Sunday, August 8, 2010

Hachshara continued 1948-49

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1948 Hurst Grange continued.
I settled into the routine of work and serious life at “Reading”. After I had been there a few weeks my mother came down to try and persuade me to come home. However I think the reverse happened and that she was persuaded that this was a good life, and that I was quite safe in the hands of this group. At Hurst grange there was an interesting group of people. Most were older than I. Many of the members at this time were refugees from Europe many from the kinder-transport the organization that rescued 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia just before the war. Many of these children had been “ farmed” out to non-Jewish homes and on reaching an age of 17 or 18 decided that they wanted to immigrate to Israel and had thus joined the Hachshara. Many of these children have become important members of society, scientists, economists etc. Although various Jewish organizations were involved in the kinder –transport, many of the children were saved by individuals, such stockbroker Nicholas Winston who happened to visit Prague in 1938 and decided to help in rescuing Jewish children. I am always surprised by the number of “ kinder-transport” kids I meet as an adult. In retrospect I must have been the youngest kid to ever go on Hachshara up till then. Most of the others at the farm were in there 20’s, a few were married, and many had escaped from Europe, or had served in the forces during the war. I can imagine that I must have appeared like a little kid, or an unruly teenager. From photographs of that time I looked like a “ wild” unruly teenager, sporting masses of curly hair. In fact when I went to a reunion some fifty years later, not only did people not recognize me, they could not believe it was I, without all those curls.
Obviously being 17 years old, sex was important to me. Although I had been to Habonim summer camps, notorious for their sexual freedom, I was quite innocent and naïve. Standard of behavior were quite different in the 1940s and 50’s from that of today. One did not go to bed the very first time (at least I did not) you went out with a girl. Very shortly after arriving, I found a “Chavera” (girl friend) in Ruth F. The laundry, which was an annex to the main building, was a suitable place to “ schmooze”. It was isolated and very warm since the clothes were dried there. This was not a serious affair, since Ruth’s parents were immigrating to Australia and she was going with them, but it fulfilled a need for quite some time. Ruth was a small, not unattractive young girl (17-18 years old). However when I saw her mother, a small wrinkled old lady, I realized this is what Ruth would look like in a few years, thus she was not for me. In fact one can judge a lot by meeting the parents of a prospective bride. I have to remember to tell that to my grandchildren. Many years later I met my future wife’s mother, and I thought her a very beautiful woman. That must have played a role in my decision to ask Mimi to marry me. (That she accepted was quite a surprise!) Of course there were always visitors who came down for the weekend or a few weeks, and I think I must have been constantly in love (or thus it appeared to a 17 year old) with at least one of them.
Louis Williams had joined the group a little later. I always considered him a good friend, although we lost contact afterwards in Israel, since he did not go with the group to Gal –Ed. Mrs. Williams, his mother would always come down to the Hachshara with clean sheets, blankets or something else. She did not approve of our level of sanitation and insisted on making us more comfortable. Louis was very embarrassed by this, and he led the revolt against accepting anything from his mother (other than cigarettes). At that time he was a bit of a slob, as was I. Mrs. Williams was a kind-hearted woman, typical of the WIZO type. Mr. Williams was high up in the management of Marks and Spencer and was thus able to get us supplies quite cheaply. Louis ended up writing a history of the Israeli Army, and a translator of books from the Hebrew to the English. Somehow we have never met since the days on Hachshara. However I do remember the bitter fights over accepting gifts from WIZO or any other organization. We truly believed in being self-sufficient.
It was during this period that I must have come out of my “ shy” shell. I was quite outgoing, made friends with both sexes quite easily, although I was still put off by rough behavior or too much cursing. The language of the group was very crude. I think many of the group tried to out do the local “ peasants” and were constantly swearing. There were others who would talk of nothing else but sex and make sexual innuendos or risqué conversations. I really was an innocent kid. I had a reputation among the local farm workers for being very polite and was called “ parson Taylor” at work, because I did not drink, nor curse. I did occasionally go to the local pub, but at that time I did not feel at home in this atmosphere. This has most certainly changed, and today I do not mind having a beer with friends and students and when I visit England I enjoy going to a pub and having a “shepherds lunch”
