KIBBUTZ YAD HANNAH, Israel -- A new synagogue should be nothing unusual in the Jewish state. But for kibbutzniks of Yad Hannah, once staunchly communist and atheist, it reflects a big change of mind.
Like many kibbutzim, this one is losing people. Now, 30 Jewish families have moved in, some of them religious, and to make sure they stay, Yad Hannah is bending principle by committing to build them a house of prayer.
It seems to be a marriage of convenience. The kibbutz needs new blood, and the newcomers, evicted when Israel withdrew from 25 settlements in the Gaza Strip and West Bank this summer, need homes. It also shows how Israelis are adjusting to the dislocation and political rupture caused by the withdrawal.
Steeped in socialist and secular values, kibbutzim once were the vanguard of Jewish state-building. But inflation in the 1980s, the exodus of young people, and crushing debt to the government have driven them into steady decline, and Yad Hannah, in northern Israel, is no exception.
So when the new families arrived from their defunct West Bank settlement of Homesh, hoping to rebuild their lives together in one place, the 90 kibbutzniks saw a way to increase their population and climb out of an economic hole.
Kibbutzim were founded on principles of shared labor and income, communal child-rearing, and collective ownership of homes and farmland.
Yad Hannah, founded in the 1950s by Russian and European immigrants, was further to the left than most, having split from the mainstream kibbutz movement and having allied with the tiny Israeli Communist Party.
Since the economic meltdown, many kibbutzim have privatized themselves and received debt relief, and the government said Yad Hannah could do the same if it took in the settlers. Many of the kibbutzniks are past retirement age, and privatization would enable them to own their homes.
Yad Hannah and the newcomers are far apart politically. The kibbutz overwhelmingly supported the withdrawal, whereas Homesh settlers lit fires, raised barricades, and threw eggs, tomatoes, and cans of food at the soldiers charged with evacuating them.
But now that it's over, the kibbutzniks and uprooted settlers must find ways to live together. So when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur approached, the kibbutz converted an old day-care center into a temporary synagogue for the religious minority among the newcomers. Eventually, a permanent synagogue will be built.
Pnina Feiler, 82, denied that her kibbutz had traded its beliefs for a government handout. She said she has nothing against religious people, as long as she is not forced to attend prayer services.
The kibbutzniks say their communal era is over. Their social club and library are in disrepair, while the gray, tired-looking mess hall locked its doors long ago.
''We're not much of a kibbutz anymore," Michael Hide said. ''We just sort of exist with each other."
The Simchi family of five left a four-bedroom house in Homesh for a three-bedroom house in Yad Hannah, 10 miles west.
''It doesn't feel like home yet," said 18-year-old Moran Simchi.
''There is a space between us. They have been communist, and we are, of course, very different," said Juliette Simchi, Moran's mother.