Women of the book

Women of the book

November 27, 2009 00:17

Sitting on a shelf in the Yad Ya'ari library at the Givat Haviva Institute, located near Hadera, are two copies of the book Women in Kibbutz, published in the 1940s. Sixty-five years earlier, a copy of the same book was taken by Brititsh-trained parachutist Haviva Reik on a daring mission into Nazi Europe - one which ended in her capture and execution. After immigrating to British-ruled Palestine, Slovakian-born Haviva was one of the first women to be recruited into the ranks of the Palmah, before later volunteering for a special Jewish paratroopers' unit formed by the British Air Force. Following intensive training, she was selected for the high-risk mission, which sent her back to where she was born - the small provincial town of Banska, Bystrica. At the end of October 1944, Haviva joined local partisans in the heart of a combat zone very close to her birthplace. When the town was overrun by the Germans, she and her companions retreated to the Tatra Mountains, where they were captured by a Waffen Division of the Ukrainian SS. The few personal possessions she had on her at the time, including the book, were left on a hilltop in the area. Years after the young heroine was executed, the book was retrieved from the location of her capture and returned to Israel, where it was restored and presented to the community where Haviva lived before her fateful journey back to Slovakia, Kibbutz Ma'anit - the neighboring community to the present day-campus of Givat Haviva, the educational center named after Reik. Sixty-five years after Reik's death, Givat Haviva is celebrating its 60-year anniversary. In an interview with Metro, Josepha Fecher, head librarian of the Yad Ya'ari Research and Documentation Center of the Hashomer Hatza'ir Movement and the Kibbutz Artzi Federation at the Givat Haviva Institute, explained how the challenges which faced Reik were an integral part of kibbutz culture, both before and after the woman's death. THE DAUGHTER of Hungarian and Romanian immigrants who had joined the Hashomer Hatza'ir kibbutz of Ma'abarot in the center of the country, Josepha has lived in a kibbutz all of her life. Born a year after Haviva Reik was executed and educated at Ma'abarot, she married Nadav Fecher, a member of Kibbutz Mizra, another influential kibbutz affiliated with the Hashomer Hatzair movement. When asked why Haviva Reik would have chosen Women in Kibbutz to carry along with her on a mission which she knew she had little chance of surviving, Fecher had no trouble providing an answer. "I couldn't put the book down," she said of the book, which is filled with accounts by women of their life in the kibbutzim between the 1920s and early 1940s. "It gives moving, marvelous and wonderful insight to the incredibly terrible hardships faced by women during those years. "There is one account here," she says pointing to the book, which was sitting on her desk, "penned by a girl in 1908, during the Second Aliya, and another written by a 15-year-old in 1913." "Can you imagine it, a 15-year-old girl leaving all her family behind in Russia in 1913 to join a group of pioneers in Palestine? Truly unbelievable," she adds with feeling. "The book is divided into various topics ranging from personal memoirs and reasons for aliya, life in the cooperative, the soul-searching and difficult choices made by the individual with regard to the rest of the collective, and so much more," she explains. ESTABLISHED IN 1937, and recognized by the State of Israel as a public archive, Yad Ya'ari contains documents and artifacts spanning almost 100 years - from the early days of the kibbutz until present times; the history of the political parties like Mapam, Meretz, and their predecessors; the history of the movement in Israel and abroad; and a wealth of personal archives presented to the Givat Haviva center by many leaders and by many prominent personalities in the country. Even having lived 67 years in kibbutz, hearing many stories from her parents - who became a couple after her mother nursed her malaria-stricken father back to health in Ma'abarot, Fecher was astonished at the extent of the harsh conditions facing the women in the first years of the communities that eventually became known as kibbutzim. "For instance, one woman describes so vividly the shortage of food, and asks herself again and again how it could be that people who were working from morning until night in the most terrible of conditions would be fed only bread and onions - and sometimes even less than that," Josepha recalls. The same woman also described the evolution of the kitchen in her collective, starting with cooking out in the open air despite the weather, to the first "construction," which put a roof over her head and shielded the boiling pots of food. "Members of kibbutzim during these times were falling like flies from malaria and other diseases, and the leadership of the Second Aliya began to send representatives for training on how to organize what little they had in the best possible way," Josepha says. One of the women in the book describes how when she had almost no food to give the workers, she simply collected wild mallow from around the tent/kitchen and dished up an almost edible paste on their tin plates. Why do you think Haviva Reik chose to take this book? "In my opinion Haviva was no less of a pioneer than those women whose accounts are contained in this book," Josepha says. "The difficulties and suffering of those women did not succeed in breaking their spirit or their belief in the unique lifestyle they were creating. When she left for Europe, it's obvious that Haviva knew there was little chance of her surviving. Taking this particular book with her, she probably felt that she was being accompanied by the writers themselves, women with whom she shared so much," Josepha answers with a smile. Maybe Haviva Reik did choose that particular book because it proved that women decades before her had succeeded in what had then been deemed a mission impossible - and she was about to take on yet another.

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