Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

3 Teves 5765 - December 15, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







The Sounds of Torah Rising Up from Kibbutz Ein- Charod

by Betzalel Kahn

The national Agudas Yisroel convention on Isru Chag of Shavuos 5701 (1941) met in Petach Tikva with portents of the extermination of European Jewry. All of the participants were distraught over the reports arriving from Europe. The main speaker during the three days of speeches and lectures was the Ponevezher Rav, HaRav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman zt"l.

In one of his speeches he made the following comment, which was to become one of his best-known remarks on the Jews of Eretz Yisroel: "Start writing tefillin and mezuzas for the children of Ein-Charod. One day we will have to set up chadorim and yeshivas for the children of Nahalel."

Kibbutz Ein-Charod and Moshav Nahalel, started in 5681 (1921) in the Jezreel Valley, were the first kibbutz and moshav respectively and among the first hotspots of secular settlement in Eretz Yisroel.

His remarks came as a great surprise, but essentially he was merely articulating his deep-seated faith that the Jewish people would soon return to their roots.

Years later HaRav Avrohom Kahaneman asked his father how he knew the children of Kibbutz Ein-Charod would eventually lay tefillin and fix mezuzas on their doorposts, at a time when this seemed totally unrealistic. The Ponevezher Rav replied that he knew from the Torah, which says, "Lebilti yidach mimenu nidach" ("Not casting off any outcasts") (Shmuel II 14:14).

Three years later, at another Agudas Yisroel convention, the Ponovezher Rav gave another speech on his vision of the Sanctification of the Land. "Let us not be ashamed to speak now about the holy ones of Yisroel. This is no mere jest: when the concept of `Yisroel kedoshim' comes to fruition, the Jews of Ein-Charod and Givat Brenner will also be holy . . . "

During this same period, a ceremony was held at Kibbutz Shaar Hagolan to mark the hiding of some sifrei Torah, a move designed to prevent the aging parents of kibbutz members, who were also living on the kibbutz, from praying discreetly. But when the Ponevezher Rav gave a speech about keeping shmittah in Eretz Yisroel, he said his remarks were intended for the kibbutznikim of Shaar Hagolan as well.

After the convention, one of the gedolei Torah of Eretz Yisroel asked him, "Do you have many talmidim from Ein- Charod?" The Ponevezher Rav did not take insult, for with his far-reaching vision he knew that one day spiritual awakening would come to Ein-Charod.

The Ponevezher Rav did not see his dream realized during his lifetime, but in the book The Ponovezher Rav his son, HaRav Avrohom Kahaneman, recounts an event that did come to fruition before his histalkus. "During Father's last months, as he lay on his deathbed, people came to invite him to the chanukas habayis ceremony for the beis knesses that had been built at Kibbutz Ein-Charod. His state of health did not allow him to honor the invitation, but the news that a beis knesses had been built at the kibbutz brought a gleam of joy to his eyes. Someone reminded him of his fabulous vision some 25 years earlier of the yeshiva that would one day be started at Ein-Charod. `Although a beis knesses is not a yeshiva,' HaRav Yosef Shlomo said with a smile, `still things have been set into motion there.'"

A Third Generation Kibbutznik in Yeshiva

Since then, Kibbutz Ein-Charod has come a long way. Although the kibbutznikim rarely use the beis knesses built decades ago, when we spent the first Shabbos of Elul this past year at the kibbutz we could see the Ponovezher Rav's vision has become much more than a mere dream.

On that Shabbos, the walkways were taken over by some 70 talmidim from Yeshivas Ashrei Ho'ish in Jerusalem. The rosh yeshiva, HaRav Yosef Tzvi Ben-Porat, was also there to celebrate with one of the kibbutz members who had just gotten married. But what did these 70 yeshiva students have to do with a kibbutznik who got married?

Meet Gil Brand, a member of one of the prominent, longstanding families at Kibbutz Ein-Charod. Like his fellow talmidim at Yeshivas Ashrei Ho'ish, he took a big step in Yiddishkeit by embarking on the long journey from the walkways of the kibbutz and the halls of academia to the halls of Torah.

