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Posted on Sustainabilitank.info on July 28th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (PJ@SustainabiliTank.com)

This is my second piece I write from Tel Aviv and it is a mere coincidence that I went to a second very special evening at the Cameri Cafe.

This evening was called “A Land of Israel Love Story” and it covers events that stretched from 1942 (the Nazi time in Europe) – till 1948 (the War of Independence that the Arabs forced on the beautiful ideologues of the just born Israel – after the Declaration of Independence.)

I watched the 290-th time this one actress show was being performed. The actress was Adi Bielsky and she was marvelous – playing both roles – the girl Margalit Zefoni and the man Ami Ben Avraham and little I knew that these names were made up and that in effect real giants were hiding behind those names. (Adi Belsky was the winner of the “Actress of the Year” prise of the Israel “Fringe” theater 2008).

This play has already toured the UK where it also participated at the Leeds festival. Now it is scheduled for Canada – starting in Montreal.

I found out about the play from Cameri theater people who said – go see it and you will see how that Fogra of Hanoch Levin was born to people that indeed were much nicer then her – and created her like their image of the Israeli Sabra born with the longed- for State like the marble Venus/Aphrodite was born from the clean foam of the sea.

To jump the gun – let me add right here that I found out at the end of the play that the young man was the real Eli Ben Zvi {“Upon returning to Palestine in 1918, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi married Rahel Yanait. They had two sons: Amram and Eli. Eli died in Arab-Israeli War, defending his kibbutzBeit Keshet.}  Yitzhak Ben-Zvi was to be Israel’s second President, a person as clean as they ever were – see please - en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yitzhak_Ben… – the Eli in the play was his son. Please more about that magic time: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yitzhak_Ben…

Pnina Gary, who is the Margalit Zefoni of the play, is the real person that at age 16, in a bus trip to Jerusalem, with another two girls from her village NAHALAL, happened to sit behind Eli Ben Zvi and Rachel Yanait, his mother. That was in 1942 and destined to become a true love story in which the young folks were the best the State on the move had in its treasury as potential sacrifices for creation. These were people full of life – sons and daughters of those that came with the Second Aliya – the imigrants from Czarist Russia. Some served in the Czar’s army, others came from universities – all ended up in agriculture – in an historical event to create a new ethnic Jew who lives from the land – the land they very fast came to love and were ready to any sacrifice needed to allow the community to prosper.

Pnina Gary, clear calculus based on Margalit, was born in 1929 to a father who served the Czar and was having his cows in Nahalal in the immediate vicinity of the house of famed Moshe Dayan, later Israeli General, and his wife Ruth.

Eli Ben Zvi, son of the future President – in effect the first real Israeli President in-house President – as the first one was Professor Haim Weizmann who became President When Professor Albert Einstein declined, and the Israelis thought that with a strong Prime Minister (Ben Gurion) it will suffice having a figurehead known World Jewish person for President.

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Born in Poltava in the Russian Empire (today in Ukraine), Ben-Zvi was the eldest son of Zvi Shimshelevitz, who later took the name Shimshi. Shimshi was a leading Zionist activist and one of the organizers of the first Zionist Congress in 1897. In 1952, he was honored by the first Israeli Knesset with the title “Father of the State of Israel.”

Ben-Zvi was active in the Jewish self-defense units organized in Ukraine to defend Jews during the pogroms of 1905, and joined the Poale Zion Zionist political party. He was a representative in the Zionist Congress of 1907, and it was there that he first met Israel Shochat. Ben-Zvi emigrated to Mandate Palestine that same year, and settled in Jaffa. “Bar-Giora“, the clandestine precursor to Hashomer, was created in his apartment in 1907. In 1909, he organized the Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem together with Rachel Yanait.

Following his studies at Galatasaray Lisesi in Constantinople, from 1912 to 1914 Ben-Zvi studied law at Istanbul University, together with the future Israeli prime minister David Ben-Gurion. They returned to Palestine in August 1914, but were expelled by the Ottoman authorities in 1915. The two of them moved to New York City, where they engaged in Zionist activities and founded the HeHalutz (Pioneer) movement there. Together, they also wrote the Yiddish book The Land of Israel Past and Present to promote the Zionist cause among American Jewry.

