Beit Hashomer Museum: Grandfather of the IDF

A new permanent exhibition was dedicated in early June.

beit hashomer 88  (photo credit:)
beit hashomer 88
(photo credit: )
'The IDF has many fathers, but only one grandfather - Hashomer," said Israel's first prime minister and defense minister, David Ben-Gurion, prior to the opening of the original Beit Hashomer museum in 1968. A direct line connects the Hashomer ("The Guard") defense organization to the IDF, with such values as determination, discipline and comradeship ranking high then as today. These values have passed on from generation to generation, with many Hashomer descendants serving in top combat units. The new permanent exhibition of the Beit Hashomer Museum in Kibbutz Kfar Giladi in the northern Galilee was dedicated in early June at a ceremony in which many descendants of Hashomer members participated. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who attended the opening, noted from his own experience in combat - fighting alongside the grandchildren of Hashomer members - that their ancestors' traits had passed down to them. The dedication coincided with the centennial of the establishment of the Bar Giora movement, Hashomer's predecessor, the first attempt at Jewish defense during the early days of the Yishuv under Ottoman rule. Boasting a breathtaking view of the Hula Valley and the Golan Heights, Beit Hashomer's four-story building was built in 1968 with architectural features in the style of the early 20th century, and is one of 12 museums operated by the Defense Ministry's Museum Unit. "[The museum] was redesigned to meet the needs of today's young generation, since soldiers and youth visit Beit Hashomer," says museum director Batya Guy. "The new exhibition with multimedia and authentic artifacts is geared to them. In addition, pensioners and others touring the area also visit." The new exhibition was created by designer Ori Abramson, son of Hashomer members Yaakov and Ida Abramson, together with the Museum Unit and the Moreshet Hashomer Association. In September 1907, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi (later Israel's second president) and other figures from the Second Aliya organized an underground security organization based in Jaffa, calling it "Bar-Giora" after the Jewish leader Shimon Bar-Giora during the Roman Revolt, known as the Great Revolt, when the Jews rebelled against the Roman Empire in 66-73 CE. "The story of Bar-Giora and Hashomer is an important chapter in the Second Aliya period between 1904 and 1914," says Dr. Ofer Boord, curator and head of documentation at the Museum Unit of the Defense Ministry. "Bar-Giora was a turning point in the history of the Yishuv. For the first time a military force, rather than individual guards, was organized to protect people and property. They saw their idea as the basis for a larger force, which was eventually implemented by the Hagana. Following the rise of Arab nationalism in 1908, Bar-Giora members, realizing the need for a larger security organization, established Hashomer in Kfar Tavor in the Galilee during Pessah 1909. At the time, Hashomer numbered only about 100 members. "In addition to the military aspect, Hashomer members were also trailblazers in settlement and social values," says Boord. "The new exhibition reflects these three themes on which Israeli society is based today." The new exhibit's eight separate displays present the history of Hashomer, including a replica of a hidden cave in Sejera in the Lower Galilee where Hashomer members were inducted, swearing an oath of allegiance on a Bible and a rifle. Despite the general dearth of archival material from that period, artifacts like the original Hashomer flag, rifles - including the one that belonged to Josef Trumpeldor - and a Hashomer Yizkor (memorial) book in Yiddish are on display. "It was a secret organization," explains Boord, "and archival material was hidden from the Turks during World War I. It was never found and much of the material is from memoirs of Hashomer members in the 1930s and some photos from the period." In each display new video films skillfully merge acted scenes with the authentic footage of photographer Yaakov Ben-Dov, who documented milestones in the history of the Yishuv until the 1930s. The films portray the Hashomer watchmen's nomadic way of life, traveling on horseback to protect herds, citrus groves and crops. Also on display are the garments worn by Hashomer members, who adopted the dress, language and manners of the local Beduin and Circassians. They believed that by returning as farmers and shepherds to their Biblical homeland they would create a moral, cultured society that would result in a new "Hebrew" identity. A hospitality room known as the madafeh, where Hashomer members would host their Arab neighbors, has also been reconstructed at the museum. Settlements established by Hashomer members dot northern Israel and include Merhavya, Tel Adashim, Kfar Giladi (originally Kfar Bar-Giora and later named for Hashomer founder Israel Giladi) and Tel Hai, where Josef Trumpeldor and his comrades fell in battle in March 1920. Family life for Hashomer members was a challenge, with husbands traveling to guard duty at a moment's notice. A touching film clip shows a groom leaving to fight off Arab marauders right after his huppa. As one of Bar-Giora's founders, Mendel Portugali, said: "Too great a responsibility rests upon us, and we do not have the right to abandon the nationalist endeavor. It can take no account of the life of the individual." One well-known Hashomer couple was Mania and Israel Shochat. Israel, one of the founding members of Bar-Giora, was also a founder of Hashomer. Mania was a pioneer in the collective settlement movement. Both are buried in the Hashomer plot at the Kfar Giladi cemetery. Hashomer women, influenced by Eastern European ideas of emancipation and women's equality, tried to achieve this in Hashomer. In Eastern Europe, they had been members of self-defense organizations and active in socialist causes. Hashomer's women members fought to participate as equal members in the organization's work. In 1918, Hashomer women Dvora Drachler (who fell in Tel Hai), Atara Sturman and Yehudit Hurvitz sent an appeal to the organization's general assembly which met in Tel Adashim: ". . . We have come to a decision that collective labor and collective responsibility mean that conditions must be equal in every respect . . . There are no secrets from us. And if there is not sufficient trust in us - you must openly say so . . ." They had partial success in achieving equality, but the struggle for women's equality continued in the kibbutz movement, the Hagana and through today in the IDF. After the Balfour Declaration in 1917 and for some years after the start of the British Mandate in Palestine, Hashomer was dismantled. Responsibility for security transferred to Ahdut Ha'Avoda, the precursor of Mapai Party, in 1920. The Histadrut Labor Federation then took on responsibility for security, and in 1921 the Hagana was founded. In 1948, the Hagana became the Israel Defense Forces. "Even though Hashomer [was] officially dismantled, its members, with their expertise in security issues, were still active in various endeavors connected to defense," says Guy. "Their influence is presented in a new film in Beit Hashomer's auditorium, which also shows IDF soldiers - grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Hashomer members - greatly inspired by their ancestors." Museum visiting hours: Sunday-Thursday: 8 a.m.-4 p.m.; Friday and holiday eves: The museum is open by special arrangement for groups. Tel: (04) 695-1505; Email: hashomer_museum@mailto.mod.gov.il