The Year of Independence! by Ilse Ben Hanoch (then Meyer) - Machzor 4
Ilse was a member of Habonim and together with Nechama Shevrin (now Wydra) and Yitzhak Ernest (Pixy) were chosen by their movement in Australia to study for a year at the Machon Lemadrichel Chutz La’Aretz.Here is just a part of her story of that year in Israel.
We were three delegates: Nechama, Pixy from Melbourne, and me – chosen to study a year at the Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad. For me this was a compromise, a sort of delay of the eventual break with my home, but nevertheless an opportunity to be a year in the land of my dreams. At the end of the year we were required to work in the Zionist movement for another two years before we could return to Israel.
I could write a book on the year I spent at the Machon. For all who participated, this year definitely shaped our lives. The permanent home of the Machon was in Jerusalem, but the city was besieged by the Arabs and could not be reached easily. Some of the other Anglo-Saxons that had been expected did not arrive, so we joined a Portuguese-Spanish speaking group with members from Chile, Mexico and Brazil. There were 16 of us with no common language, so for the first two months the studies were conducted in Yiddish! For five months we lived in the empty huts of a Teachers Seminary in Petach Tikva. We studied Hebrew intensively, and had lectures on history, geography, politics, Bible study, and we also learned Hebrew songs and dances.
But the real drama of life in Eretz Yisrael was what was happening all around us.
On May 15, 1948 our madrich (leader), the late Elisha Linder (later to be a professor of marine archaeology), took us to Tel Aviv. We stationed ourselves outside the doors of the Museum on Rothchild Boulevard while inside, the Assembly of the new State of Israel issued its famous Declaration of Independence! As David Ben Gurion, Moshe Sharet and the other Elders of the Nation emerged from the building, the huge, emotional crowd cheered and wept - a truly historic moment that was captured by many cameras.
The next morning Tel Aviv was bombed and the War of Independence started in earnest. We of the Machon felt privileged to make the acquaintance of the new country of Israel as we travelled in an old Egged bus in the wake of battles and victories from Mishmar Haemek to Naharia, from Upper Galilee to entrenched Negba.
On the 2nd of July on our way to Kfar Blum in the north, we turned in to Kibbutz Machanayim. To our surprise and delight we ran into Betty and Michael Doari and the rest of the Habonim Garin (group, nucleus of a new kibbutz). They were preparing for their hityashvut (settlement) at Mansoura. a rock-strewn, deserted Arab village overlooking the River Jordan, and on the Syrian border. At that time, we were not allowed to join them, too dangerous, but we visited them often in the following months.
Australia had not immediately recognized the State of Israel, so for three months I received no mail from my family as there were no postal connections. However, I did manage to contact them via countries that did have postal connections, such as Holland and the USA.
Once our formal studies at the Machon were over, we took leave of our South American friends and began the next chapter: getting to know kibbutz. At first we stayed for three months at Kfar Blum, which had settled in the Galilee, and was known as the Anglo-Baltic kibbutz. 1 loved the scenery and the snow covered Mt. Hermon (it was already winter by then), and I loved my work in the vegetable garden and the kibbutz as a whole, and our life amongst a crowd of young unmarrieds in particular. But this also came to an end, following a wonderful trip to the Dead Sea. Our next stop was a young and very new kibbutz in the Negev, then called Kelta, now Hatzerim. This was the spring of 1949, a short time after Beer-Sheva was captured and the Israeli army had reached the Egyptian border. We rejoiced with the members of Kelta when the first water pipeline reached the kibbutz, and we danced the hora with the "Desert Rats" unit of the Palmach. We learned Ivrit from the mouths of real Sabras, and I did not want to leave! Australia, the movement, family, home.. they were all so far away, so irrelevant.
What A Year That Was!
Ilse returned to Israel after working in the Movement for two years and made Kibbutz Kfar Hanassi her home. The whole story by Ilse Ben-Hanoch was written in 2004 as “My life – ‘Till Here”.