Apart from work, I served on the Vaa’d Tarbut (cultural committee), which dealt with programs for holidays and our general Zionist-Socialist education. Our general meetings once a week, dealt with what we considered important issues such as how to fit into the “ general proletariat”, i.e. should we steal booze from a liquor factory where Frank worked like all the other workers, in order to conform to the proletariat or be “ Honest”. Our identification with the working classes was more important. We even decided whether a certain couple were suitable for each other and should get married. Can you imagine the fate of those couples that did get married despite our adverse advice? (This actually happened followed by divorce a few years later) The Vaad Tarbut (cultural committee) was also responsible for organizing the Friday night Oneg Shabbat, and the holidays, particularly Passover and Shavuot. We did not use the traditional Haggadah (Passover service book) but developed our own, focusing on spring, and agriculture, and bits of Solomon’s Song of Songs appropriate for spring. Shavuot was the harvest festival and here we performed dances and skits depicting agricultural life. I wonder whether any of the Haggadot and books has survived. I found this emphasis on spring and nature more appropriate that the Hagaddah we traditionally used. Friday night was a special night, a special meal, followed by zig’s a unique type of entertainment part slapstick and part comedy with comic innuendos. Apparently this type of entertainment had a profound influence on many actors who went through the movement such as Sasha Cohen (Borat).
I never doubted that I was doing the right thing, and was quite sure of my Zionist and to a less extent my socialist convictions. Some doubts did creep in as I got to know the English countryside, and saw a different aspect of people. Looking back I realize that I certainly had a “ chip” on my shoulder and was very suspicious of non-Jews. Although I did not have very much in common with the local farmers or farm workers, I found them decent and pleasant, and most certainly not Anti-Semitic, just curious. I also grew to love the English countryside. I would get on my bike, and ride off to Sonning and Henley on Thames at the weekend. I do not remember who my companions were, but we loved the small towns, the beauty of the summer, the river Thames and in general developed a romantic attitude to Southern England. The Henley regatta was a high point. This was a rowing race held every July. However there were often members of rowing teams practicing on the river. Of course I read a lot, (New Statesman, Tribune etc.) We had non-stop political and ideological discussions, and we had lots of lectures from Shlichim (emissaries from Israel), and from personalities like Shimon Appelbaum, a well know archeologist. He published books on archaeology in Judea during the Roman and Hellenistic period. We also studied Hebrew quite intensively, and many a weekend was spent at other Hachsharot, getting to know chaverim, forming bonds, and in general being educated (or was it brain washed?). Music was also an important part of life. We listened non-stop to Beethoven symphonies from our limited record collection, and we had an old piano that I used to practice on. This was still the days before television and stereo.
Many of the chaverim formed couples, and it was quite a job if one was on shmira (guard duty) waking people up at 5 or 6 a.m. for work, since very often they were not in their own rooms but somewhere else. After I time one got used to finding various people in each other’s rooms. However most of these couples later got married, and there was no ‘ switching”. Others kept on joining the group, different in some respects from the “ old timers”, a different generation, who grew up during the war, but had not fought in the war. I think a schism developed between those who would go to Kibbutz Beth Haemek, and on Aliya in 1950 and those who stayed behind and in actual fact formed a new garin (group). I was caught in between, having joined the “ older” group as a youngster, and was now the same age as those now joining the Hachshara and forming a new group. Thus I threw in my lot with the younger group joining in the 1950s.
One has to ask the question was the movement correct in recruiting some one as young as I was, and later when Hachsharat Noar (Noar means youth in Hebrew--a younger group) was established of recruiting a large number of 15-17 year olds. Would it not have been better to encourage us to go to university, or technical schools and to have other careers that could contribute to the building of the State, rather than only agriculture? With hindsight of course higher education and non-agricultural work (high tech) were to be the mainstay of the economy of Israel in the future but we could not predict this in the 1950s. The philosophy of the Zionist-socialist movement was to create an “ educated” peasantry, and to invert the typical Jewish demographic pyramid, with more workers and less businessmen, small shopkeepers and doctors at the base.
After about a year and a half, at Hurst grange, it was decided that I should not go on Aliya with the garin of the time (the group that went to Beth Haemek), but rather take a course in farm management at the West of Scotland College of Agriculture. Looking back it is difficult to know the motivation of the movement, certainly the idea was not mine, and I was disappointed that I would not be going on Aliya with my chevrah (this would have been to Beth Ha-emek). Perhaps it was decided that I was too young to go with the group, or I was not ready yet for Aliya. This “ not ready for Aliya” was a vague concept that was quite often discussed. I do not quite know what it meant, not ideologically ready? Although Hachshara was supposed to prepare us for kibbutz life in Israel, in fact, it really did not. It taught us the value of hard work, and how to work, and a person was valued by his work ethic, but it did not really prepare for the reality of life in the Middle East. Rather I think we all (or most of us) fell in love with rural England. We enjoyed our interactions with the local farmers who were pretty decent, the occasional visit to the pub, or tearoom, if we could afford it, and the bike rides at the weekends. Anyhow the movement decided that I should take this course, they chose Glasgow since I could live at home, and return to hachshara (not Reading but the David Eder Farm, nr Horsham) and eventually help run the farm, with whatever skills I picked up from the course. I spent about 5 months at college, studied everything from cattle breeding to farm economics, and in general had a good time. However I never changed my opinion about going to Israel and living on a kibbutz.

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