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The 50th Maayan Baruch Volunteer Reunion

As tensions rose in Israel in April/May 1967 the Southern African Zionist youth from all the youth movements, prepared for the near certain eventuality that war would break out in Israel. Telfed (aka “The Fed” ) decided to send a small delegation to Israel to evaluate the situation first hand which resulted in a positive decision to send volunteers to Israel from Jewish communities all over the world.

There was an amazing response, despite the uncertainty, despite the possible danger and despite the fact that most of us were in the middle of studies. Our first group left Jan Smuts airport on Motzei Shabbat June 4th, 1967. The airport was bedlam with youth, parents and friends coming to the airport to wish us well. The two main contingents of Habonim, which I was appointed to lead and Betar, who Morris Strauss led (both of us Rhodesians!) walked onto the tarmac to make our way to the plane between rows of South African policemen, mainly Afrikaners, who cheered us on with shouts of support.

On arrival at Ben Gurion airport we were met by worried friends and relatives who were living in Israel and by representatives of the various settlements and organizations who would send us on our way. Leib Golan ז"ל of Kibbutz Maayan Baruch rounded up the Habonim Group and its affiliates and took us on the bus to the Lebanese/Syrian border. From the Fed’s volunteers’ cards it appears that 31 of us were on that bus (all males).

When we arrived on the kibbutz after travelling north on the bus, feeling the tension in the air, a few of us sat with Leib and the central leadership of the kibbutz to discuss our feeling that it would be important that we get to work immediately on the following morning, as people had given up studies to come to help and so we should start helping immediately. Early Monday morning, June 6th, we were hard at it filing in sacks of sand and clearing the trenches. At 8am war broke out and we were taken to the unfinished bomb shelter that would be our home for the coming week (though we didn’t know that then.

That night a couple of the volunteers who had served in the South African army accompanied a few kibbutz members on guard duty in the perimeter positions. Even I had the opportunity to go out to guard duty, even though I had never held a gun in my life. When shots were heard, the kibbutz members I was with immediately fell to the earth to take up defensive positions, whilst I stood bewildered trying to understand what was happening. In the ended up that the shots were from Menara at the burial of a kibbutz member who had been killed in the war. The rest of the volunteers lay in sleeping bags or mattresses on the floor of the bomb shelter. Explosions from the Golan Heights were heard from time to time and the kibbutz members in charge of us had a constant struggle to keep us from moving out of the bomb shelter to see what had happened. Hard to believe but were in the middle of a war 24 hours after landing from sunny Southern Africa, and by and large coping with it as if it was normal J.

During the week we had a brief interval from our miklat when we and the children and members of the kibbutz had an event in the dining room. A magician had been brought to dissipate the tension and feeling of war. As the magician started to explain a particular trick, and has explanation was too long to bear, one of the kids shouted out “So what” (in Hebrew) and that broke the tension more than his tricks. After the week of the war, during which we experienced so much, seeing and hearing the progress of the war and sharing with the members of Maayan Baruch the initial feeling of relief that Israel and Maayan Baruch were safe, leading to the experience of hearing that Jerusalem was now in Israeli hands and up to the absolute joy that the Syrians would no longer be able to shell the settlements below, we also shared the grief and sorrow with the kibbutz that three of its members had been killed in the fighting.

We then got down to the work we had volunteered to do – and hard work it was. Most of us were sent to the Huleh valley to the cotton fields of the kibbutz which had been neglected during the whole period leading up to the war. The weeds were big and tough and it was no easy experience trying to pull them out. After this unenviable period in the boiling hot Huleh we eventually moved into other branches of the kibbutz and I had the honor of being one of those ploughing the fields. No matter how many showers I took, my sheets were stained with the brown earth that had inundated my pores.

During the weeks that followed we were taken on tiyulim by the kibbutz (together with the kibbutz members) to all three fronts. On the tour to the West Bank a wife of one of the members who had been killed in the West bank, was with us on the tour and it was almost unbearable, sharing in the emotion of the experience.

Since that auspicious start, my wife, Judy, and I have returned to Maayan Baruch many times to visit our kibbutz family the Chemels. Monnie, my kibbutz father, is now over 90 but his dear wife Lola, unfortunately passed away after a long illness a while ago. Only one of their 6 children is still living on the kibbutz and our contact with Arnon and his wife, Idit (Leib Golan’s daughter) is very special for us.

Despite our personal ongoing contact with Maayan Baruch, the return to Maayan Baruch on Friday 16th June 2017 for the 50th anniversary reunion of our volunteering and the 6 day war, was an emotional and unique experience. Even though only 10 of the 21 original volunteers still living in Israel attended, it was a memorable and enjoyable event. About 40 of us with spouses, children and grandchildren participated. In addition about 25 members of Maayan Baruch came, either as guests to the dinner at the pool, or by coming by to schmooze at the pool or by attending the שיח מתנדבים  in the club house of the kibbutz after the dinner.

