Zion in the Desert

American Jews in Israel's Reform Kibbutzim

By William F. S. Miles

Subjects: Judaica
Series: SUNY series in Israeli Studies
Paperback : 9780791471043, 288 pages, June 2008
Hardcover : 9780791471036, 288 pages, July 2007

Table of contents

List of Illustrations
Introduction: Studying One’s Own Tribe
1.   From Long Island to the Negev Desert
2.   A Desert for Reform Zionists
3.   Why They Came
4.   Why They Came to Lotan
5.   Coping with Crisis: Economic, Marital, and Midlife
6.   Aging, Envy, and Death
7.   Why They Stayed
8.   Praying—and ­Not—in the Wilderness
9.   Sibling Rivalry (The Lotan Difference)
10.   Children of the Dream (Kibbutz Kids)
11.   Significant Others: ­Nonmembers of the Community
12.   Leaving the Reform Kibbutz
13.   “Today I Am a Man”

The first book about the only two Reform Movement kibbutzim in Israel.


2007 Runner Up of the National Jewish Book Award in Modern Jewish Thought & Experience

Zion in the Desert speaks to the millions of Jewish American baby boomers who at one time in their youth flirted with moving to Israel and may still wonder: "What would have happened to me? Who would I have become?" These questions are particularly poignant at a time when many American Jews are reassessing the role of Israel as a model state for the Jewish people. This book helps them encounter, beyond the numbing headlines of Middle East conflict, their middle-aged alter egos.

William F. S. Miles explores these core questions of identity by following a group of young American Jews—including one of his own Long Island high school classmates—who in the 1970s and 1980s established the only two Reform Movement kibbutzim in Jewish history. Miles provides a firsthand account of these young pioneers, who were not only drawn to Israel out of post-Holocaust Zionism, but were also inspired by the progressive spirituality of Reform Judaism and the enticements of communal living to settle utopian kibbutzim in the remote Israeli desert. Zion in the Desert illustrates who these people have become a quarter of a century later and what their lives say to their fellow non-Orthodox brethren who once toyed with the idea but never made the Zionist and kibbutz leap.

William F. S. Miles is Professor of Political Science at Northeastern University and the author of many books, including Bridging Mental Boundaries in a Postcolonial Microcosm: Identity and Development in Vanuatu and Imperial Burdens: Countercolonialism in Former French India.


"…Zion in the Desert offers us a personal/sociological view of the development of Reform Kibbutzim Yahel and Lotan … Through in-depth interviews and photos, we get a sense of the smell, look, and feel of the kibbutzim—their struggles, triumphs, and challenges—through the eyes of the author and the residents … In many respects it is a love story. " — CCAR Journal: The Reform Jewish Quarterly

"Miles has written an engaging, readable volume that combines brief backgrounds of Yahel and Lotan with many short vignettes about those who live or have lived in one or the other of these communities. " — American Jewish History

"This book offers a uniquely beautiful glimpse into kibbutz life, told from the perspective of those who live that life as well as that of an author who wonders—what if he had?" — Jewish Book Wld

"…crisply written, clear, and breezy narrative … Permeated with reflective assessment…" — CHOICE

"At once loving and objective, Miles is the ideal chronicler of this brave and idiosyncratic group of pioneers. His account offers hope for the renewal of Israeli Judaism and for the enduring power of the dream of social justice, and makes clear that the eulogies for the kibbutz ideal are premature. " — Yossi Klein Halevi, author of At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew's Search for Hope with Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land

"The author provides a good anthropological sense of intellectual curiosity, a sharp eye, and an ability to make sense of that which he observes. He raises some important questions about the nature and substance of Reform Judaism, as well as its connections with Israel. " — Chaim I. Waxman, author of Jewish Baby Boomers: A Communal Perspective