Kibbutz: Utopia and Politics. The Life and Times of Meir Yaari, 1897–1987

Kibbutz: Utopia and Politics. The Life and Times of Meir Yaari, 1897–1987

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Aviva Halamish
Translated from the Hebrew by Lenn Schramm

Series: Israel: Society, Culture and History
ISBN: 9781618116246 (hardcover), 9781618119834 (paperback)
Pages: 496 pp.
Publication Date: July 2017

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Meir Yaari (1897-1987) was the leader of Hashomer Hatza’ir, a movement which took an active part in shaping the history of the Jewish people in the crucial decades of the twentieth century. Its Kibbutzim had a leading role in matters of aliyah, settlement, and defense in mandatory Palestine and then independent Israel, and its members were among the organizers of Jewish resistance and revolt during the Holocaust. This biography discusses pivotal issues in the history of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, such as the friction between Zionism and socialism, the Arab question, the absorption of new immigrants, and generation gaps and conflicts. The book blends individual and collective perspectives and never loses sight of the tension between ideology and reality.

Aviva Halamish is Historian at the Open University of Israel, specializing in the history of the Jewish people and of Palestine in the twentieth century, focusing on Jewish immigration, the kibbutz, and historical biography. She has authored or edited over a dozen books. Halamish is a member of Israel's Council for Higher Education.


This is an excellent book, one that I enjoyed reading very much. Halamish is an extraordinary historian and storyteller. It is also important for me to note that even though I was born and educated in Israel, I learned much and gained new insights into the kibbutz movement by reading this volume. … This book has significant relevance for Israeli society today.
— Moti Gigi, Sapir College, Israel Studies Review Vol. 33, No. 3
Aviva Halamish has produced a splendid biography of Meir Yaari, one of the Zionist movement’s most colorful and intriguing figures. Writing with profound erudition and empathy, Halamish reveals the mysteries of Yaari’s charisma, his intellectual and organizational strengths, and his all-too-human flaws. Halamish throws light on not only Yaari as an individual but also on the kibbutz movement that he founded and on Israeli history writ large.
— Derek Penslar, Samuel Zacks Professor of Jewish History, University of Toronto, Visiting Professor at the University of Oxford and Harvard University
Aviva Halamish has written a riveting biography of a key figure in the history of the Yishuv and the State of Israel. It is a work of extraordinary and relentless exploration of archival sources, letters, memoirs, and the contemporaneous press to reveal, in an engaging and fascinating manner, Yaari’s personal story and pivotal role in the creation of a new society. A must-read for scholars and students of the emergence of the Jewish State.
— Jehuda Reinharz, Richard Koret Professor of Modern Jewish History, Brandeis University
Aviva Halamish wrote a comprehensive biography of one of the most fascinating figures in the Zionist history, skillfully tracing his inner contradictions, conflicts with colleagues and opponents. What was the source of his magic impact on his adherents, who followed him to the dividing line between Zionism and communism? Whoever wishes to understand the social and cultural making of one of the most important kibbutz movements, Hashomer Hatza’ir, should read Halamish’s book.
— Anita Shapira, Professor Emerita, Tel Aviv University; Founder, Yitzhak Rabin Center for Israel Studies, Tel Aviv University

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 Reisha
Chapter 2 Vienna
Chapter 3 Bitaniyya Illit
Chapter 4 Founding a Kibbutz Movement
Chapter 5 A Wife and Helpmate
Chapter 6 Ideological Collectivism
Chapter 7 Facing the Catastrophe
Chapter 8 Facing the Forces of Tomorrow
Chapter 9 A Gaping Abyss
Chapter 10 Against the Current
Chapter 11 From Military Glory to Marking Time in the Opposition
Chapter 12 Unrequited Love
Chapter 13 In the Shadow of Big Brother
Chapter 14 The Kibbutz during the Transition from Yishuv to State
Chapter 15 For Zionism, for Socialism, for the Brotherhood of the Nations—and in That Order
Chapter 16 Fractured Beliefs
Chapter 17 The Rebellion of the Sons
Chapter 18 A Dove with Folded Wings
Chapter 19 Twilight
Chapter 20 Epilogue


List of illustrations
1. Yaari wearing Austrian army uniform, 1917.
2. Meir Yaari, his wife Anda and their daughter Rachel, 1924.
3. The presidium table at the fourth World Convention of Hashomer Hatza’ir.
4. Yaari with members of Hasomer Hatza'ir youth movement at the Fernwald DP Camp. 
5. Yaari with Yaakov Hazan. 
6. Yaari at his office, 1950s. 
7. Meir and Anda with members of their Kibbutz. 
8. Yaari and Arab members of Mapam. 
9. Yaari with Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. 
10. The extended Yaari family, Merḥavia 1960. 
11. Meir Yaari with David Ben-Gurion, Yitzhak Tabenkin and Aharon Beker. 
12. Yaari’s 80th birthday party.