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January 3: The Mother of the Israeli Collective

Lawrence Bush
January 3, 2017
Manya Shochat (1880-1961), who founded the collective settlement movement in Palestine that would evolve into the kibbutz, arrived in the land from the Russian Empire on this date in 1904. She had already been imprisoned by tsarist police for her political activities, and had undergone jailhouse indoctrination by a confederate of the secret police who turned her away from radical politics, which led her to create the Jewish Independent Labor Party, an alternative to the Jewish Labor Bund. When her party collapsed after the Kishinev Pogrom in 1903, she “couldn’t see what direction I should take in my life,” and responded to an invitation from her elder brother to explore some of Palestine’s wild areas. Shochat fell in love with Palestine, married a man who would become a founder of Israel’s air force (Israel Shochat), became an Orthodox Jew, convinced Baron Rothschild to contribute 50,000 francs for armaments for Jews living in the land, oversaw the delivery of guns and ammunition (she shot a Russian police agent in the course of her smuggling), co-founded the League for Arab-Jewish Friendship in 1930, and helped establish the first successful Jewish cooperative in the lower Galilee. She was also a cofounder of HaShomer, a self-defense organization. She died in Tel Aviv in 1961. “In 1921 Mania Shochat was sent to the United States as a member of a Histadrut delegation in order to encourage American investment in the Histadrut’s new Workers’ Bank (Bank Hapoalim). Surreptitiously, however, she was also hoping to raise large amounts of money toward the purchase of weapons for the Haganah, the paramilitary organization of the Histadrut.” --Tamar Kaplan Appel, Jewish Women’s Archive

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.