Discovering Stored Treasures

Discovering Genealogy, One Ancestor at a Time.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Part III: One Ancestor and Israel's Independence

First hut from Magdiel (restored).
Continued from Part I and Part II: One Ancestor and Israel's Independence

This story, is not how my grandfather's sense of humor, and how he laughed at himself for wearing  glasses which clung to his nose by a piece of tape. It's not about how he drove "a Mercedes" around the Kibbutz. After suffering heart failure, my grandfather was awarded a golf cart. He truly enjoyed the luxury of driving it around the narrow pathways and dubbed it his Mercedes. It's not how he wore his khaki colored shorts high above his belly button of his bulging belly and displaying his skinny legs. It's also not about how he kept his false teeth in a cup of water in the bathroom, the water magnifying the dentures and scaring the hell out of young grandchildren. It's not about any of those things, because those things I witnessed myself. They are my memories of my grandfather. This post is a continuation of the series of stories I learned from digging up the past, the pieces of the puzzle I discovered as I researched my grandfather's life.

In 1934 when my grandfather arrived in Palestine, he was part of a core group of Hanoar Hatzioni members who formed an independent settlement in Magdiel, called Magdiel beit. Magdiel, was a small agricultural community in the heart of Israel (now part of Hod Hasharon). This fall, my son will be spending three months studying in Hod Hasharon. Of all the places in Israel, his program is located in the exact same location where his great-grandfather landed in Israel almost eighty years ago. He will find not find the sand dunes and swamps his great-grandfather encountered there, but maybe he can visit the first hut of the settlement, now restored and nestled among the modern apartment buildings.

From its inception the Hanoar Hatzioni group, envisioned an independent Kibbutz belonging to their youth movement and not affiliated to the Histadrut Organization, the General Federation of Laborers in the land of Israel (Israel's Labor Unions Organizations, in charge of workers activities among them settlements). This was to be the first Kibbutz of the Hanoar Haztzioni and a source of pride for the passionate movement members. Remember those youth group summer camps my grandfather headed as part of the youth movement? (See Part I). The youth group was everything to them. The idea that a group of young people can actually have their own Kibbutz was revolutionary and they didn't want to give that up to the control of a the fast growing and powerful labor union. While awaiting a permanent location for their kibbutz, they worked and received support from the more established agricultural settlement of Magdiel. The intense preparations abroad, did not quite prepare these young, pale, urban intellectuals, for the hard physical labor involved in farming the land. When hunger plagued, they searched for supplemental jobs outside Magdiel. My grandfather to enlisted to dig trenches in Cfar Etzion, a settlement planned for newly acquired lands of Gush Etzion.

Baruch Lavi top left with
a group of fellow Magdiel settlers. 
Gush Etzion, nestled between hostile Arab lands of Bethlehem and Hebron, failed to establish Jewish settlements in many years. In 1929 a group of Orthodox and Yemenite Jewish settlers were forced to flee their settlement, Migdal Eder, after only two years. A wealthy Jewish businessman, Samuel Yoshef Holtzmann, purchased the land for Cfar Etzion in 1932 and helped finance the construction which began its in 1935. The laborers were paid seven Palestinian pounds for each hole they excavated. They were laying down the infrastructure and foundation for the planned settlement. According to my grandfather's writing, they were paid for digging seven holes daily. The workers faced the harsh elements during the day. At night they retreated to the nearby Russian monastery for refuge from the belligerent Arab villages which surrounded them. The members of Magdiel Beit, performed this backbreaking work, twice, for several month each time, sending much needed income to Magdiel. In 1935, after the second enlistment, they treated themselves with a field-trip to Hebron. They were amongst the first Jews to step on the biblical lands of Gush Etzion and visit the city of Hebron. Sadly, Kfar Etzion’s fate was not dissimilar to its predecessor Migdal Eder. By 1937, the Arabs, destroyed much of what the philanthropist Holtzman paid for. The next attempts to establish Kfar Etzion, lasted from 1943-1947 and met with one of the bloodiest and painful events in Jewish history. The small religious settlement, found itself on the Arab side of the partition plan. As British forces pulled out, it was placed under a heavy blockade. When the remaining residents tried to surrender to the Arabs, they were massacred. Controversial settlements in what is known today as the West Bank territory, did not resume until after the Six Day War of 1967, and continue to be a sore issue in the Palestinian Israeli peace process today. It is not my intention to get into a complicated discussion of the current political situation in Israel. I do however want to say, that my grandfather was a big proponent of peace. In his lifetime, he got to see his dream of establishing a Jewish state fulfilled. He always hoped that Arabs and Jews could coexist in peace.

Building Magdiel
Baruch Lavi, bottom row, second from the left (with the cap).
Making construction bricks at Magdiel
Baruch Lavi, bottom left.
Despite the difficult conditions at Magdiel, my grandfather was very happy. He enjoyed the company of his ideological and intellectual friends, he loved the camaraderie and the support they gave each other. There was much emphasis on the Hebrew language and its revival, as well as cultural life. There were constant lectures and shows. The men and women worked hard during the day, and took turns guarding at night. As plans continued for breaking grounds, Keren Kayemet, the Jewish National fund sent a representative to Magdiel Beit to discuss among other things, the name of their future Kibbutz. Though the members prepared a banquette for their distinguished guest and impressed him with a tour of their settlement, the visit did not go as well as planned. They wanted to name the Kibbutz, Tel-Yitzchak after of their beloved spiritual leader Yitzchak Steiger. Steiger was a visionary, founding member and leader of Hanoar Hatzioni back in Poland. When he died prematurely in 1936, his friends and colleges were determined to never forget his sacrifice. The general strike which was part of the Arab Revolt, strangled many Jewish communities among them the small community of Haifa. The arabs were not purchasing Jewish products, not selling anything. Basic services such as garbage collection, mostly done by Arab laborers were severely disrupted. At the time, Steiger was part of the Kibbutz Usha's group preparing at Cfar Ata. He was one of the first to volunteer for the dirty job of collecting trash and founded the Jewish trash brigade, infusing his enthusiasm and embodying his solidarity to help the Jews of Haifa. Within a few short days at the job, he contracted typhus and died. The perpetually hungry youths, cleanup every last crumb of food from the unusually elegant banquet. Before departing, Mr. Oshoskin (the Keren Kayemet representative) relented and instructed them to submit the name Tel-Yitzchak to the naming committee. Their request was met with further resistance and they were asked to reconsidered a more historically significant Jewish figure for the name. Exhibiting youthful stubbornness, they  refused to budge and returned to the naming committee several times with only one option, Tel-Yitzchak. History is witness to their eventual success.
To be continued in Part IV and Part V

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