A daughter's discoveries

A daughters discoveries

November 4, 2009 22:25
Prof. Zifa Galili 248.88

Prof. Zifa Galili 248.88. (photo credit: )

Ziva Galili gazes at the computer screen intently, the transcript of the interrogation by now familiar: The interrogator stating the case, the defendant refusing to answer the charges, the recommendation for imprisonment. Then she clicks on another one, more involved, recommending that the male suspect be sent to the equivalent of concentration camp for three years for his actions. Their crimes? Zionism, specifically organizing and directing activities of the Soviet branch of Hashomer Hatza'ir in the early 1920s. Their names? Elazar Iskoz and Clara Lipman - Galili's parents. In a conversation in her apartment in Jerusalem's Nahlaot neighborhood, where she is taking a break from her regular duties as a professor of history at Rutgers University in New Jersey, the Israeli-born Galili tells their story, part of her research into a part of Zionist history heretofore shrouded mostly in mystery: the post-revolution activities of at least 10 Zionist organizations, among them the Hashomer Hatza'ir Russian group that created Kibbutz Afikim, where she grew up. But for Galili, tracing her parents' Zionist activities in what was the Soviet Union has taken her from Israel to New York to New Jersey to Russia and back again, and still not all the questions are answered. Woven into the tale is intrigue, a love story and a mixture of courage and guilt on the part of her parents, who she believes never felt they did enough for others also arrested for Zionist activity but who didn't make it to Israel. "They didn't talk about it much," says Galili of her parents' halcyon days as activists in the movement that grew after the Russian Revolution, which drew on the existing Scouts and Maccabi movements. "I always had a great love for everything Russian," she says of a career that took her from Hebrew University to Columbia, where she got her doctorate, to Rutgers. "My mother told me about works of Russian literature that had an impact on her, books of Russian poetry - maybe there was more connection around that." Later in life, she discussed it all more at length with her mother, but for the most part, it was Galili herself who had to unearth the story, relying on contacts she built up with archivists in Russia during the 1990s with whom she worked on a major work on the Menshevik party, which opposed the victorious Bolsheviks in the Russian Revolution. And while some like to believe the large Zionist movement that spurred the first and second aliyot died with the revolution of 1917, "my research has uncovered that there was a very active Zionist life in the early Soviet period." At the time, the Soviet government actually tolerated the Zionists and some leaders saw reason to accept them. "There was a kind of assumption that the Soviet government was entirely and unremittingly anti-Zionist," says Galili, who says her research into the period is "partly about my family and partly about Zionism in the Soviet Union" in the 15 years that followed the revolution. Concerns about the Jews' terrible poverty and their "total lack of preparation for becoming members of society, of the workforce," was behind this acceptance, she says, adding: "They were far from the image we have today of anti-Semitism. The Soviet Union was the only country where anti-Semitism was a punishable crime. So they saw what the Zionists proposed to do as positive, even the goal of emigration to Palestine. So even senior security services leaders backed the idea." There were lots of Zionist gatherings, both local and national, one of the latter was held by Hashomer Hatza'ir in Kiev, and someone had to host a visiting group leader - Galili's father, whom her mom already knew. "My mother asked her mother, and she said yes, so he stayed with my mother's family for a week or so in the summer of 1923," she recalls with a smile. He visited again the next year. "They didn't only know each other, they knew they wanted to be reunited," she says of the young lovers. BUT MEANWHILE there was work to do, and trouble. The Jewish Section of the Communist Party feared the Zionist groups were "competing for the soul of the Jewish youth," explains Galili, and urged the secret police to arrest them. Firing back, in August 1924, 10,000 leaflets attacking the Jewish Section of the Communist Party "for its failure to help the Jewish masses" were distributed in Ukraine by Zionist socialist activists. That apparently was too much even for the security services, who arrested 3,000 Zionists in Ukraine on the night of September 2, among them Clara. When Galili discovered that Russian law made her parents' arrest records accessible to her, she hurriedly obtained them in 1997. Leafing through them, she was proud of her mother. Sticking to movement credo, Clara refused to answer her interrogators' questions, but then got an unusual offer that became known as "substitution." "The standard charge was anti-Soviet activity and the standard punishment was being sent to a very far-off place," notes Galili. But through the intervention of top Soviet leaders, starting in July 1924, "many, many Zionists were given the option of instead leaving for Palestine for good." Young Clara took the offer. "Of course it's very moving to see these materials that had to do with my parents 70 years earlier," says Galili. "I ordered copies of the files and I brought them to Israel, and my mother was still alive, so it was very moving to see it with her." She doesn't blame her mother for not talking about the subject much. "They got involved in their lives and the new society they were building and didn't dwell on what happened there," says Galili, flashing a picture on the computer of her mom on kibbutz, playing with her sister. "I think there was some sort of satisfaction... a certain connection in the fact that I was interested in it, that I went back, and I think it was something that touched her." Her mom had doubts about coming to