Upon returning to Palestine in 1918, Ben-Zvi married Yanait. They had two sons: Amram and Eli. Eli died in Arab-Israeli War, defending his kibbutzBeit Keshet.

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It took years for the push by Margalit to manage and pursue her beloved Ami, though we later learn that when his mother asked him after the bus trip, which of the girls he liked best – he said already then – Margalit.  Margalit dedicated her life, normally, to whatever was needed those days – to be a children’s nursery supervisor or later a certified nurse. In the meantime, following his family,  Ami was to be a leader of equals – eventually among the founders of the Beit Keshet Kibbutz. Now, Margalit came from a communal village where there was private property, but her Ami was with the Kibbutz where if you got a radio as present from outside the community – that radio will tour among all members – no private property here.

Eventually, 1948, the State was declared by the UN and Ami knew that this meant war with all Arab States. This like Zefoni, the father of Margalit, knew that when Hitler’s forces surrendered in 1945, this just showed him that Hitler won because all his relatives in East Europe were lost. Ami, or Eli, got killed in Beit Keshet on the eve of the wedding in Nahalal between him and Pnina – a wedding that was moved forward by the suggestion of Rachel Yanait Ben Zvi because she knew that war will brake out.

We see on the stage that while the coffins of Ami and the other martyrs are brought to the village, Margalit, in the privacy of her room puts on the wedding dress. Later we hear of her getting a letter from Rahel Yanait in which she is told that whatever will happen in her life, she can always know that she can count on her as well. Pnina Gary still cherishes that letter.

I found out that A.B. Yehoshua, one of the most important writers in Israel, and a fellow class mate of mine at the Rehavia School in Jerusalem, that was started by Yitzhack Ben Zvi and Rachel Yanait, said having seen the play: “When the tears in your eyes and your throut closes on you, you understand the power of the creators of this show – the identity card of the beautiful Israel!”

About Nahalal – that is the village that created much of the aristocracy of Israel revival. A few years ago, at the 80-th birthday of Amikam Gurewitch, his wife Tova, daughter Nirit (little flower), and son Ittay, organized in Tel Aviv, I saw some of those that are still among us – from Nahalal and from the Agricultural School (College) Caduri. Eli Ben Zvi and many youngsters from Nahalal were among the graduates – Amikam Gurewitch was among them.

This Friday night I hope to see Amikam and will ask for his comments to this article. I expect another reaction like where are those old golden days today while you see now the demonstrations on the Rothschild Boulevard and the present social lavines in the Israeli Society?

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I received the following from Pnina Gary and thought it makes for an appropriate addition.

an Israeli Love Story by Pnina Gary

It all started from a ‘Roots’ project my grandson had to write in sixth grade. I told him about my  adolescent years in Nahalal, the moshav in the Jezrael Valley (Emek Israel) where I was born and raised. Afterwards, his essay was read out in class and his classmates didn’t believe that was how life had really been. The disparity between the values on which we were raised on the moshav, and those of my grandson’s city friends, was so vast that I decided it was important to tell them more about what happened here in the beginning.

“I told him the story of my youth, from 1942 to 1948, and then I also wrote the story as a monodrama, the best way I could express myself, “but I buried it in a drawer. It was a privet story  and I didn’t have the courage to release it. It was only after the Second Lebanon War, when two stories closely resembling mine were suddenly published, that I thought to myself, this is not just my personal story. It is the story of almost  every one of us.  I wanted to erect a modest monument to commemorate those wonderful young men who were really and truly prepared to die so that the State of Israel could be born.

“This play is dedicated to the memory of my friend  Eli Ben-Zvi [son of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the second president of the State of Israel],  He was a Palmachnik (a member of the Palmach – the unofficial army of the Jewish settlement in pre-state Israel) and a member of Kibbutz Beit Keshet, who was killed in the War of Independence in 1948. The monodrama tells the story of how we met and fell in love, and how he died a few days before we were to be married.”

When my soldier-grandson saw the play, he asked somewhat cynically: ‘Grandma, were there only ‘good people’ in those days?’ Of course not. There were ‘draft dodgers’ then, too, and there was a black market. But the people I knew, the generation of the first pioneers, their sons and daughters,  members of the youth movements,  and of the Palmach,   I remember as being like that. I wasn’t exaggerating.”

Pnina  G

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