At the wedding held in Jerusalem at the end of Av, the members of the yeshiva could be seen dancing with joy alongside the kibbutznikim from Ein-Charod and Kibbutz Chulta, who honored the event with their presence and with yarmulkes on their heads. In the circle of dancers, one could see many other former Ein-Charod members who also made the long journey back to Judaism over the past several years.

"So far, about 20 people from the kibbutz have done teshuvoh, and a few more are on their way," says Yoel Brand, the brother of the groom and manager of one of the factories at the kibbutz.

"Have you noticed we are talking about Kibbutz Ein-Charod," I point out, "which is related to the word, `chared,' the root of the word `chareidi?' Do you think this might be the reason for this welcome trend?"

"That could well be," says Yoel, "although actually it's `Ein-Chared' and not `Yeish Chared' [a play on Charod, with an ayin, and `there is']. Of these 20 who did teshuvoh, as far as I know only one of them left the kibbutz and became just dati. All of the others are chareidi."

Among their ranks is Gil Brand, who has been learning at Ashrei Ho'ish for over three years. Gil is a third-generation kibbutznik. His mother runs one of the big factories at the kibbutz and his brother-in-law, Ofir Bashur, who has begun to keep Shabbos and lay tefillin, is in charge of the organic farming section, another of the lucrative enterprises at the kibbutz. The kallah also grew up on a long- established kibbutz.

"Yisroel is Holy"

Yeshivas Ashrei Ho'ish was started a few years ago by HaRav Ben-Porat, a leading figure in the Israeli Teshuva Movement. Many talmidim have passed through the yeshiva since then, and all of them have one thing in common: they are the elite of the land, young men with high level academic education, prestigious professions and promising careers — army officers, architects, attorneys, engineers, doctors — all of whom left the secular world behind to seek shelter in the gemora, Rishonim and Acharonim.

Two years ago (at the end of 5762) during a visit to the yeshiva, a group of 30 soldiers from an elite IDF unit heard a lecture by the rosh yeshiva, and conducted discussion groups with talmidim at the yeshiva who had become religious a short time earlier. Without knowing where they were headed, the soldiers arrived at the yeshiva and took in a heavy dose of Yiddishkeit for 90 minutes. A few months ago, one of them was accepted at one of Jerusalem's largest yeshivas.

Over the years, young people have come to Yeshivas Ashrei Ho'ish from various kibbutzim, universities and select military units. But HaRav Ben-Porat makes special note of two of his talmidim: Uri Yaakovi of Givat Brenner, who married less than a year ago and started learning at a kollel in Jerusalem, and Gil Brand of Ein Charod, who now studies at the kollel associated with Yeshivas Ashrei Ho'ish.

"This has come full circle," says HaRav Ben-Porat. "Sixty years ago the Ponovezher Rov ztvk"l, who was conservative by nature, declared, `The Jews of Ein-Charod and Givat Brenner are also holy . . . Yisroel is holy.' I feel as if I have begun to fulfill his will. There is still a long way to go to bring everyone back on track, but these two kibbutzim, Givat Brenner and Ein-Charod, which were in those long-gone days a symbol of the fight between pure, age-old Judaism and an ideology that sought to erase every Jewish spark. Now, from these kibbutzim sprout sharp talmidim who learn Torah with shkeidoh. This is the realization of the Ponovezher Rav's fabulous vision. Back then, 60 years ago, nobody believed the day would come when this vision would come to fruition."

In this article, we have chosen to focus on Gil Brand, formerly of Kibbutz Ein-Charod.

Asking Questions

For many Israelis who return to Yiddishkeit, the first stirrings begin during military service or a short time later. At the age of 20, Gil Brand began asking himself questions. He wanted to hear answers, but he was hesitant. Not knowing what to do with himself after his discharge from the army, he traveled to the US, Europe and India. In all these places he asked a lot of questions, but received few answers.

"I asked myself questions. I had a sense of unease. I was looking for an answer," Gil recounts. "Just today I saw in the book Alei Shor, by HaRav Shlomo Wolbe, the question of who is a Jew. He recommends that those who are questioning their path investigate all of the other paths and then when they come to the Torah they will have peace of mind. As someone who has gone through this experience I must say that when I started to engage in Torah I felt peace of mind, a breath of life, an awakening, as if I were being summoned to good things."

