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Joyful Mother Of Children: Part 3

Youth Aliyah Under Henrietta Szold
By Marian G. Greenberg


Vocational Training

German Jewish parents, conditioned to "Berufsaubildung," [apprenticeships] clamored for vocational training. Although Miss Szold was convinced that "Palestinian children with a general agricultural training are better fitted to earn a livelihood than those who have received specialized training," she supported the building of Ludwig Tietz Trade School for Boys near Kibbutz Yagur. The school, which opened in early 1937 with an enrollment of 60 (later increased to 150), provided a thorough three year course in carpentry, forge, lock and tin-smithing. Its graduates gave an excellent account of themselves in the army, settlements, and workshops.

Training of Madrichim

A unique composite of teacher, leader, counselor, and friend is embodied in the Youth Aliyah madrich. The first groups of adolescents were accompanied by their leaders, who had shared their preparation camp experience in Germany and who served as liaison between the youth and the host-settlement. The latter furnished madrichim to instruct the youth in theoretical studies and practical agriculture.
Soon the need for more formal training of madrichim was recognized. The office of madrich, Miss Szold wrote,

requires not only knowledge and special training, but he must possess a many-sided, warm, and responsive personality. We have attempted to supply the forces needed by arranging seminars; but we have practically come to the conclusion to establish a permanent institute for the training of madrichim. (Two were set up in 1945.)

The madrich was assisted in his work by others who together formed a "college of workers." The numbers in each category varied with the size of the settlement; but the group usually comprised, in addition to the madrich, the youth leader, the house-mother (who supervised physical needs and hygiene), the organizer of work, and two or more representatives of the settlement. .

Problem Cases

Compared with the extent and the character of a refugee immigra¬tion, the proportion of maladjustments was small (about two percent of 4,300 in the first five years). But to Miss Szold a difficult case was not a statistic. She indited scores of letters to the Jugendhilfe, detailing every instance of miss-sent baggage, discontented children, planning failures in Berlin, and reception flaws in Palestine. She bore down with equal vigor upon the passing through of misfits from abroad and upon avoidable slow-downs of building schedules in settlements. She met with sanitary officials, contractors, and housekeeping staff to check on the timely performance of commitments.

Her office handled requests for transfers, whether on political, personal, or religious grounds. Illness and accident - often requiring expensive re-training for less strenuous callings - cut deeply into the maintenance budget. She engaged a psychoanalyst from Vienna to tackle the problem of sexual education - "a field which has lain com¬pletely barren in Palestine since the madrichim were not prepared to deal with it."

Clothing and Equipment

Anticipating that the first few years of plenty would be consumed by later years of famine, Hadassah began to supply clothing and equip¬ment. The European Committees, particularly those in Sweden and Holland, dispatched vast quantities of garments until the war halted such operations. By 1938 Miss Szold lamented:

The problem of equipment has become one of the most serious connected with the Youth Aliyah undertaking. At the beginning our candidates arrived with the most necessary articles of clothing and bedding. At present they come bare of even the most primitive necessities in the way of clothing and shoes, and especially without adequate bedcovers.

For Henrietta Szold the prompt outfitting of newcomers with new clothes (not hand-me-downs or cast-offs) was a principle. It sym¬bolized the complete break with refugeeism - its herding and harass¬ment - and the recognition of each child as an individual entitled to self-esteem and the respect of others. Dressed like a sabra (native-born Palestinian) he felt like a sabra - a builder in Zion who was needed and who belonged to a proud and stalwart people. Clothes helped make the man.


As the two year training period of the first groups drew to a close, plans for their future became the chief concern of the Youth Aliyah administrators, the host settlements, and the youth itself. Would these young people, most of whom came from comfortable and urbanized homes, elect the tough struggle of full-time farm labor? Had the two years of work and study under the tender tutelage of kibbutz leaders and madrichim prepared them for striking out on their own?
Strenuous as the conditioning may have seemed, it was child's play compared with the challenge of joining forces with other young folks to found a new settlement or to improve a primitive location. Great was the general elation, therefore, when the very first group trained in Ein Harod decided to stay together and, with young Palestinians (Noar Haoved), to settle in Sheikh Abrek (1936). Later on the group moved across the road "to its present terrain to which it gave the name 'Alonim' (Oaks)."

That name looms large in Youth Aliyah history, not only as the pioneer first-born of graduate settlements but as host, in turn, to other immigrant youth. Alonim was among the first to welcome urban groups and to demonstrate that the absorbed could become the absorbers.

But not all - nor indeed the majority - of two-year graduates were prepared for the responsibilities and exertions of independent life. To ease them over an abrupt and harsh transition, the village elders often suggested a third year of more intensive and specialized training. How did Miss Szold deal with the young graduates who do not join the kibbutz but go to the cities to engage in urban occupations?

Formerly we took the position that such individuals must shift for them¬selves; today we are not prepared to run the risk of having our boys and girls lose their hold upon a well ordered life.

What lay behind Henrietta Szold's assumption of a continued respon¬sibility toward Youth Aliyah's former wards? Statistically, the move¬ment was a phenomenal success. By August 1938 thirteen new labor groups had been formed, wholly or in part, by Youth Aliyah graduates. Nevertheless Miss Szold entertained doubts as to "whether we had been as successful as our statistics imply in training our wards for agricultural life."
A study of the first 2,000 graduates revealed that 74 per cent had gone to collective settlements and 10 per cent to smallholders' villages. But she was concerned about the 13.9 per cent who had sought work in the towns.

The figure confirms the opinion that I have held almost from the begin¬ning of our undertaking that we are not justified in putting all our can¬didates into agricultural life. A number had acquired skills abroad which we have no right to disregard in continuing their education.

The study also reinforced Miss Szold's conviction that practically all Youth Aliyah graduates needed financial assistance to "ease their first steps into the jungle of independent living." The plugoth avodah (labor groups) required advances until they could find enough outside work to earn their own keep. When these young folks were ready to establish garinim (embryonic kvutzoth), the support given by the national funds had to be supplemented with additional loans for equipment.
Eddie Cantor, who gave and raised close to a half million dollars for the Youth Aliyah, designated part of his collections for the Eddie Cantor Loan Fund for Graduates. And Hadassah in 1940 created a revolving loan fund of $80,000 in honor of Henrietta Szold's eightieth birthday.

Not until 1944 was a Stipend Fund inaugurated to relieve the general Youth Aliyah budget of some of its outlays to individuals who "felt the urge of self-fulfillment in art, music, teaching, or a general edu¬cation." Miss Szold's devotion to the overriding aim of preparing immi¬grant youth for rural living did not diminish her concern for the adjustment of the individual - the non-conformist, the gifted, the backward, and the wayward.

Children's Aliyah

After the November 1938 pogroms the Yishuv (Jewish Community of Palestine) offered to receive 10,000 children of all ages into their institutions and homes. But the expectation of a mass children's immi¬gration was not realized. By 1941 about 900 younger children had found refuge in the Jewish Homeland.

Far more significant than numbers was the wider application by the British Government of the institutional principle for the admission of younger children. It will be recalled that rural schools - such as Ben Shemen, Ahavah, and Mikveh Israel - were from the beginning entitled to apply for certificates independently of the Youth Aliyah schedule. Now urban and other institutions opened up a new avenue of escape.

Date: 3/16/2011 12:00:00 AM

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