Veterans: Sarah Ehrman

Ehrman spent 37 years on Kibbutz Ma'ayan Zvi, working not just with chickens but also in the laundry.

Sarah Ehrman 224 (photo credit: )
Sarah Ehrman 224
(photo credit: )
When 18-year-old Sarah Ehrman came to Israel for the first time in 1951, she knew she had distant family here, but no one had been in contact with them for 30 years. "My mother came from Vilna," Ehrman says. "She knew a first cousin had come to Palestine in 1920. We had no address, but I did have a photo of him and his family taken in Haifa in 1922. Not long after getting off our ship in Haifa, I went into the Histadrut office, wondering if maybe I could find a way to locate him. "I showed my old photo to the man at the desk. He started to laugh. 'They're my best friends!' He told me my cousin worked in construction and that right at that moment was on a building project in a nearby neighborhood. I started walking in that direction and recognized my cousin coming toward me. "We met, and I said, 'I'm Raizelle's daughter.' First he looked at me, and then he looked up into the sky. I'll never forget that moment. He brought me to their home. For the nine months I was here, they treated me like a daughter." PREPARATION "Habonim was founded in Vancouver, BC, when I was 14 years old. I joined right away," Ehrman says. "Since then, I wanted to come to Israel. My father owned a second-hand furniture shop, my mother was a homemaker and I have one older sister and a younger sister who also made aliya. I loved summers when I'd go to Gabriola Island for Habonim's Camp Miriam. I was preparing for the hachshara training farm, but then it closed, so they sent us directly to Israel instead, where we lived, kibbutz-style, for nine months, studying and touring. I loved it. "I returned to Vancouver, and 25 of us founded Garin Gimel in Toronto, and prepared to leave in two years. I'd already studied to be a secretary, but decided that wouldn't help me in Israel, so my first year back, I took as many university courses in animal husbandry as I could find. For the second year, I worked as a secretary to earn my fare - we had to pay our own way to Israel. "My parents were very pro-Israel, and weren't really against my going, but they knew I'd be very far away. My mother used to say, 'You want to raise chickens? I'll buy you chickens! You can raise them right here, and you won't have to go!'" JOURNEY "It was a little easier for me, because I'd been here just two years before," Ehrman says. "I left Vancouver in a train, traveling for several days across the continent to Toronto. I couldn't afford a sleeper, but I did buy a pillow for 25 cents a night, and ate just sandwiches the whole time. Once in Toronto, I joined my garin and we came to Israel together." ARRIVAL "We came into port in Haifa in November, so the weather was very nice. We went straight to the kibbutz, and I remember how lovely I thought it was. We were high on a hill, overlooking the Mediterranean and the banana plantations. The sunsets were incredible. My parents weren't rich, and since aliya was my decision, I decided I'd never ask for help or for them to send me anything. I wanted to live like everyone else in Israel - what they had would be what I had." SETTLING IN Ehrman's first home was a tent. "At first, several of us girls lived in a regular tent, but then they built a little bottom wall, leaving the tent on top. It was called a pitriya, a "mushroom." Later we moved into a room, but it had no toilet or sink. The first room I had with a little sink was when I was pregnant with my first child. "We were all interested in different kinds of work. My Hebrew wasn't good, so I chose to work with chickens. Sabras speak so fast - by the time I figured out what to answer, they were on to something else. It was frustrating. But chickens? They don't talk and I didn't need to answer. They weren't hutzpadik, either, so I liked working with the chickens." DAILY LIFE "We had a hatchery, and I did everything connected to raising chickens and producing eggs, including candling. These were leghorns, good chickens for eggs. Every day, we had to go into the lul, poultry houses, to shovel up the sawdust they laid eggs on. One day I saw something crawling - it looked like such a cute little thing, I bent over to pick it up. A lady yelled, 'Don't touch it! It's a scorpion!' I didn't know! We had to wear high boots, too, because there could be snakes. There were bags of chicken feed all over, and lots of warm places snakes liked. Some people were bitten - we could never walk barefoot. "On movie evenings, the dining room became a movie house. But you had to be careful, because everyone had his own chair. If you happened to sit in someone else's, there'd be a shout 'You're sitting in my chair!' People were very nice, but they very particular about where they sat. "We had a barn with cows, too, so sometimes in the evening, the bachelors would bring us single girls shamenet, cream, as a treat. We were always hungry for desserts, so we'd make fruit salad - bananas and oranges - with the cream. It was wonderful." LANGUAGE "We had time to study Hebrew, and only Hebrew was to be spoken - no English newspapers were allowed. The funny thing was, some members had some English and wanted to practice, so they'd cheat a little, and we'd speak English with them." CHALLENGES "The biggest challenge may have been adjusting to kibbutz life. I raised three children on the kibbutz and it wasn't always easy. My children slept in the children's house, and I just accepted it. Everyone did, and I didn't think about it. It had to be that way - the parents were building the country, so someone had to take care of the children. Some women did that as their work, and most were very good. That said, I didn't have the experience of raising my children at home, and today, I think maybe I missed something. Even so, I have no complaints. My kids did just fine." REWARDS "For me, knowing that Israel is prospering in spite of all the wars, and in spite of not having the best leaders, is a great satisfaction. There's too much politics, and too many wars. But the courage of the people who came and stayed - and the people who still come and stay - that's wonderful." REST OF THE STORY Ehrman spent 37 years on Kibbutz Ma'ayan Zvi, eventually working not just with chickens but also in the laundry, managing the dining room, and with teenagers. "When my children were grown, I asked for outside work, with my salary going to the kibbutz. In Tel Aviv, I worked for the kibbutz movement and also for AACI, then studied for my certification as a medical secretary. After that, I worked at Rambam Hospital. By that time, my kids had all left the kibbutz, and not long after, I decided to leave, too. Those of us in the first generation started with nothing. We lived in tents and worked hard. The second generation worked, too, but the third? They want everything right now. There were so many complaints. By the time I finally left, it wasn't all that difficult." Today, Ehrman lives in Omer, in a sunny garden apartment in Ganei Omer, near a daughter and her family. She still works part time as a secretary and also volunteers translating Hebrew bulletins for non-Hebrew speaking residents. "I was idealistic," she says. "I wanted to be part of the building of Israel. I'm not part of history, but just for myself, I wanted to help make Israel what it is today. Right now, four of my grandchildren are in the army, and I'm very proud of them. I have no regrets. I loved Vancouver - it's a beautiful city. But Israel is my home." 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