While in uniform and later while traveling the world, a close friend began to talk to him about Yiddishkeit, recommending he go to shiurim given by HaRav Moshe Frank in Tel Aviv. Held every Tuesday for the past 30 years, this shiur has brought hundreds of young, secular Jews to the light of Yiddishkeit. They come to the shiur based on word-of-mouth. Over the course of several months, Gil Brand was fascinated by the weekly shiur.

Later he returned to the kibbutz for a few more months. He began to study once a week with a chavrusa from Kibbutz Ayelet Hashachar, located near Ein-Charod. "Little by little I began to lay tefillin and three years after I began to draw near, I fully accepted the yoke of Torah and mitzvas," Gil recalls.

"I didn't have an easy time with my family and the kibbutz members. It took them a long time to come to terms with it. It was hard for me, too. The more I was convinced the path I was taking was right the more persuasive I became, so my friends and family were unconvinced at first. Every person who follows this wonderful path needs something to turn desire into action. For me, the moment I encountered Torah and tefilloh, the potential was activated and I drew close to the Borei Olom."

Emptiness and Apathy

One day, escorted by an avreich from Jerusalem, Gil Brand arrived at the entrance to Yeshivas Ashrei Ho'ish in Bayit Vegan wearing a small knitted yarmulke on his head. HaRav Ben-Porat began to speak with him. At the end of their conversation the young kibbutznik said he was willing to come to the yeshiva, but on one condition: that he pay the cost of his room at the yeshiva so he wouldn't feel compelled to learn Torah, but would go to the beis medrash only when he chose. "If I am given a free room I'll be obligated to study," he explained to HaRav Ben-Porat.

With plenty of experience conducting conversations with young men just beginning to make their way in Yiddishkeit, HaRav Ben-Porat of course agreed. And from previous experience he knew this young man, like many before him who laid down various stipulations, would soon be spending more time in the beis medrash than in his room.

At first Gil worked half the day and learned half the day, but gradually he stopped working and began to devote the entire day to learning. He stopped paying for his room and joined the ranks of the other talmidim absorbed in seforim kedoshim from morning to night.

"One day I invited Gil's parents to our house for Shabbos, just as all of the parents of the yeshiva members have already done," says HaRav Ben-Porat. "Gil didn't believe they would be willing to come, but I managed to convince them. They arrived with his brother-in-law, Ophir Bashur. I spoke with them at length and they really enjoyed themselves. That was the first time in their lives they saw what Shabbos is; the first time they saw a beis knesses and tefilloh betzibbur, what a yeshiva is, and most of all, how a chareidi family looks and how a Shabbos table operates. I suggested to Ophir that he organize a shiur at the kibbutz. He agreed. I began to travel to Ein-Charod to give lectures to the kibbutznikim for three weeks in a row. Dozens came every time."

Gil went back with a friend from the kibbutz who had also traveled the long path to Judaism and together they hung large signs announcing the lectures. At first there was opposition against holding the lectures at the kibbutz. The kibbutz leadership didn't know how to approach this new phenomenon. "They used to relate to us more with scorn, seeing in us the antiquated blackies of yesteryear, but today they're just afraid of us," says HaRav Ben-Porat.

"The opposition did not stem from a desire to cancel the shiurim," says Gil. "People were alarmed. They thought we would make everyone do teshuvoh. I think it even went to another stage beyond fear—apathy. Because of their emptiness, nothing interests them. Unlike in the past, today there is no spiritual battle because they have no alternative to offer. They have no reason to fight because they have nothing intellectual or ideological, just worldly pleasures."

It was the Kibbutz Secretary who restored calm by asking Gil and his friend not to post small, modest notices around the kibbutz rather than large posters. After three weeks, HaRav Ben-Porat stopped coming, and instead, the first gemora shiur at Kibbutz Ein-Charod was started. The maggid shiur was none other than former kibbutz member, R' Yiftach Tzizling.

