Mourning the loss of Israel's last pioneers - opinion

The three took part in the work of settling and building the country, laying the foundations and pillars upon which Israeli society was built.

THE WRITER with Shlomo Hillel a few years ago. (photo credit: Courtesy)
THE WRITER with Shlomo Hillel a few years ago.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
 The story of a country is the story of the people who created it – those who poured their efforts into the culture, accomplishments, leadership and building of the State of Israel. Those who left a mark, values and a legacy in their deeds, not just in their words.
Last month, we bid farewell to three such individuals – Ruth Dayan, Shlomo Hillel, and Moshe ‘Moshko’ Moskowitz, may their memories be for a blessing. The three took part in the work of settling and building the country, laying the foundations and pillars upon which Israeli society was built, layer by layer, from all corners of the globe, against all odds, by the power of their spirit.
The late Shlomo Hillel was an accomplished Zionist aliyah activist before and after the establishment of the state – diplomat, Speaker of the Knesset and minister in Israeli governments. He was one of the founders of Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, a member of the Knesset since the Second Knesset of the State of Israel and a fighter in the Haganah. Yet more than all of these positions, the greatest mission he fulfilled, which became a defining mission of his life, was bringing the Jews of Iraq to the State of Israel.
The late Ruth Dayan was a pillar in the development of the Israeli fashion industry and the preservation and dissemination of the culture of the Israeli melting pot to the entire world. The Maskit fashion house and the Eshet Hayil project, both of which she established, brought the Israeli melting pot to women’s luxury clothing around the world. She was a trailblazing woman, entrepreneur, and social activist who built Israeli philanthropy from the ground up.
The late Moshe (Moshko) Moskowitz was among those who renewed settlement in both historic and new Gush Etzion. In 1945, when he was only 20, he was a member of the founders who established Kibbutz Masuot Yitzhak in Gush Etzion. He was one of the founders of the Or Etzion and Har Etzion yeshivot, among the flagship yeshivot of religious Zionism, and was one of the most prominent and determined symbols of authentic religious Zionism.
ALL THREE grew up in the years when the world was in turmoil, empires were shrinking, economies were collapsing, and a new world order was being created. Ruth Dayan, the only Sabra of the three, was born in Haifa at the end of the Ottoman regime in 1917, when World War I was still raging in Europe. Shlomo Hillel was born in Baghdad, Iraq, in 1923, to a family of merchants who immigrated to Israel 11 years later. That same year, Moshe Moskowitz, a 10-year-old boy from Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, made aliyah from the other side of the world.
All three received a pioneering agricultural education: Moshko attended the Mikve Israel agricultural school, where he earned the nickname that accompanied him throughout his life. Ruth attended the Nahalal Agricultural Girls’ School; Shlomo Hillel completed a year of training in Degania A. All took an active role in the struggle for the establishment of the State of Israel, the intense desire for its independence, and saw enormous value in the Jewish aliyah enterprise.
Shlomo Hillel headed the activities of the Zionist organizations and key aliyah activists in Iraq on behalf of the Haganah’s Mossad LeAliyah Bet. Together with the Iraqi Jewish underground, he managed to rescue many members of the large Jewish community there and save them from riots and massacres. In 1947, Hillel commanded Operation Kanaf (also known as Operation Mikelberg), which succeeded in smuggling another 100 immigrants from Iraq by air. Three decades later, while serving as Interior Minister of the Israeli government, Hillel applied the Law of Return to Ethiopian Jews, which allowed them to immigrate to Israel.
Ruth Dayan was an agricultural instructor among new immigrants who had settled in the Jerusalem Corridor. While teaching the new immigrants, her initial ideas began to germinate that would eventually be realized in Maskit, her life’s work. She was able to see the complete picture formed by the mosaic of cultures in the immigrant camps and in the moshavim that had been established for them. From there, she brought the Israeli culture to the outside world. Many called Ruth Dayan the first feminist, but for her, it was a part of what she believed in – equality between human beings.
Moskowitz enlisted as a fighter in the Irgun at the age of 16 and moved to the Lehi when the two movements split. In 1947, he set out as the emissary of the religious kibbutz movement to the detention camps in Cyprus, assisting the illegal immigrants detained there during their stay and preparing them for the day they would immigrate to Israel. As head of the Shafir Regional Council, Moshko opposed the local schools and was one of the first to insist on educational integration as a first stop in the Israeli melting pot. From his sense of historic responsibility, to make sure that every child would encounter his “Israeliness,” he established the country’s first joint regional school.
“Woe over those who are gone and are no longer found,” says our tradition. We have recently lost three figures from the founding generation, whose story is the essence of the story of the country and the greatness of that generation. I was privileged to know all three, and each of them left their mark upon me. Each came from a different place. Each had a fascinating life story, humor, and inner modesty concealed by their tremendous accomplishments. For all three, the state came before everything else.
These are three stories from an entire generation, a unique and special generation, which was privileged not only to bring us to the Promised Land but also to establish it for us. It is our job to continue their work, to act out of a supreme sense of commitment to the lofty goal of building the people and the state, and to convey the spirit of democratic moderation that characterized them in the face of the uncertainty of a newly formed young state.
The author is the chairman of the Jewish Agency and former head of the opposition.