‘Pioneerism’ Dead or Alive?
This article is part of the Hineni journal, Partition, which was distributed in synagogues around Australia on the 63rd anniversary of the UN’s adoption of the Partition Plan for Palestine. We are publishing a selection of articles from the journal.
By Ellie Golvan
On my most recent trip to Israel, upon which I was fortunate enough to embark in a Hineni framework – “Hineni Bogrim Tour” – we visited a youth village about five minutes away from Sderot set up by the Ayalim organisation. Ayalim was established in 2002 with the aim of building, in every sense of the word (yes, they actually build their own houses), communities in the Galil and Negev. My first thought upon visiting the small student community was that these university students are today’s chalutzim, pioneers. They are just like the kibbutznikim from the days of old, although the Kova Tembel (bucket hat), Blorit (the hair style attributed to the kibbutznikim) and shorts, have become jeans, shoresh sandals (those ones with the Velcro that Israeli’s just seem to always get away with) and t-shirts with the collar cut off. After seeing this I pondered: Is the concept of ‘pioneerism’ still alive-and-well in Israel of the 21st Century?
Naturally, just like the term Zionism, the term chalutz changed in its definition when Israel was established in 1948. It should be seen as a fluid term, always changing and developing. The original chalutzim went to the hachshara farm to physically prepare themselves for the harsh conditions of Palestine. He or she went on to work the land; with their own hands. Moshe Shamir in his story, “B’mo Yadav” (“With His Own Hands”), writes about the physical nature of life in Palestine, differentiating it from the previous lifestyle. The clear message here is that to be a chalutz is to create a different life style, one by which the Jewish people take control of their own destiny.
In keeping with this notion, that is, a strong and proud Jewish nationalist, chalutzim were also people like Golda Meir who went on missions to Diaspora communities to raise money in order to build up the land. They were people like Eliezer Ben Yehuda, the ‘Father’ of modern Hebrew, who refused to speak to his own family in their mother tongue so as to ensure that Hebrew would become once again a living, modern language. A chalutz is someone who dedicates themselves not only to the physical building of the state, but also to its development.
As a graduate of Machon Le’Madrichei Chul (Institute for Overseas Leaders), like my peers, I have developed the skill of becoming instantly critical of almost everything. And so, on the tour of the Ayalim student village, with housing blocks built with the wooden planks of hope to build a better Israel, my only thought was – how sustainable is such a project?
I had flashbacks to my time on Shnat where, as Hineni we were fortunate enough to be paired with a kibbutz that has still remained socialist, Sde Eliyahu. It stands as an exception amongst most kibbutzim in Israel that have strayed from their initial ideals. There is a feeling amongst the chaverim (members) post-army, that there is no life for them on the kibbutz – they do not see a future for themselves. They desire to be in the big cities and to learn in universities. Therefore, when we visited that town near Sderot, my first thought was, “great, these people are leaving their city homes to build up the underdeveloped areas of Israel. But can we guarantee that their children will want to live a communal lifestyle in these small towns?”
There are many responses to my question. Two answers stand out most prominently. Firstly, education. Undoubtedly those who are willing to build a town literally with their own hands will endeavour to instil the values of the importance of ‘pioneerism’ and the necessity to always be building and developing the state. Secondly, if all goes according to plan, these small villages may turn into the newest “it places” of Israel. However, from the other side, wasn’t this the intention of the Kibbutz Movement in its early stages?
As we can see from this project, the pioneering spirit is still strong in modern Israel. However, just like the rest of the world, Israelis are becoming indifferent and apathetic toward the values of the chalutz. Chalutziut is all about giving yourself to a cause, something that is bigger than the self and for the betterment of “Klal Israel” (“Congregation of Israel”). This concept is often forgotten in the contemporary world. Is there a place for valuing the collective in this modern, fast-paced society?
Due to the fact that we were simply born in a different era, no member of my generation will know what it actually felt like to build a country from nothing; what it takes to form governments, set up banks, establish cities or develop an education system for a new Jewish State. On the other hand, we will never know what it feels like to live in a time where the independent Jewish State in the ancestral Land of Israel is not “a given” reality.
The challenge of today’s chalutzim is in a different category to the classic chalutzim, but we must keep their dream alive. When considering the concept of the Jewish people being a ‘Chosen People’, Professor Yishayahu Liebowitz discusses that the role of ‘choseness’ forces us to face challenges and be exemplary to the other. Transposing this to the idea of seeing value in the desire to be a chalutz and to help develop the State of Israel, by being a ‘Chosen People’, we must show that it is possible to overcome the apathy of the emerging generations. In modern-day Israel there is still much room to be a chalutz, and the Ayalim project is just one example.
In a recent year 10 Hadracha course we taught we explored the birth of movements and that the key people in ensuring their success are not the first people, but rather the second and third groups that follow. We are currently in this very important stage in the long history of the State of Israel. And so, the concept of chalutziut is ever so relevant in ensuring Israel’s development.
Ellie is the currently Federal Rosh of Hineni and a madricha for shevet Deganya.
The following parties helped make the journal possible:
Frank Levy, JNF, Unger Catering, JMC Corporate Real Estate Consultants, Caulfield Hebrew Congregation, Hagshama Melbourne, Antique Silver Company, shaundesign.com, Danielle Blumberg (editing), Mervyn Chait (formatting)