The Wedding

Making matches is as hard as Krias Yam Suf, says the Gemora, and this applies to baalei teshuvoh as well. Matchmakers who specialize in this area have to work hard to pair young men and women on various different levels of religiosity. In some cases, the young man has been studying at a baalei teshuvoh yeshiva for years while the prospective mate has been in a seminary for baalos teshuvoh for much less time—or the situation may be reversed.

In Gil's case, the prospective kallah, a regular visitor in the homes of HaRav Avrohom Kabalkin and HaRav Tzvi Eliach, did not consent to marry him. He didn't seem like enough of a "yeshiva bochur" to her. She had the same response when they met again one year later. Only at their third meeting, by which time Gil already fit the mold of a true yeshiva bochur with a dark suit and black hat, was the shidduch settled.

HaRav Ben-Porat suggested holding the wedding at the kibbutz, since every member is entitled to a wedding at the kibbutz's expense. Gil rejected the idea because he was worried that his friends from Jerusalem would not make the long trip to the kibbutz. On the other hand, he was worried that the kibbutznikim wouldn't want to participate in the wedding of a kibbutz member who had done teshuvoh. Eventually, it was decided to hold the wedding in Jerusalem and the Shabbos Sheva Brochos at Ein-Charod.

All parties agreed and then Operation Shabbos Ein-Charod got underway—a complex logistical undertaking with innumerable details, big and small. Except for a few minor hitches, we enjoyed an elevating Shabbos in the company of the yeshiva students and family members. The Brand Family cooperated at every step of the way. For three whole days the family members put aside all of their regular kibbutz affairs to attend to the preparations needed to receive 70 guests at the kibbutz.

The food was a relatively simple matter. The meals were supplied by a catering company from Jerusalem with high kashrus standards. Yet the Brand Family of Ein Charod insisted on preparing at least one of the meals. A compromise was reached: they would purchase the food for Sholosh Seudos themselves. HaRav Ben-Porat explained to them exactly what to buy and which kashrus symbols to look for. The Brand Family set out for nearby Afula, where they went to the Zol Po outlet in the city. They even found challahs from Angel Bakery of Jerusalem sold there.

The Kibbutz Eruv

Then there was the matter of the eruv.

As at every secular kibbutz, the concept of an eruv was totally new and had to be explained to the hosts. The main problem was the avreichim learning at the yeshiva who wanted to bring babies in strollers and then had to bring them back and forth between the dining hall and the rooms where they slept. Families with older children were able to manage without carrying and were placed in more distant rooms.

HaRav Ben-Porat asked HaRav Ezriel Auerbach, the rov of Kehillas Chanichei Hayeshivos in Bayit Vegan, whether an eruv chatzeiros could and should be made at the kibbutz. He brought the question to his father-in-law, Maran HaRav Eliashiv shlita, who said that one could rely on the fact that all the kibbutz members eat in a common dining hall not to make such an eruv.

Yoav Zakai, another kibbutz member who became observant and now lives in Tzfas, took on the task of making the eruv between the guest rooms and the dining hall. One year ago he got married at a fabulous, Jewish wedding held at Ein-Charod. HaRav Moshe Shternbuch was given the honor of mesader kiddushin. Zakai, whose parents live at the kibbutz, gives a weekly shiur on Parshas Hashovua for young people from the kibbutz and the surrounding area.

Arriving at the kibbutz on Friday morning, Yoav erected an eruv using wood and metal posts and wire from the kibbutz storeroom. When HaRav Ben-Porat arrived in the afternoon he did a tour of inspection and, following a few slight repairs, declared the eruv completely mehudar.

Then we came to the beis knesses. At Kibbutz Ein- Charod Ichud on the border of Kibbutz Ein-Charod Meuchad (Kibbutz Ein-Charod split into two kibbutzim in 1952, see sidebar) a beis knesses had been built in 5686 (1926) for the elderly parents of the kibbutz members at the time. Later it served both kibbutzim, but fell into disuse for many years. The door bears a sign reading, Beit Knesset Ein-Charod Ichud. Since residents make little use of the place it has stood empty for decades. One of the residents is responsible for regular upkeep and cleaning. She says it is opened for bar mitzvas and holidays, and sometimes observant Jews from outside the kibbutz hold minyanim there.

