Remembering the life of Irgun member and activist Shulamit Dissentshik

 EARLY ZIONIST: Shulamit Dralitz Pashtizky Dissentshik.  (photo credit: COURTESY OF THE FAMILY)
EARLY ZIONIST: Shulamit Dralitz Pashtizky Dissentshik.
(photo credit: COURTESY OF THE FAMILY)

Shulamit Dralitz Pashtizky Dissentshik, my late mother, was born in 1911 in Tsarist Russia. Her father, Yehoshua Dralitz, was an ardent Zionist and was also passionate about learning the Hebrew language. He arrived for a visit in the Land of Israel in 1924, at which time he decided he would speak only Hebrew with his family members. He wrote my mother a postcard in Hebrew, which even my grandmother didn’t know how to read yet. My grandfather veered towards the right with regard to his political views, though Shulamit was drawn more towards Hashomer Hatzair. In 1930, at the age of 19, she was the only female representative of the organization at the world conference in Danzig. 

With help from Ze’ev Jabotinsky and Meir Grossman, upon returning to his family in Poland my grandfather succeeded in convincing my mother to join Betar, which later led her to become active in the Irgun, the Zionist paramilitary organization. In those days, one of her closest friends was Aliza Arnold, who would later marry Menachem Begin. They were so close that Aliza was the first person to hear the good news that my brother had been born. My mother loved giving speeches at political rallies. I recall how she would pace about in the living room at home as she rehearsed beforehand. I don’t remember the subject matter being very exciting, but apparently the enthusiastic crowds listening to her at the rallies disagreed. 

Many important figures in the political and cultural spheres of the Polish-Jewish community would pay visits to the home of her parents, Shifra and Yehoshua Dralitz, which was later turned into a museum that tells the 1,000-year-long history of the Jews of Poland. There would be many heated discussions about Zionism and aliyah, and Shulamit spoke about these topics with an intense level of seriousness. She abandoned her university studies in German literature and spent all of her time engaged in helping the Zionist cause. 

When Shulamit met and became enamored with Chaim Pashtiztki, she let him know that she would only agree to marry him if they would make aliyah and live in Israel. Their wedding was attended by both Jabotinsky and Grossman, who were heavily involved in the Zionist Revisionist Movement, but had taken opposing sides when the organization had undergone an internal division. My grandfather and mother tried to use the occasion of the wedding to bring about a reconciliation between the two, but to no avail. 

The pair did agree to converse with each other, but both remained stalwart in their positions. Immediately following the wedding in 1933, my mother fulfilled her lifelong dream and made aliyah with her husband. They set up their home in Haifa, and my mother took a job as the personal assistant to Zelig Soskin, who was involved in the establishment of Nahariya. 

My mother’s younger sister, Haviva, with whom she was extremely close, made aliyah the year after, in 1934, with her husband, Avraham Tehomi, who is also known for his colorful story. To this day, Tehomi is believed to be responsible for the murder of Jacob Israël de Haan, a Dutch Jew who engaged in anti-Zionist political activity. In 1938, my aunt separated from Tehomi, who was a founding member of the pre-state Jewish military establishment in Israel. Until the day she died, my aunt refused to tell me if she knew any details about the murder. She, too, had held a senior position in the IDF, retiring in 1952 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. 

In 1935, my grandparents followed their daughters and made aliyah. My grandfather found a job working for Migdal Insurance while continuing with his efforts to create a national Israeli gas company that would pipe natural gas into people’s homes, as was done in Europe. Then, in 1936, tragedy hit – my mother was widowed when her husband died of a heart attack. She moved in with her parents in their home in Tel Aviv, and three years later she met and married my father. Fifteen months later, in 1940, I came into the world. Throughout her entire life in the Land of Israel, my mother was active in the public affairs of the country, first in the Irgun, and later in the Herut Political Party and in the General Zionists Party, on whose list she was ranked number 38 in the election for the Third Knesset. 

Following the end of World War II and the establishment of the state, my mother spent her time helping new immigrants by hiring a different woman to help her at home each day. When people asked why she did this, she answered, that these poor women were too proud to accept charity, but they would happily work to earn their pay, and this way my mother could help many families. 

 KEREM HATEIMANIM, Tel Aviv’s Yemenite Quarter, today.  (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90) KEREM HATEIMANIM, Tel Aviv’s Yemenite Quarter, today. (credit: MIRIAM ALSTER/FLASH90)

I was born in Kerem Hatemanim in Tel Aviv. Sniper bullets fired from the Hassan Bek Mosque in Jaffa would fly overhead as we made our way to school every day. We were already used to being careful and hiding in stairwells to hide from snipers from the fighting in the War of Independence. I’ll never forget the day we were standing on Mea She’arim Street (now Hakovshim Street) and watched as Irgun fighters charged forward on their way to overtake territory in nearby Jaffa. It was so exciting.

When I was little, every morning my mother would go visit a woman named Homkeh, who lived in the building next door. After staying inside for a while, they would then leave together, and they could be seen crying and talking as they walked down the street on their way to work. Many years later, journalist Shaul Schiff enlightened me to the situation. “At house number 32, a scrawny woman named Homkeh, which was short for Nechama, lived alone in the dilapidated attic apartment. Her cheeks were sunken and her clothes were tattered. We would always see her muttering to herself in Yiddish, and the children in the neighborhood would tease and taunt her continuously until she’d break down crying. After she calmed down, she would begin singing a sad lullaby to herself in Yiddish.”

When Homkeh passed away, Schiff went with my mother to see Homkeh’s room, which he described in the following way: “There were dozens of dolls on her bed, some of them male and some female, and she had apparently stitched a name onto each one. Haimkeh, Toiveh, Zissel, Moisheh… Some of the girls had swollen stomachs to indicate that they were pregnant. Each doll also had a few words in Yiddish written on them, such as, ‘She is a pretty girl,’ or ‘He has a wild head.’ On one she had written, ‘Oy, mein tateh, mein tateh (my father, my father).’ All the dolls had been arranged in the shape of an ellipse on her bed, and apparently she would sleep with all of them surrounding her.”

After reading this description, I finally realized that my mother had gone to visit Homkeh every day in order to help her recover from her night terrors and the memory of losing all of her family members who’d perished in the Shoah. My mother would help Homkeh come back to reality enough so that she could get herself to work each morning. They would walk down Harav Kook Street, then onto Ha’ari and Rabbi Akiba streets, then cut through the Carmel Market. 

If my mother had still been with us today, she would have been celebrating her 110th birthday. But she died 64 years ago at the age of 46. 

Translated by Hannah Hochner.