MYSTERY OF THE MISSING REPORT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Abram Kardiner, my father

The State of Israel was created in 1948. Part of its population lived on rural Kibbutzim scattered throughout the country. At the time, most of the Kibbutzim had all their children housed together, separate from the adults. Parents didn’t live with their children in nuclear families. Parents and their children spent time with each other, but every aspect of live was communal.

My father, Abram Kardiner, was a well-known and well-respected anthropologist and psychoanalyst.

He had created a methodology to study cultures or social groups using psychological testing as well as anthropological analysis.

The Israeli government contacted my father and asked him to do a study on the psychological effects of Kibbutz life, particularly on child development. My father hired psychologists and anthropologists to do in-depth studies of the child rearing practices in the Kibbutzim. They also did psychological tests on children and on adults who had been raised communally.

The results came out a few years later and were not favorable to the Israeli social experiment. The children were technically well cared for, but were always in a group. They had very little one-on-one adult interaction and very little involving consistent adult figures, like parents.

My father found that this type of upbringing created socially responsible individuals, but most of them lacked good self-esteem, were aggressive, and had trouble relating well to others.

The study concluded that breaking up the nuclear family unit was not a good idea long-term. My father recommended parents and children be allowed to live together as the primary child rearing unit, though children could spend the day, when parents were working, in communal day care centers. Everything else in the Kibbutz could stay completely communal.

The study was presented to the Israeli government. I think it was some time in the late 1950’s. Someone from the government met with my father and asked him not to publish his report. The government would take it under advisement, but it didn’t want these negative findings publicized. The mere existence of the State of Israel was under attack. The government didn’t want to give extra ammunition to Israel’s enemies.

My father agreed to keep the report to himself. But he did keep the original copy of the report. Here’s where the mystery comes in. A while later, my dad went to check something in the report – and it was missing! My parents knew where it had been kept and it wasn’t there. They searched my father’s entire office but still didn’t find it.

Dad was convinced that the Israelis wanted to make sure that Dad didn’t change his mind about sharing his report with others. The only logical explanation is that Israeli ‘agents’ took Dad’s only copy of the report. So we may have been part of a top-secret Israeli ‘operation’!

Kibbutz in the Galilee

There is a kind of happy ending to this story. The Israeli’s took Dad’s findings to heart and within a few years, the government had changed the social structure of the Kibbutzim. Most living arrangements on Kibbutzim to single, nuclear family units. Parents and children moved back together, as my father had recommended — and so it remains today.

So, not only was my dad part of a spy operation, he actually influenced the policy of an entire country! Not a bad outcome overall.

9 thoughts on “MYSTERY OF THE MISSING REPORT – BY ELLIN CURLEY

    • What’s amazing about this story is that the Israeli government actually listened to what Dad had to say and changed a big part of their social structure. They didn’t want the negative publicity, but they also wanted what was best for their people. Now that’s the kind of government I would love to have.

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    • Dad was actually very proud that he was able to make a difference to so many people. He didn’t like the way the government handled him personally, but he respected the fact that they listened to experts when they were told that they were doing something that was bad for their people.

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  1. It wasn’t a terrible way to live. A lot of people liked it too, but it didn’t turn out to be the best way to raise young ones. When I got to Israel at the end of 1978, about half the kibbutzim still had the old system in place, though most of them allowed families the options of raising their kids at home, or passing them off to the kibbutz when necessary … and I think that is probably still true. Kibbutz life gives families an enormous amount of freedom. It is a great way to live and being accepted to live on a kibbutz is like getting into a top Ivy League college. They don’t take just anyone.

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    • Obviously people like living on Kibbutzim because they still do. But you can like a way of life even though that may not be the best way to raise your children. The Hippie communes in the 1960’s were not great for kids either. I’m glad people get a choice now in Israel. That’s the best of all worlds.

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      • Many places always gave you a choice. Kids liked being at home when they were little, but many of them liked living with their peers as they got older. It is also a very different lifestyle. Mostly, in an extremely healthy way. The “big” problem with Kibbutz life was that it is very much like a really small town. You can’t keep anything private. You sneeze and 400 kibbutzniks say “La bree-ute.”

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  2. What a story Ellin. I’m so glad that your fathers findings proved to be so. I still feel the family unit (including grandparents) is the best thing for children.
    Leslie

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