One hour before Shabbos began, we went to take a look at the beis knesses and the sifrei Torah. A few Yeshivas Ashrei Ho'ish talmidim were seated inside the small shul for a Friday afternoon learning session. None of the five sifrei Torah were kosher for Torah readings so HaRav Ben-Porat sent one of the talmidim, Yonatan Eltit of Afula, to bring a mehudar Sefer Torah for the Shabbos tefillos.

Lecho Dodi at the Kibbutz

When dusk began to settle, for the first time in many years the sounds of Lecho Dodi resounded from the beis knesses of the kibbutz whose founders 82 years ago sought to sever themselves from every trace of Yiddishkeit. Their children had little inkling of what goes on in a beis knesses, with the exception of the occasional bar mitzvah or small minyanim during the Yomim Noraim (with the assistance of observant Jews who come in specially on those days).

Between Kabbolas Shabbos and Ma'ariv, HaRav Ben- Porat delivered a profound talk on the meaning of Shabbos, saying that the word "Shabbos" is formed from the letters Tov, Shin and Beis, the root of the word "teshuvoh." He then spoke at length about the connection between Shabbos, teshuvoh and Mizmor Shir LeYom HaShabbos, which Odom Horishon said after Kayin told him that HaKodosh Boruch Hu accepted his teshuvoh following the murder of Hevel. "This Shabbos, the first in the month of teshuvoh, will give the strength and power to the people of Ein- Charod—particularly the members of the general kibbutz movement—to do teshuvoh. And from Ein- Charod, the first of the kibbutzim, may a wellspring of teshuvoh issue forth in a flow of living waters, waters of Torah and yir'oh, to all of the kibbutzim of Eretz Yisroel."

The Shabbos tefillos had a lofty yeshiva-type atmosphere and drew several kibbutz members. Gil sat on the Mizrach alongside his father, who took part in all of the tefillos. One avreich not from the ranks of the yeshiva stood out among the congregants. A quick inquiry revealed him to be Shay Kish, who did teshuvoh together with his father and brother 14 years ago following the famous speech by Rabbenu HaRav Shach zt"l at Yad Eliyahu (see sidebar). Kish joined us for Sholosh Seudos, not concealing his enthusiasm over the opportunity to take part in the simchah of a kibbutznik who did teshuvoh and who brought all of his fellow yeshiva students to the kibbutz grounds.

The Shabbos meals were held in a sublime atmosphere. A few kibbutz members from Ein-Charod and nearby Kibbutz Tel-Yosef, including young people who participate in the weekly shiurim held at one of the kibbutz factories, joined some of the meals, especially Sholosh Seudos. For the first time ever, Shabbos zemiros echoed in the dining hall, where the yeshiva students sat together with the chosson, his family and several other kibbutz members.

Weekly Shiurim

Today, Kibbutz Ein-Charod Meuchad generates income through highly developed agriculture—a dairy, a chicken coop, fish ponds, bee hives, successful fields and a few orchards—and several factories, including Pladot, a sophisticated carpentry shop for furniture, and Dikem, which produces paper rolls for medical recording devices.

The agricultural division is run by Ophir Bashur, the chosson's brother-in-law. Once a week his office serves as the classroom for a shiur on maseches Brochos given by Rav Yiftach Tzizling, an avreich from Rechasim born and raised . . . at Kibbutz Ein-Charod, and the first person from the kibbutz to do teshuvoh.

Aharon Tzizling, one of the founders of the kibbutz and one of the heads of the United Kibbutz Movement, was a longstanding Mapai member during the years before and after the founding of the State. When the first government was set up by Ben-Gurion, he served as Minister of Agriculture.

Like many kibbutznikim in those days, Tzizling came from a religious home. His father, who served as a rov, was among the founders of the large beis knesses on Rechov Allenby in Tel Aviv. His son Aharon wound up on a kibbutz, gained political momentum and served as a government minister for several years.

