then and now

Has it really been one hundred years since the first Kibbutz was created? More actually: 102. Watching the new documentary --INVENTING OUR LIFE: The Kibbutz Experiment-- written, produced and directed by first-time director Toby Perl Freilich, this non-Jew discovered more about Kibbutz life, its history and how it has changed over the years, than he had learned so far in his perhaps too-sheltered life. As a kind of celebration of its century-long tradition, Ms Freilich (shown below) fills us in on the very first of the kibbutzes (1910), the purpose of which, as then declaimed, was to create a fledgling socialist state. Indeed, as found in the film's description on the IMDB, the kibbutz is "one of the world's longest running and most successful experiments in pure Communism." Take that, Eric Cantor! And let's hear it for the old Israel -- and a Zionism that was meant to be, according to some of the folk interviewed in this movie, a lot more inclusive than many of us imagined.

Ms Freilich shows us what various events -- from the creation of the state of Israel to the War of Independence and onwards has done to the kibbutz, which, in order to survive, has had to keep changing. That change, as we clearly see by the end of the movie, is still going on and is perhaps more important than ever for the survival of the kibbutzim (that's the plural, for you other non-Jews). Her film is but 80 minutes long yet it packs in an extraordinary amount of good informa-tion and statistics, interesting ideas, and even a non-pushy questioning of where Israel, Judaism, Capitalism and communal living might be headed. For instance, though some of us might strongly associate Israel with the kibbutz, even at their prime, kibbutzim made up only five per cent of the Israeli community.

Via narration and some old film footage, we learn of the early kibbutzim (the kids above are from kibbutz Hulda, circa 1948), and then visit some of the more recent occupants, like Dana Shani and her daughter Romi (below). Initially inclusive, the Kibbutzim became more arrogant, particularly toward Muslims, when immigration to Israel began in earnest (sounds familiar, no?)

We learn some of the differences between country or desert kibbutz and the urban variety, how difficult the earlier version could be toward couples and any kind of "standard" family upbringing, and of the first all-Americian kibbutz, called Sasa, founded on the former Arab village of Sa'sa'. Following the Six-Day War came a kind of seismic shift in the control of Israel, and the kibbutz, long associated with the Labor Party. Now it's more likely to be a community made up of private families. At the end of the film we see one kibbutz being made to come to terms with this increased privatization, which for its older members is simply anathema.

Inventing Our Life, like most really good documentaries, is an education. It forces you to think, consider and decide, and you leave the film chastened, maybe saddened but definitely provoked. The movie -- from First Run Features and one of its better documentaries of late -- opens this Wednesday, April 25, in New York City at the Quad Cinema. You can click here to see other currently scheduled playdates, with cities and theaters.

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