My uncle, Shalom Maagan (Marcovich), a founder of Kibbutz Lavi, its longtime
landscaper, and until his passing, its oldest member, passed away on Shabbat,
March 26, at 93. A gentle soul, with little care for worldly possessions or the
accumulation of wealth, he and my Aunt Edith had just celebrated their 70th
wedding anniversary a few days before.
His death marks the passing of an
My Uncle Shalom was among the last surviving members of that hardy
group of kibbutznik Zionists who played such a dramatic role in building the
State of Israel.
Born in 1917 in London, to an Orthodox but not extreme
family, the youngest of nine children, he was a lifelong religious Zionist, and
a founder of the British arm of Bnei Akiva, founded in Jerusalem in
The movement was founded as a response to the fact that in Europe,
much of the adult Jewish population subsisted in poverty and worked in
nonproductive labor, at a time when the industrial revolution was in full
stride. In England, in those days, Bnei Akiva strove to emphasize the value of
productivity to the Jewish people, to establish a self-sustaining nation in “our
land,” operating on the physical and spiritual level, as one in a Torah
The goals of Bnei Akiva informed his entire
Shalom and his wife Edith met in 1937, at the Young Sinai clubhouse
in London, another religious Zionist group. Shalom, then 18 and a veteran
counselor, had been sent to give a class on the weekly Torah reading to three
new girls who had just joined the local branch, Edie, then 15, among them. At
the end of the evening, Shalom told a friend, “That little one will be my wife
SHALOM MAAGAN studied at the Etz Chaim Yeshiva whose mashgiah
ruhani (spiritual leader) from 1926- 1950 was the famed Rabbi Elyah Lopian
(1876-1970), a giant of the Mussar (ethical discipline) movement.
considered him to be his greatest teacher, as my brother, Prof. Jonathan D.
Sarna reminded me. He went on to study for the rabbinate at Jews College, now
known as the London School of Jewish Studies, and an affiliate of the University
of London, together with my late father, Prof. Nahum M. Sarna.
a bachelor’s degree from University College, London, but dropped out prior to
receiving ordination, reasoning “I thought it wasn’t a time for studying,” as he
During the Blitz of London by the German Luftwaffe,
from 1940-1941, Shalom ran an institution for Jewish children who were evacuated
from London to the south of England.
“As a theology student, I was
released from military service,” he said in an interview with Haaretz many years
Five years after they first met, Shalom and Edie were married in
the Great Synagogue of London in 1941, with the nightly Blitz still operating in
full force. The wedding guests were forced to eat quickly to have time to get to
the bomb shelters before the nightly reign of terror.
around carrying a gas mask. The beautiful synagogue they were married in, built
in 1790, was destroyed by the Nazis shortly afterward.
the end of World War II, in June 1945, Shalom left his young wife and son to go
to Bergen-Belsen as the commander of a rescue unit to help survivors. Conditions
were so dangerous still, and there was so much typhus in the camp, that before
leaving, he gave his wife a get al tnai (conditional divorce), arranged by Rabbi
Yehezkel Abramsky (1886-1976), head of the Beit Din of London, lest he not
return and his remains go unidentified.
He didn’t want his wife to be
left an aguna, unable to remarry.
During the time of his service in
Bergen-Belsen, he worked very quietly but successfully to “smuggle” Jews into
Palestine for the Bricha organization, in a variety of quasilegal ways, a story
that has never been told. Shortly after the establishment of the State of
Israel, he and my Aunt Edie decided in 1949 to realize the Bnei Akiva dream of
working the land, and they settled in the North, near Tiberias, founding Kibbutz
Lavi along with other immigrants from the UK, German- Jewish children who came
to England with the Kindertransport and a few émigrés from Canada and the US.
For a time, they lived in tents and with no running water.
working in the kibbutz in carpentry, building the first permanent housing with
his own hands. My uncle then became principal of Hodayot, a nearby boarding
school that took in Jewish children from Bombay, India. However, after a few
years, he returned to working on the kibbutz, preferring to work the land, his
great love. He became the gardener of Lavi, a position he maintained until he
retired at 86.
He almost single-handedly turned Lavi into the beautiful
oasis of lush and well-manicured gardens that it is today.
1970s, when I lived in Israel, I often enjoyed Shalom and Edie’s gracious
hospitality, as well as on my many trips to Israel since.
From an early
age, Uncle Shalom showed an interest in art and became a painter and sculptor.
He continued to paint and sculpt until just a few months before his
Sharp to the end, he became an avid computer user in recent years,
regularly e-mailing his extended family, downloading pictures of great paintings
from Picasa, studying the Bible, reading novels and keeping up with the
Asked in 2008 what he wished for, he responded, that “there will be
peace and we’ll be like all the nations,” adding, “I’ll accept whatever the
government decides.” He is survived by his wife, two children, Moshe and Shula,
seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
In a era where many
young people are self-centered, money-oriented and searching to find meaning in
life, my Uncle Shalom was a powerful reminder of the ideals, values, grit, sweat
and determination that created and built the State of Israel.
memory be for a blessing.The writer has contributed on Jewish topics to
several newspapers and is the author of six books, more than 120 published
articles and holds four patents. He blogs at DavidBar- Nahum.com.