Aharon Tzizling's son Uri, a dairy worker at Kibbutz Ein- Charod Meuchad, continued along the same path, but Uri's son Yiftach wound up following his great-grandfather's way of life instead. When one of Yiftach's friends did teshuvoh, Yiftach, who had studied acting, decided to produce a movie about his friend's teshuvoh process. As part of his background work, Yiftach went to the Torah center in Tel Aviv where HaRav Moshe Frank gives his weekly shiur. Like many others, he took a peek and got hooked.

From there, the road to Yeshivas Ohr Somayach was not a long one, and a few years later he joined the ranks of avreichim in Rechasim.

Over 20 years after leaving the kibbutz, he now returns once a week to deliver a shiur to five regular participants, bringing to fruition a vision of Acharis Hayomim.

The Chief Instigator

Ophir Bashur is also on his way to the world of Judaism, although in his case the process is going much slower. "I do not impose anything on myself from the outside, and if I feel I need to do something, to add to what I already do, I do not hesitate," he says. "I am going through slower processes."

How do your friends from the kibbutz react to the shiur held on kibbutz premises?

"There are reactions in both directions. Some say it interests them greatly and others are very wary."

Why are they wary?

"It's no secret that there are some people at the kibbutz who are afraid of a wave of teshuvoh since this is not exactly in keeping with kibbutz ways."

Do you think anything remains of the kibbutz ideology?

"Not much remains, but there are people who want to live in this kind of community and they are afraid that someone who does teshuvoh cannot live on a kibbutz. Not that there is no room for people who do teshuvoh but because they themselves would not want to live in non-religious surroundings, and [if the young leave] the strength of the youths on the kibbutz gets lost. There are also parents who don't want to lose ties with their children if they do teshuvoh."

Is there alienation between parents and children who do teshuvoh?

"At a certain stage it becomes very difficult, even in basic aspects of the tie between parents and children such as visits on Shabbat."

And what is your own opinion on the chozrim beteshuvoh, as someone in the midst of this blessed process?

"What do I think? I have no problem with it. You have no idea, but at the kibbutz they claim I am the chief instigator . . . "

They're Scared

According to HaRav Moshe Frank, whose weekly shiur in Tel Aviv prompted Gil Brand's teshuvoh, he and HaRav Ben-Porat went to the kibbutz to deliver lectures on Jewish topics. Gil and some of his friends posted large notices announcing the lectures, and dozens of kibbutz members arrived. One of the lectures drew 60 people.

But when the kibbutz leaders "came to their senses" they quickly asked the organizers to keep a lower profile. Nearly pleading, the Kibbutz Secretary said, "You'll have the whole kibbutz doing teshuvoh." Now the spiritual activities at the kibbutz have been reduced to the two weekly shiurim.

"Did you notice while you were staying at Ein-Charod that the walkways were almost empty?" HaRav Frank asks me. "The kibbutznikim were afraid of you. They stayed home and kept to themselves."

Although the walkways had been mostly deserted, during a Shabbos night stroll on one of the central walk ways we met one of the local couples. Sure the kibbutznikim had no inkling what Shabbos is, we wished them a good evening. But without missing a beat they replied, "Shabbat shalom."

Apparently the kibbutznikim of today are not the kibbutznikim of yesteryear. They used to hate us and fight against Judaism, turning many children away from the faith. But now the ideology has died and the ideologues of the kibbutz movement are no longer among the living. Due to this ideological void, they are worried that observant Jews might induce them to do teshuvoh.

HaRav Ben-Porat: "The kibbutzim have an outstanding stratum of good people, instilled with an idea whose time has passed, and if they were to receive just a bit of the light of Torah they would do teshuvoh immediately. They once hated and scorned us, but today they are mostly afraid of us. I can see this in my lectures, shiurim and conversations with kibbutznikim. They have no concept of Judaism, they don't know how to `resist' Judaism, and if they meet a chareidi Jew who tries to talk to them about Judaism they are simply afraid of him. This is also the reason why there was a fear of the lectures and shiurim at the kibbutz and we had to keep a lower profile."

Gil Brand is certain he is far from being the last kibbutznik from Ein-Charod to do teshuvoh. He says there are a few who have already taken steps in the right direction and, as in the past, more and more will follow in their footsteps. Perhaps the beis knesses at Ein-Charod will soon be more active, and who knows, perhaps in the not-too-distant future Ein-Charod, one of the first of the kibbutzim, will become the first kibbutz to boast a yeshiva of its own.

