Dennis Shifrin, 83
From Liverpool to Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi, 1948
Dennis Shifrin, born in 1927 in Liverpool, was meant to be a doctor. He had
already done one year of medical school when the leaders of his youth movement,
Habonim, told him, “Forget medicine – there are doctors cleaning windows in
Dizengoff; Israel needs pioneers to work the land.”
As a card-carrying
member of the Zionist youth movement, which recently celebrated its centenary,
Shifrin had no choice but to give up his medical ambitions. With his
extraordinary artistic talent, the plan had been to become a medical artist,
since cameras were unknown in the operating rooms in those days.
gave up his art, however, and his sunny cartoons have appeared in many
He recently had a second exhibition of his wonderful
kinetic wooden miniatures in Ra’anana, where he lives with his wife,
The year was 1947.
Shifrin was in Eder Farm,
undergoing agricultural training to be a pioneer.
But it wasn’t all
planting and hoeing.
“The Hagana used us for other things. Some of our
boys were involved in the Briha
helping to bring illegal immigrants to
My job was to photograph army brochures and manuals, and even
the Jewish taxi drivers in London were involved, taking me from chemist
chemist shop to buy film. I could have gone to prison many times.”
1948 Dennis married Gussie, a German Kindertransport refugee and another
stalwart of the movement. Soon after, they made aliya.THE JOURNEY
“Murderous,” recalls Shifrin. “Ten days in searing heat with the smell
and sick down below. We stayed on deck and were starving. One of the
out a tin of sausages and Gussie took it and chucked it in the sea
weren’t kosher. She was nearly lynched.”ARRIVAL
They arrived in Haifa
and were taken to Mansoura, which was to become Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi,
work, clearing boulders.
Gussie hated the idea of the children’s houses,
and after two years they left.SETTLING IN
They moved to a small house in
Magdiel shared with other immigrants, and Dennis would wait with all the
for the only bus to Tel Aviv to look for work.
“I used to break up fights
and became known as ‘the crazy Englishman.’ I took my portfolio of
and the editor, [Gershom] Schocken, said to me, ‘I’m
great but all I can afford is half a graphic artist.’ He said I should
the printer, around the corner.”
Max Lion, a burly German Jew, barked
some test questions at him and somehow Shifrin got the answers right,
he knew nothing about printing. He was in.
“I had nine years of
university with him,” he recalls. “I became art and print director.
Later I set
up my own company, Shifrin and Na’aman, in 1960.”
Because the pay was
bad, he started illustrating books, and eventually set up the first
comic book, Etzba’oni
often worked with artist Nahum Gutman on the
newspaper Davar Yeladim
“He was wonderful. He used to criticize me for
being so detailed in my drawings. He used to say, ‘Dennis, why do you
everything? You can leave a line out here and there.’” Life was very
those early days and money was short.
“My very first payment was in soup
coupons,” recalls Shifrin. “When I had my first pay check of 20 lirot,
it was a
huge amount and I spent it all on the lottery, much to Gussie’s
“I just picked it up – there was no ulpan in the ’40s.
Gussie was fine as she had learned it in Berlin, and I worked a lot in
I used to proofread in many different languages without understanding a
word.”LIFE SINCE ALIYA
Once established, the printing company built up a
solid clientele that included many government agencies and private
They also had a subsidiary company, Israel Art-Print Ltd., that
calendars, greeting cards, games and so on. Eventually their two sons,
and Ilan, took over the firm, while their daughter, Orna, is active in
Just in passing, Shifrin mentions that at some time in his
career he was recruited by the Mossad and worked actively there for more
years. He won’t talk about it except to say that his artistic talents
exploited to serve as a good cover for his activities.BEST THING ABOUT
“There are good things. We had a dream – perhaps it was naïve – of a
country of pure values where everybody loved his neighbor, but
developed like any other country to what we are today. Personally I have
able to live a good life, and I doubt if I would have succeeded the way I
in any other country. That's the best thing – being able to be what you
be.”ADVICE TO NEW IMMIGRANTS