Veterans: 'We were going to build an ideal state'

Veterans We were going

doreen guinsberg 248.88 (photo credit: WENDY BLUMFIELD)
doreen guinsberg 248.88
(photo credit: WENDY BLUMFIELD)
At 95 Doreen Guinsberg can still climb the steep steps and winding path from her charming garden flat on the Carmel to do her errands. "Up to a year ago, my sister and I were traveling all over Europe in our caravan," says Doreen, a small slim woman with thick white hair, clear bright eyes and an amazing memory. Sadly her sister Lynn died last winter and Doreen gave up her travels. "I'm not as quick or as strong as I was," she says, grieving for her sister. BEFORE ALIYA Guinsberg was born in Pretoria, South Africa. Her grandfather's farm in the Orange Free State was inherited by her parents, and it was from there that she began her odyssey. "My mother was a founder of the Women's Zionist League, later affiliated to WIZO," she says. The family home was always open to visiting emissaries and their stories inspired the young art student. In 1932, at 18 she set off for Palestine, taking a ship to Yemen, continuing up the Suez Canal and by train through Sinai. ARRIVAL Her first stop was the Ayanot training farm for women run by Ada Fishman, a pioneer in the fight for women's equality in the workplace. "I loved working with the horses, but the life was physically very hard," she reminisces. EMPLOYMENT In 1934, she left Ayanot and was offered a job as an assistant to an architect at the Levant Fair in Tel Aviv. With a natural flair for design, she was sent to the furniture workshops between Jaffa and Tel Aviv to learn the practical side of manufacture. "This was Little Tel Aviv where you could see camels on Allenby Street," she laughs at the memory. Later, she had contact with the office of Erich Mendelsohn, the famous International Style architect and she was invited to work there part-time on the plans for the Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem. "After that I was out of work for a time," she says. "I used to eat at the Workers Kitchen and it was a very difficult time financially." OUT OF WORK Walking was always one of her greatest passions and she set off on a tour of the Jezreel Valley, traveling on the Valley Railway and working at kibbutzim along her walking route until she reached Deganya. Nevertheless she was depressed with the lack of work and homesickness and returned to her family in South Africa, where she learned the basics of design and architecture. Then came the war, during which her brother was killed in action. "I could not leave my family again at that time," she says. For the next 11 years she worked for the Zionist Council, organizing liaison with the scattered Jewish communities in the vast regions of South and Southwest Africa. During this time she never forgot about her dream of returning to Palestine and in her job with the Zionist Council paid several visits for congresses and other events. In 1949 the new State of Israel was celebrating the opening of the Knesset and WIZO groups were involved in its organization. They had invited the captain of the last immigrant ship coming from Cyprus, and Guinsberg stopped off in Cyprus to join the ship. "It was such a moving experience seeing the gates close on that harbor," she says. "We had a reception; the British soldiers were invited too and we raised our glasses to the end of that chapter. Hundreds of thousands of people welcomed the ship to Haifa. Everyone was weeping as they sang 'Hatikva.' That was the end of Aliya Bet." SECOND COMING Finally in 1959, she made aliya with her mother. Firmly entrenched in the family's Zionist ideals, reinforced by her experiences working with Diaspora communities, she was determined that this time she would stay. She had never lost interest in art and design and she got a job as assistant in the new industrial design department at the Technion. Eventually the department moved to Tel Aviv and there followed a difficult employment period in the new state during which she wandered the country, trying to find permanent work. At one stage she worked for an architect who was building banks in Arab towns, and eventually she got to Beersheba. A long time before it was the busy university city of today, a vocational training center was established to retrain the huge population of immigrants in the area. She went to work there teaching industrial design. LANGUAGE "My Hebrew was as bad as that of the people I was teaching," she laughs. "I used to learn the technical terms from the engineers on the train journey to work." She used to go out to the building sites in Beersheba and get local builders to come in and give lectures. The Education Ministry's head of vocational training was impressed by her methods of teaching by drawings rather than language and offered her a job at the WIZO Technical School in Haifa, where she worked until her retirement. FAMILY Doreen's sister Lynn then joined her. She was determined to bring her car and drove through vast uninhabited areas of Africa to get the ship to Eilat. Guinsberg also has a few cousins living here, but it was with her sister in their retirement that they set off on their travels with their caravan. They wrote up their adventures in a published book: Life with Bondo: Our Cottage on Wheels. PASTIMES She is a talented painter and over the years held several exhibitions, also donating paintings to WIZO. She worked as a volunteer driver for the Soldiers Welfare Association during the wars. HOME In 1961, when she finally settled in Haifa and was looking for an apartment, a local builder led her down a steep rocky hillside on the Carmel where he was building two houses. He promised that if she could design a flat and get a permit he would build it for her at the bottom of the house. Unfazed, she marched into the mayor's office where Abba Khoushy was sitting with the city engineer and within a short time got her permit. "We had a sea view for the first years," she said. "Then the area was built up so I bought fast-growing trees," pointing to the forest beyond her garden. She is happy living there, surrounded by her landscape pictures and many files of articles and written material about her life's adventures. She is looking for help in putting this material together so that it could be saved for the future. Asked whether her Zionist ideology has withstood the years, she replies: "We were going to build an ideal state. We achieved our goal of absorbing refugees but there is a lack of immigrants who came here out of choice and we have seen a decline in ideology, in the pioneering spirit. We need better leadership to cope with the problems of today."