Schism at Ein-Charod

To this day, members of both Kibbutz Ein-Charod Ichud and Kibbutz Ein-Charod Meuchad avoid delving into the reason behind the schism many years ago—a harsh debate over Stalinist socialism on the question of whether Stalin was indeed "the sun of the nations."

Yair Benari, a longstanding kibbutz member who attends the weekly Gemora shiur at the kibbutz, was reluctant to recount the dark chapter in the history of Ein-Charod, but he summarized the schism in two words: "Sinas chinom."

There is little documented material about the period of the split, but we did come across the introduction to a final paper written by a high-school student from Jerusalem, Uri Benari, who has several relatives living on the kibbutz.

"I was always curious why there are two Ein-Charod kibbutzim," he writes. "I knew there had been a break in the past, but not more than that. When I first spoke about this project with my relatives, I discovered there was a disinclination to speak about the topic. My mother told me it was a painful issue and when I called Michael Adam, a distant relative of mine who lives at Ein-Charod who went through the schism while in high school, he exhibited a certain resistance to the idea of me starting the study. Even when I called the kibbutz archive I encountered total opposition: I was told the archive is not open to the general public for this matter. Apparently they were afraid of sensationalist works that would contain more piquant gossip than genuine historical research."

The two kibbutzim were originally a single kibbutz founded in 1921 at the base of the Gilboa Mountains near a spring called Ein-Charod. Nine years later the kibbutz was moved eastward to the foot of Komi Hill. The founders of the kibbutz were 35 members of the Work Brigade who were joined by immigrants from the Second Aliya and Third Aliya.

A dispute encompassing most Kibbutz Movement kibbutzim arrived at Ein-Charod in 1952, even splitting families. One year later, a segment of the kibbutz members left to set up a new settlement that belonged to the Union of Associations and Kibbutzim (Ichud). The original kibbutz remained in its place under the Joint Kibbutz Movement (Meuchad). And thus two kibbutzim formed: Kibbutz Ein-Charod Meuchad and Kibbutz Ein- Charod Ichud.

Years later, when the United Kibbutz Movement was formed, the two kibbutzim both joined. Although each maintained distinct social and economic identities, they cooperated in the areas of education and culture. Today as well, they remain two separate kibbutzim.

The schism between the two kibbutzim also led to different political alignments. While the members of Ein-Charod Ichud identified with Mapai the members of Ein-Charod Meuchad identified with Achdut Ha'avoda, which adopted a more radical stance. Today the majority of residents at both kibbutzim support left-wing parties. Even Shinui barely received 10 percent of the vote at the two kibbutzim in the last elections while Labor and Meretz won a total of 75 percent of votes at Ein-Charod Meuchad. 65 percent went to Labor and 9 percent went to Am Echad at Ein-Charod Ichud. The Likud and HaIchud HaLeumi received 12 percent of the vote at each of the kibbutzim.

The elections results also contained a surprise: United Torah Judaism won two votes at Ein-Charod Meuchad. Since the Knesset votes are by secret ballot, the identity of the two voters remains unknown, although the name of at least one of them appears in this article . . .

The Speech at Yad Eliyahu

Fifteen years have gone by since Rabbenu Hagodol HaRav Shach, zt"l gave his famous speech at Yad Eliyahu in Tel Aviv.

It was on the eve of Shimon Peres' attempt to set up a new government after the Shamir government was toppled in 5750 (1990). HaRav Shach cried out with a voice tinged with pain, to thousands of listeners at the stadium and to tens of thousands more around the country via live broadcast. "Today we find children who do not know how to explain the meaning of `Zechor es yom haShabbos lekadsho.' There are kibbutzim that do not know what Yom Kippur is, what Shabbos is, what a mikveh is. They have no concept of Judaism and eat rabbits and pigs. Do they have any connection to their forefathers? And is there any [hope of] revival for such a kibbutz? Did their forefathers eat on Yom Kippur as well? If there is no Shabbos observance and no Yom Kippur, in what way are they Jews?"