Palestine, not realizing she would never see her family again. "She had this very stark choice to make and she made that choice to leave," says Galili. Once here, she found her way to the Hashomer Hatza'ir Russian group. HER FATHER'S situation was different, however. He was arrested on the street, turned in by another movement member, a young woman he was with who was a suspected informer, information she discovered by chance in the file of one of the other prisoners. "My father's file says he and four others were sentenced to the equivalent of a concentration camp," says Galili, "to Soloviki, a monastery on an island in the northern sea where many people died. They were sentenced to three years' imprisonment." But on examining his file, she found a statement that had been "typed like a form - so clearly several people signed it." It was a letter by the four to the editor of the communist Yiddish newspaper Der Emes, announcing they were leaving Hashomer Hatza'ir because they no longer believed it "advanced the goals of the revolution," among other things. "By the same Russian revolutionary ethos, this was a real no-no," says Galili. "You don't back away from your convictions." While she never talked much to her father about his arrest, either, she later found out the announcement was faked by the four on the advice of the movement so as to get the leaders it so badly needed out of jail. Hashomer Hatza'ir members were informed of the ruse later on. While her dad wasn't eligible for the substitution arrangement, he did manage to find Latvian smugglers who got him over the border, arriving in Palestine in 1925, where he was quickly reunited with Clara. They had three children, Ziva the youngest. Elazar (known to all as Lasia) became involved with creating the nascent IDF and was the editor of Ma'arachot, a journal of military history and thought, a position he held for many years, as he worked hard at building the kibbutz and a new life, taking a new name, Galili, which had been one of his code names in the movement. THOSE LESS fortunate, who were sent to far-flung areas of the Soviet Union as punishment for Zionist activities, wrote to their comrades in Palestine, asking them what was happening, especially after the riots of 1929, says Galili. "The letters are very, very moving." she says, "they write about the cold, mosquitoes, illnesses and illnesses of others. There are really heartbreaking letters from people who still feel they are part of what is happening in Palestine. They want to know." Her parents, she says, had "a certain sense of guilt as they grew older that they had not written enough... It's sort of understandable. They were building a new society, working hard." They had seen themselves as the vanguard, with many who would follow in their footsteps, Galili says of her parents, "but far fewer came." Today, she is continuing her research, focusing on the archives of the Jewish Section of the Communist Party in Moscow. "I found a lot of materials in archives of the Jewish section - they were against the Zionists, so they were collecting material about them," she says. She has also been focusing on the arrest records - obtained via an agreement with the Russian security services - of the Zionists, who had many Zionist documents in their possession. "There is in fact a whole Zionist archive" she's uncovered, says Galili, "It's not organized, but there are thousands of documents produced by Zionist movements in the 1920s in these archives - this is the material I'm most interested in." WHAT STARTED out as a family search has gone much further for Galili, who "grew up thinking how lucky we were that my parents got out of the Soviet Union... but as I read about the movement they were a part of, I just have admiration for them, warm feelings and wonderment for these young people, not just my parents, who were so imbued with ideals and spent hours and days trying to clarify to themselves how to bring together their sense of themselves as Jews - for them it meant a nation - and their search for a better society... They saw the uniqueness of their movement as one that teaches young people to realize their ideals in their lives even if it means taking risks. In fact, some of them died of malaria or were killed in work accidents." But family memories still swirl as she pursues her research. She remembers her mother taking her to the first Independence Day parade, "and she bought a flag and she wrote on it 1949 and she hung it up - an Israeli flag, they were really proud." She also remembers her father's disgust when someone used the term "shvartzers" to refer to Oriental Jews. Still, looking at a picture of the Hashomer Hatza'ir group featuring the two, one can only be impressed by the political and geographical journey their Zionism led them on. "They believed that the Jewish people needed a homeland and the Jews needed to rebuild themselves in this homeland and to build a just society. So I think from their perspective, a lot of what is happening in this country was an anathema. In fact, my mother in her last years told me several times she was ashamed to be part of a country that represses another people... On the other hand, there are people who pursue the same ideals as my parents. Unfortunately, from my perspective there are not enough of them and don't have enough of an impact." Closing her father's memoirs, Galili glances out at the Knesset from her porch and observes about her parents: "I kind of see them as very young people, still not shaped in the way they were 30 or 40 years later in the way I knew them... the excitement of youth, the ability to excite others, especially in my father, the ability to lead other people. I find in their letters their attention to other individuals, how attentive they were to others around them in the group." Does she sometimes feel their presence lingering over her shoulder as she continues her important research? "No," she says, "but there are many things I wish I could ask them."

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