In Israel, the phrase, “It’s good to die for our country” is associated with one particular person, one date, and one place. Legend has it that these were the final words of Joseph Trumpeldor on the 11th of Adar, in Tel Hai, which at the time of his death in 1920 was a remote Jewish outpost in the far north of what would become the modern state of Israel. On March 21st, the Gregorian date corresponding this year to the 11th of Adar, members of our movement went up to Tel Hai, both to commemorate the pioneers who defended the site and the heroic battle that took place on that date as well as to proclaim that “it’s good to live for our country” and for a life filled with hope and peace.
The event was organized by several members of our movement who live in the upper Galilee under the leadership of Einat Luzati from Kibbutz Baram. She was joined by Malka Blustein, Aura Hammer, Orit Rosenblit, Daria Arbel, Chaya Dagan, Olga Barel, and Angela Yintian. Despite the forecast for rain, we had an unspoiled view of Galilee greenery on a perfect spring day.
We began with a ceremony in memory of Trumpeldor and his comrades near the Roaring Lion Monument erected in 1934 in their honor. The event was moderated by Einat Luzati and featured the following speakers: Batia Guy from Kibbutz Giladi [within which Tel Hai is now situated] and the former director of the haShomer [the Guardians] Museum and curator of the Path of the Speaking Stones [a walking path west of Tel Hai featuring stone and bronze sculptures]; Michal Paneth-Peleg; Dr. Yael Admi; Dafna Abrahams from Kibbutz Amiad who is active in the advancement of equal rights and women’s freedom of choice; and Ortal Be’eri from Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch, involved in WWP’s Younger Women’s group. In between we listened to a girls’ chorus (made up of Adi, Shiraz, Inbar, Mikah, Ori, and their teacher Sivan Nave Deri) as well as danced and sang along as Ofer Gavish from Kibbutz Yiftach played his guitar.
After the ceremony we hiked along the Path of the Wounded to the Courtyard of Tel Hai, which was restored in accordance with the design of the original structures built over a century ago. We convened in this historic courtyard for a panel entitled “Beginning in Tel Hai and Still Hai [alive],” under the guidance of Orit Rosenblit from Metula and with the participation of Tuffaha Saba, Saviona Rotlevy, Yifah Amit-Schleyer and Moriah Shlomot.
Orit Rosenblit, whose research is related to Jewish culture, spoke about the importance of the spiritual strength of women throughout generations and about their role in the history of the Jewish people. In regard to the women at the beginning of the Book of Exodus (Moses’ sister Miriam, their mother, Pharaoh’s daughter), it is written in the Talmud: “By virtue of righteous women, Israel went out from Egypt.” For it is women who emphasize [the importance of] uniting in thought and [demonstrating] mutual responsibility
Tuffaha Saba, a lecturer at Tel Hai College and advisor to Arab students at its Center for Peace and Democracy, spoke of feeling a different kind of ‘peripheral’ [in Israeli culture, periphery has a connotation of ‘backwater’] ; she spoke of feeling foreign. When she leaves home in the morning from Isfiya [a Druze village and local council in northern Israel], she feels as if she doesn’t have a country – feels alienated in terms of land, citizenship and Israeli culture. It’s an experience of total alienation for her and therefore she has a major identity issue. She doesn’t feel Israeli; but on the other hand, as both a secular woman and a feminist, she senses her lack of belonging to Arab society.
Saviona Rotlevy, a retired judge and vice president of the District Court in Tel Aviv, referred to Tuffaha’s remarks and noted that she also has been focussing lately on questions of identity and alienation. Saviona recounted childhood experiences that shaped her political awareness. Today she holds onto the hope that many women in Israel, both Jewish and Arab, are putting aside political differences and uniting in order to struggle together for [a livable] life here. Saviona remarked, “Ironically enough [despite this site’s association with death and our movement’s with life; its association with building a Jewish future and ours with building a shared future], here in Tel Hai it’s important to emphasize that we are part of a chain. Deborah Drechler, a member of [the youth movement] haShomer, met her death here in the courtyard of Tel Hai. She led a ‘women’s revolt’ against the men who excluded the women from matters of security and defense of the outpost. In their petition, the women of Tel Hai wrote: ‘If we have indeed been [your] partners in the work [of settling the land] day in and day out for years on end, we will be your partners in every sense. No gathering can take place without us; no secrets may be kept from us.’ With the understanding that what unites women is not only the experience of motherhood but also that of representing good judgment and common sense against the march of folly that advocates only the use of force. The fact is that we [the State of Israel] are the strongest regional power and yet we have no security. More planes, more submarines, more fences and walls will not bring us security…”
The last stop on this busy day was at the plaza next to the shopping area in Kiryat Shmoneh where we set up, late in the afternoon, our dialogue tent around which an open gathering took place with women, men, and young people on the subject of peace, hope, and an agreement. The tent was set up and staffed by Daria Arbel, Yael Admi, and Aura Hammer.
It’s possible that the alternative ceremony we established this year on the 11th of Adar 5776 [the current year as reckoned in the Jewish calendar] will become a tradition and that next year it will attract hundreds of participants – both members of the movement as well as residents of the communities, towns and cities of the Galilee