The speech set off a great storm. Broadcast during peak hours, almost every household in Israel heard. At the home of the Kish Family at Kibbutz Ein-Charod Ichud, Yair and Shay Kish listened intently and HaRav Shach's words stuck a chord deep inside. The two brothers secretly began to keep mitzvas, laying tefillin and reciting brochos before eating. Their father, R' Yonoson Binyomin, followed suit.

"I would do nettilas yodayim before meals in full view of the kibbutz members," recounts R' Yonoson Kish, whose story has been published in many places. Soon his two sons found themselves in the halls of Torah. Today, R' Shay Yisroel lives in Rechasim, R' Yair lives in Jerusalem's Neveh Tzvi neighborhood and their father lives in Bayit Vegan. During the day, he works as a volunteer for Yad Sarah and in the afternoon and evening hours he attends shiurei Torah.

"I was very moved by Gil Brand's wedding," says R' Yonoson Kish. "I was at the wedding and I really wanted to go to the Shabbos Sheva Brochos to see the unbelievable, the members of the yeshiva conquering the kibbutz walkways." Kish, who did teshuvoh at a relatively advanced age, says that when he and his sons later visited Maran HaRav Shach, Rabbenu was very moved to see the family's big change.

At Gil Brand's Shabbos Sheva Brochos was a certain avreich who didn't seem to belong to the visiting group. A brief inquiry revealed him to be none other than Shay Kish. During Sholosh Seudos he did not hide his excitement at the sight of the dozens of yeshiva students spending Shabbos at the kibbutz. Twenty years earlier nobody would have ever imagined such a thing.

"Look what has happened," he said. "There were a few ground breakers at first who took the right step by coming to the halls of Torah. Today this continues, and those who are largely responsible for this small revolution at Ein-Charod are the former kibbutz residents who did teshuvoh."

Coming Full Circle

Mrs. Ayala Rotenberg, author of Dapim Shel Etmol, got very excited when she heard the talmidim from Yeshivas Ashrei Ho'ish planned to spend Shabbos at Kibbutz Ein-Charod. For her, coming to the place that was the emblem of tumoh for decades was a moving event in and of itself, and an opportunity to come full circle.

Her late husband R' Yosef Yitzchok Rotenberg was the son of the rov of Antwerp before World War II. After the Germans were defeated, R' Rotenberg rebuilt the kehilloh from the ruins, building botei knesses, talmudei Torah, yeshivas and Jewish schools, and he soon emerged as the head of the city's Jewish community.

When the Ponovezher Rav would travel to Belgium on fundraising trips, he would stay at the Rotenberg home. Before Mrs. Rotenberg married, while living in Eretz Yisroel, she served as an Agudas Yisroel guidance counselor and activist at several transport camps for the Children of Teheran. "For me Ein-Charod was a symbol of tumoh," she recalls. "I went through war with the Children of Teheran. In Israel after they arrived, the leaders decided that children over the age of 14 could decide for themselves where they wanted to live and what way of life they wanted to pursue. We counselors were brought to all of the left-wing kibbutzim and we saw how they influenced the children, luring them in and inducing them to give up their religion."

In the following years, she often heard the speeches and talks given by the Ponovezher Rov zt"l, such as the famous speech about the children of Ein-Charod and Nahalal. "I was thrilled to hear HaRav Ben-Porat was going with the yeshiva students to Ein-Charod. During the period of the Children of Teheran, Ein-Charod was one of the most radical kibbutzim — even more extreme than the infamous Kibbutz Mizra, which incited against the children and their religion. Therefore I really wanted to come and see for myself the spiritual revolution taking place at this kibbutz, and I was very happy to hear about the members of the kibbutz who have done teshuvoh and those who are on the way."

Mrs. Rotenberg recounts a meeting between the Ponovezher Rav and one of the national leaders who said defiantly, "Warsaw and Lodz were destroyed, but Ein-Charod is alive and flourishing." Said the Ponovezher Rav, "I hope that at Ein- Charod a beis knesses will be built and they'll have to open a yeshiva there."

This vision has begun to come true, says Mrs. Rotenberg, "and I have come to see this spiritual revolution firsthand."


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