In planning the event we came to the conclusion that it was too late to try to put together an international event or a country wide get together of the kind Habonim had organized to celebrate 50 years of the Aliya of the Garin to Kibbutz Tzora. We also agreed that the significance 50 years later was not only our memories but also the sharing of them with the next generation (our kids), and grandchildren (who should feel and understand where we volunteered and what it meant). I certainly feel that what we decided was the right choice, resulting in a special and memorable occasion.

The challenges were great – especially in the beginning. How do we find the names, current addresses, e-mail addresses, phone numbers etc. of our Maayan Baruch volunteers? Even though our first group numbered just over 30 on the evening before the war (all males!!) altogether 74 Southern Africans volunteered on Maayan Baruch during the period (including 17 females - mainly due to Leib Golan going to meet all the South African planes after the war to try and get some balance into the volunteer make up!). Our daughter Orli helped me (actually saved us) by digitizing the old hand written cards that Syd Shapiro had saved in its old rusty metal case for 50 years, to give us the start we needed.  Hopefully this will also help future archivists and historians as the list includes all 815 Southern African volunteers and not just those who went to Maayan Baruch. By the way of the 74 volunteers on Maayan Baruch, I estimate that about 50% made Aliya and lived in Israel for differing periods of time. Of these 5 have already died in Israel - one in the war of attrition and one in the Yom Kippur war serving in the army.

Some of the volunteers moved from Maayan Baruch after the war, particularly a group who went south to Revivim but most of the others stayed for differing periods, some for a few months and some for more, with the record going to Meish Aaronson, now of Hofit, who stayed for 20 months!  

The dedication of our organizing committee of Phil Bloom, Max Moss, Beverly Caplan and myself, led by Phil Bloom (former Harare) was crucial in the success of the event. So many small details to plan from trying to contact volunteers to encourage them to join us, to organizing the activities and the catering of a suitable meal and organizing to have cold drinks and kartivim for the kids. Phil also put together large copies of photographs and documents for the event and donated them to Maayan Baruch’s archives after the event. Together with his brother Dave he also set up the Facebook page that will probably serve as a center for information and photographs in the future.

The event at the pool, culminating in a really simple but good and tasty meal, was informal but memorable, especially because members of Maayan Baruch joined us and re-established contact. It was especially heartwarming to see contact being made between our children and some of their contemporaries on Maayan Baruch.

After the dinner at the pool many of us made our way to the Moadon where Bruce Oppenheimer handled the שיח מתנדבים really sensitively in enabling the flow of people's contributions. The שיח handled a mix of personal comments and feelings. Both volunteers and Members of Maayan Baruch related to their feeling of the volunteers arriving on the kibbutz. Volunteers explained why they had volunteered and given up their studies to do so. Maayan Baruch members expressed their emotional reaction to the fact that young Jews had come to be with them at this critical junction in their lives.  The discussion also touched on questions and answers regarding the reality of the changing kibbutz and particularly the way the Maayan Baruch veterans feel about Maayan Baruch and the kibbutz reality 50 years on. Another focus of the discussion related to questions of peace and Israel 50 years on. All these contributed to the uniqueness of the event. For us the contribution of the second generation of the volunteers was especially poignant. Bruce's daughter Adi's erudite and incisive questions of where the kibbutz movement is today and our daughter, Orli's, description of her connection and growing understanding of what my volunteering on Maayan Baruch meant and her connection to our decision to commit to Israel and our Aliya and how it has impacted on her life positively. These were so important to hear. David Fine, a renowned artist and veteran member of Maayan Baruch, related to his volunteering in 1948 which was so different. He and his friend Arthur Goldreich came to the fledging state to volunteer by air and by sea which took months for them to arrive. They then waited to be placed in army units and as they tired of waiting and as they heard that going to a border kibbutz would be regarded as their army service, they made their way to Maayan Baruch (David married Ruthie and they have been on the kibbutz ever since). Though David didn’t talk about it, Arthur Goldreich returned to South Africa and was involved actively in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa – though he too eventually arrived on Aliya and unfortunately recently passed away in Beit Proitea.

Dave Bloom was generous in investing his time to come to the reunion to record the event and the שיח. This, as well as Phil’s blown up pictures, will be so important for Maayan Baruch archives and for our future generations.

Quite a few of the "founders and early settlers" on Maayan Baruch attended the discussion even though they are in their late 80's or even 90’s.

I think that the period of Israel’s history and our volunteering was of great significance in all of our lives. Our Face book page can be reached through the link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1967volunteers/.

You will have to click on a request to join the group – and the administrators Max Moss and Phil and Dave Bloom will OK you.

The feeling on Maayan Baruch was one of great warmth and friendship. Hearing how the Maayan Baruch members felt on our arrival in 1967 and of the feelings of our group on why we came and what we felt, gave a strong feeling of the significance of that time, one which was so good to share with our kids and grandchildren.

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