Edith Gold passed away on Rosh Hashana in her home at Kibbutz Lavi. She wasn’t famous, her name was not instantly recognizable – she was one of eight million citizens of the State of Israel who did not seek the headlines but went around her daily work, unceasingly, without excuses, fulfilling her obligations as we expect from every responsible citizen.
I was privileged to know this remarkable lady for almost forty years. She was my adoptive “kibbutz family” during my Hachshara in the mid 1970s. This was a period in which members of the Zionist youth movements, in what is now termed a “gap” year, spend in Israel after finishing highschool and before starting college. It was customary at that time for members of Bnei Akiva, Habonim and other Zionist youth movements, from different countries, to spend the year in a combination of work and study on the Kibbutzim which were associated with their own political and religious affiliations.
During the 1960s and ‘70s, members of English Bnei Akiva spent a year based at Kibbutz Lavi in the Lower Galilee, many of whose founding members had made aliya from the UK in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Gold was one of a large group of German born olim who, as a young seven year old child, had been rescued from Nazi Germany by the kindertransport – never to see their parents or families again – and taken to safety in England. Following periods ranging from 10 to 15 years, during which time thousands of these children grew up and were educated in the UK, many of them – especially those who had become involved in Zionist youth activities – decided to make the further move to the newly established State of Israel.
Gold (her married name) was one of these. Coming to Israel, serving in the army, and then marrying another ex-kindertransport immigrant who had already settled on Kibbutz Lavi, she spent the remainder of her life – almost 60 years, as a member of this remarkable religious kibbutz. Like all kibbutz members, she worked hard, contributed to the social and cultural development of the community, raised her own family and was always one of the first to “adopt” the young, impressionable, teenagers who came for their Hachshara year to the kibbutz.
Around her developed a network of young adults who saw her as an additional “parent,” who would invite them for meals, and in whom they would sometimes confide. Although it is impossible to compare her own life history of a German child of the 1930s, with that of young adults coming for one year from a safe environment, and in constant contact with their parents back home, she was always aware of what it meant to be away from a familiar place without one’s parents constantly hovering and protecting in the background. She opened her house to these young people and went out of her away to provide a second home where they would feel comfortable, normal and at ease.
She did not go out of her way to preach aliya to her charges – that was done by others. But she probably had more of an indirect impact on the fact that almost, without exception, all those who passed through her door eventually came to live in Israel, remaining in contact with her as they succeeded in building up their own professions and families. By example, she showed that one could pull oneself together and build a new life even after the horrific experiences of her childhood. She didn’t preach it, she didn’t give long passionate lectures about it, she simply practiced it on a daily basis.
Having escaped once from the clutches of the Nazis, it would have been so much easier to have remained in the safe haven of England. As citizens of their newly adopted states, no longer refugees, these people could have stayed where they were, content and safe in their countries of refuge.
But, infused with strong commitment and ideals, they underwent yet another personal revolution, not one forced on them but one which was rationalized and consciously selected. They chose to make their lives in the fledgling State of Israel, became members of young, newly established communities, often under difficult conditions and, without headlines or media, created a new future for the post-Holocaust Jewish people.
In her latter years, Edith Gold had rediscovered some of her early family history. She had been invited as a guest of honor to her home town of Ansbach to commemorate the past Jewish community, but she was too sick to attend. There is no doubt that the past haunted her, as it must have haunted all of those who went through similar experiences. The picture of her parents, murdered by the Nazis, was prominent in her salon and in her “retirement” (she never really knew the meaning of the word). She was active in dealing with the reparations that were due to members of her own kibbutz. She understood that while one must never forget one’s past, one must not use the past as an excuse for not progressing and developing a new and vibrant society. For her, this was the only true response to the inferno of her own personal childhood.
She was immensely proud of the success of her community, Kibbutz Lavi (a truly remarkable Kibbutz which has demonstrated that the worlds of religion and modernity can work hand in hand), and her growing family, all of whom – children and grandchildren – remain members of the kibbutz to this day.
She was proud of all those “adoptive” children who had made such a success of their own lives in Israel after having spent the year on Lavi and she kept close tracks on their activities. She was a great believer in the youth of this country who she saw, automatically, as the next generation of leaders and decision makers, focusing on the present and the future rather than being anchored in the past.
She was not alone. This same article could have been written about many other similar unsung heroes of the State of Israel, but she was the one I knew. It seems only fitting that her death, on Rosh Hashana, should be used as a means of recognizing and honoring the many other, seemingly normal citizens, who went through a similar life experience. How fitting that her memory, and the memory of so many unsung heroes like her, should be uppermost on our minds during the coming day of Yom Kippur – the day on which many of us reflect on the really important things in life.
May her memory be Blessed.
The writer is Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
The views expressed are his alone.