The socialist haggadot

Kibbutz Haggadot from the last century offer a fascinating historical window into life in the Yishuv.

The 1951 Hashomer Hatza’ir Movement Kibbutz Haggada (photo credit: KOL HAOT)
The 1951 Hashomer Hatza’ir Movement Kibbutz Haggada
(photo credit: KOL HAOT)
In 1929, the question Ma nishtana? showed up in the Haggada of the pioneer group Kvusat Hahagim with regard to what made that particular year different from all others.
The answer: “In all other years we don’t dip even one finger in manual toil; this year we dip all 10 fingers. In all other years we eat from the produce that strangers provided for us; this year we eat from the fruit of our own labors.”
Peek into the hundreds of historic Haggadot from the various kibbutz movements, and you’ll be transported into the dreams and stark realities of Israel’s kibbutz trailblazers.
Most depart from the traditional Haggada text to feature clever parodies of kibbutz life and socialist values.
Others, such as a wine-stained Haggada from 1939, go off-script to express the members’ anguish over the fate of European Jewry, and their own triumph over Hitler with the birth that year of a new generation of children. The chilling existential dangers that kibbutz members faced as they sat down at their Seder tables in 1948, while the country struggled that momentous year for independence, are also documented in these vintage Haggadot.
THE SHITIM Institute was established by the late Aryeh Ben-Gurion, a nephew of Israel’s first prime minister, who as early as the 1930s collected materials and memorabilia that documented the pioneering and dynamic spirit of festivals as celebrated in the various kibbutz movements. According to Binyamin (Bouja) Yogev, 78, a former director of the institute, the Haggadot – with their improvised texts and stark drawings – were the ideal forum to express and reinforce the values of the pioneer kibbutzniks who came to build the Land of Israel.
These include universal freedom, redemption through the collective, the importance of manual Jewish labor, and the deep commitment that kibbutzniks felt to the Land of Israel as they redefined Judaism’s values and holidays through the lens of socialism and collectivism.
“The early Haggadot played a very important role in the life of these kibbutzniks,” says Yogev, a member of Kibbutz Beit Ha’emek, who will give special guided presentations at the Kol HaOt Fair.
“Through it, we could express centuries of Jewish suffering in the Diaspora – Inquisitions, pogroms, anti-Semitism and the Holocaust – as well as our socialist philosophy, and our pride in Israel’s independence.
“Nowadays, though, these are marked by our national holidays – Holocaust Memorial Day, Remembrance Day for Israel’s fallen soldiers, and Independence Day – and they are no longer part of kibbutz Haggadot.
“Instead, we concentrate on the story of the Exodus from Egypt, emphasizing that in each generation one has to see himself as leaving Egypt, and that we will be neither slaves nor masters.”
Held together by a thin piece of string, the 1943 Hashomer Hatza’ir Haggada is hauntingly absorbed with the doomed Jews of Europe.
“This is the fourth year of the World War. We are the free ones, but we remember those still in the dark,” one passage reads.
“We are hoping for the light when everyone comes to the safe shores of Israel.”
HILA ZEIRA-Weinstein, curator of the upcoming Kol HaOt exhibit, points out that these historic Haggadot reveal the authors’ vast knowledge of traditional Jewish sources.
In its 1943 Haggada, the secular Hashomer Hatzair movement formally gives credit to the Bible and midrashim, as well as Rabbi Yehuda Halevi’s writings. In contrast to the traditional Haggada, biblical passages in kibbutz Haggadot often emphasize Moses’s role in the Israelites’ journey from slavery to freedom.
In 1929, members of Kvusat Hahagim (forerunners of Kibbutz Beit Hashita) included a section in their Haggada that mimics the literary style of the traditional Haggada, yet they infused it with an imaginative socialist spin: “We were slaves to the customs of generations, and our will released us with a strong hand and a mighty arm. As our rabbi, [Zionist ideologue] A.D. Gordon, wrote: ‘I am as a man of 48 years old, and only this year have I had the merit to labor out in nature. On three things the world stands: Work! Work! Work!’ He worked until his students came to him and said, ‘Not just work alone! Work is accompanied by a collaborative life that equalizes everyone and makes us all loving friends.’” In 1948, as the struggle for Israel’s independence sapped the energy and resources of the Yishuv’s population, there was no time to create the annual Hashomer Hatza’ir Haggada. Instead, the kibbutz movement reproduced a previous edition, complete with editor’s notes inserted on several pages, capturing the anxiety and tension of conducting a Seder while under the threat of attack.
