In the mid-1920s Kibbutz Merhavia, located in the Jezreel Valley, skeptically welcomed a young American couple to join their community; the woman later became prime minister of Israel.
By LYDIA AISENBERG
When a young couple turned up at Merhavia in the mid-l920s and asked to join the ranks of the first Jewish settlement in the Jezreel Valley, they were almost turned away.
Fortunately, the couple owned a much-sought-after manually operated gramophone, a discovery that was music to the ears of the cooperative members and became their entrance ticket into the commune. The couple with the musical accompaniment happened to be the future prime minister of Israel, Golda Meir and her husband Morris Myerson.
Allocated a small room, they knuckled down to work on the farm. Golda toiled in the fields and kitchen. After a period in the chicken coops she became an expert on poultry, quickly gaining the respect of those who were previously willing to turn away whom they thought was an American greenhorn.
Golda was not only an industrious worker. Her organizational talents were quickly recognized, leading to her being chosen to sit on a number of committees, and even being sent in 1922 to represent her collective in an important conference held at Kibbutz Degania Aleph, the flagship of the kibbutz movement that only last week announced that it is ceasing to be a collective and crossing the divide to privatization - as did Merhavia a while back.
Morris Myerson did not settle down well to life on the farm, and after a few years the Myersons moved to Tel Aviv. It was here that the former poultry expert began to ruffle feathers in the world of politics, although there was a period when she and her infant son Menahem returned to Merhavia only to rejoin Morris in the city and pick up her political career.
In latter years the small room inhabited by Golda was used by the kibbutz cosmetician, but it was recently vacated and restored to the 1920s style that would have been familiar to her. Golda's Room is now part of the extensive Great Courtyard Museum of Merhavia, one of the most interesting and diverse of the many small museums to be found in kibbutzim these days. "We hope that visitors will learn more about Golda and the period she spent at Merhavia, and better understand the hardships and frugal living conditions common during that period," explained Dr. Doron Mor, director of the complex of wooden shuttered stone buildings, including a visitors center and buildings lined with historical artifacts.
The original group settled at a place known as Tel Fula, which had been purchased in 1910 by Yehoshua Hankin who was responsible for most of the Zionist organization's major land purchases.
The pioneers initially spent their time fighting the local Arab population, malaria and other debilitating diseases as well as natural disasters such as swarms of locusts and drought.
The first concrete water tower in Palestine was built by the hopeful Merhavia settlers.
One day, a straggling group of families appeared in the valley and made their way to Merhavia. The strangers were from Glasgow, Scotland and had come to Palestine to create a community of craftsmen. A decade or so previously, these Zionist pioneers had been new immigrants in Britain having left their native Russia. The Russian Celts were members of the Glasgow Agudas Oley Zion and included a carpenter, butcher, tailor, doctor and even a professional cigarette maker. They planned to barter their skills for agricultural produce. The Scottish contingent lived initially among the Merhavia folk, but due to a lack of housing quickly organized themselves a short distance away, founding the present-day Moshav Merhavia.
The original Merhavia settlers were followers of the Jewish-German economist Professor Franz Oppenheimer. Merhavia was the flagship of the Hashomer movement, which eventually became the pre-state Hagana fighting force.
Merhavia also became the site from where light planes took off in order to undertake the first aerial photographs of the country. The 304 Bavarian Squadron billeted at Merhavia during World War I were the first pilots to bombard from the air Arab marauders attacking the young pioneers of Merhavia.
An abundance of material at the Great Courtyard Museum - including photographs and documents - attest to the events of almost a century ago. The attractive stone buildings were constructed in 1911 around an enormous open courtyard - hence the name of the museum - a decade before the gramophone-toting newcomers arrived from America. The Myersons' room is one of those around the courtyard modeled on the fortified agricultural farms of 19th-century Europe.
By the end of World War I, the courtyard was devoid of Jewish settlers due to persecution by the Turks, but a few years later pioneers were back at Tel Fula (Merhavia) and it was this group, known as the Hebrew Battalion, who allowed Golda and Morris Myerson to join them.
The Merhavia museum is intended to represent the legacy of many of the factions of what became the social-economic mainstream of Israel. Many kibbutz movement leaders, artists and political leaders other than Golda Meir lived there.
Grainy photographs of the pioneers at work, attending cultural activities and at home are displayed on the outer walls of the same buildings where they stood to have their pictures taken so many years ago.
"The Big House" is a two-storey building that served the cooperative as a barn, milking station and stables. The livestock branches were on the ground floor of the 56-meter-long building, with straw and hay stacked to the ceiling on the upper floor.
The next building along, the granary, is where produce seeds were stored upstairs in sacks. The storerooms were on the ground floor, where today one finds the visitors center. On the second floor is a popular pub frequented by the kibbutz-born grandchildren of the pioneers in the framed photographs on the wall outside.
On the outer wall of the building containing the recently-opened Golda's Room, there is a marvelous photo of three women and four children. Each of the smiling women, one of whom is Golda Meir, is holding a blanket-wrapped baby, and a toddler stands between Golda and another young mother. Golda, it appears, found it difficult to leave but for the sake of her family - and politics - moved to the city.
Visits can be arranged by calling: 052-3638051 or 050-7941209.
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