The insert on the Four Questions page reads: “We must revise this section [in the future] to emphasize the conditions of the holiday this year, when everyone is sitting around Seder tables holding their weapons at the ready. We should also emphasize the hope for peace that is confounded with obstacles.”
Another editor’s note instructs all the kibbutzim in the movement to make every effort to conduct the Passover Seder and celebrate the Festival of Freedom that year, “despite the hardships of the times.”
IN THE Haggada published by the Communist Youth Movement in 1953, a large commemorative picture of Stalin opens the publication.
The infamous Soviet leader had died that year, only weeks before Passover was to begin, and the Haggada’s authors felt bereft – though certainly at the time they weren’t aware of the full extent of this modern-day Pharaoh’s cruelty and atrocities, notes Zeira-Weinstein.
“It is a great irony that it is dedicated to a leader who oppressed nations and people, and who did not hesitate to jail and kill those who opposed his rule – among them many Jews,” writes kibbutz researcher Yuval Danieli, on the Kibbutz Movement website,
Often, these early kibbutz Haggadot feature a special “Megilat Hakibbutz,” to express their determination to fulfill their mission of settling the Land of Israel.
These texts usually adopt the linguistic style of a poetic biblical passage, and reflect the very real struggles the pioneer kibbutzniks faced.
“Even though they [our enemies] burn our fields, uproot and burn our trees and close the Jaffa port, they do not understand that we actually have more soldiers,” reads part of the megila of the Kibbutz Givat Brenner Haggada, from the ninth year after the kibbutz was founded.
“We will expand the land, plant and harvest, and we will open a small exit to the sea. We will grow! We are young and strong and we will teach others how to guard and to work. We know that there are those who hate us, but we will not be deterred! We remember the innocent people – our comrades – who died, as well as the souls of the burning woods, and the pain of the orchards that were ravaged.”
Some kibbutzniks found the format of the Haggada the perfect outlet to vent their frustrations. For members of Kibbutz Beit Ha’emek, the Ten Plagues in their Haggada included the undesirability of outsourced labor; the drudgery of night watch duty; work in the cowsheds; the scarcity of food and water; and the religious, who wouldn’t allow public transportation on Shabbat and prevented kibbutzniks, who didn’t have private cars, from living it up after an exhausting week of hard work.
But for others, such as the pioneers of the 1929 Kvusat Hahagim group, the Haggada was the ideal canvas to convey their simple expressions of gratitude, which still resonate with appreciation almost a century later: “If God had only given us only work, but no supervisors: It would have been enough for us! “If He had only given us oranges, but no orchards: It would have been enough for us! “If He had only given us hens and mules, and not given us a chicken coop and a cowshed: It would have been enough for us... Dayenu!” A SELECTION of these historic Seder guides from the 1920s through the 1950s will be among the highlights of an exhibition and guided presentations at the free Illuminated Haggada Fair, “Paths to Freedom: In the Haggada, Art, and Contemporary Journeys” sponsored by Kol HaOt.
The fair (Inbal Jerusalem Hotel, April 25, 5 to 10 p.m.) will also feature presentations of Exodus and Haggada-related artwork by contemporary artists, including Avner Moriah, creator of the Illuminated Book of Exodus, and Noah Lubin.
At 8:30 p.m., artists from various media will address the question, “Does freedom equal creativity?” with on-thespot demonstrations focusing on the tensions of creative freedom and constraints.
Kol HaOt conducts arts-based, interactive programs throughout the year. ( “This extraordinary exhibit of images and texts from the archives of the Shitim Institute – Kibbutz Holiday Archive at Kibbutz Beit Hashita, is a journey through the modern-day freedoms of the ‘New Jew’ of the kibbutz,” notes Elyssa Moss Rabinowitz, Kol HaOt’s executive director.
“Through their texts and illustrations, they poignantly express their deep desire for freedom for the remnant of Israel and all mankind, as well as universal peace.”