The Search for Meaning Continues: When Viktor Frankl Returns to the Bestseller Lists

In late-1945, Viktor Frankl faced the broken shell that remained of his life: Though he had survived the Nazi concentration camps, he had lost the love of his life, the baby she carried in her womb, his professional status, and the manuscript of his book. He needed to start over. But was that even possible? His answer was an unequivocal - yes

Viktor Frankl with his second wife Eleonore

How does a foreign book – featuring an old-fashioned cover design, written almost eighty years ago in Austria – end up on the bestseller lists in Israel in 2023?

Viktor Frankl, who wrote the book in question (and many others after) would perhaps answer that people are always looking for meaning, no matter what century they are born in or the horrors they are required to face.

Viktor Emil Frankl was born in fashionable and enlightened Vienna in the early 20th century. Already at the age of three or four, he told his father that he wanted to be a doctor and treat people. Within a few years, he had decided that being a physician wasn’t enough for him. Viktor wanted to focus on mental health – psychiatry.

Elsa and Gabriel, Viktor Frankl’s parents. Picture courtesy of the Viktor Frankl Institut.

His surroundings couldn’t have been more perfect for such a choice: Vienna was the Mecca of psychiatry and psychotherapy at the time. The Viennese educational and research institutions were among the world’s most advanced, and the city was full of well-known practitioners, academics and scientists. Frankl studied with students of Sigmund Freud, and even shared correspondence with Freud himself, to such an extent that when they finally met in person, the father of psychoanalysis shook his hand and asked: “Viktor Frankl, Vienna, 6 Chernin Street, door 25, correct?”

But the city was only the setting; Frankl himself was talented, hardworking, and full of great ideas and an even greater faith in the human soul. He was also a gracious speaker, and at the age of 15 he delivered his first speech, entitled – pretentious as it was for a boy of his age – “On the Meaning of Life”.

Frankl was a resounding and speedy success. He wasn’t yet 20 years old when he published his first paper (with the encouragement of Freud, who later came out against his ideas), and he was barely 25 when he received his first doctorate. It was around this time that he started formulating his own therapeutical approach – Logotherapy, or meaning-based psychotherapy (the name is derived from the Greek word “logos,” defined as “meaning”).

Logotherapy was later called “the third Viennese school of psychotherapy”, preceded by Freud’s psychoanalysis and Alfred Adler’s individual psychology.

Adler himself, who was initially an ardent supporter of this up-and-coming talent, was unimpressed with Frank’s new independent ideas and literally threw him out of the “Society for Individual Psychology,” which he headed.

But that didn’t hurt Frankl. In fact, he became famous in Europe and throughout the world in his own right and was invited to give lectures at leading academic institutions – lectures that filled halls with enthusiastic students and researchers.

Frankl would correspond with famous figures from the fields of philosophy and medicine. A letter to Martin Buber, which he signed: “With a special greeting and sincere appreciation”. The Martin Buber Archive at the National Library of Israel

This description might bring to mind a terrifyingly serious boy and later, young man, who spent all of his time poring over thick tomes and cut off from the world, but that image is a far cry from the vivacious and loving character that was the young Viktor Frankl.

His lectures were so sought after, not only because of his ideas and innovative research, but also because he knew how to explain his theories in a clear, simple manner and was able to pepper the dry information with subtle humor.

Frankl’s personal charm also helped him with the opposite sex. He recounts in his memoirs how he used his position as a young lecturer to attract the women he liked: He’d tell them about “this Frankl fellow” who gave lectures, and then offer to accompany them to the popular scholar’s next lecture. It’s easy to imagine the women’s admiration at seeing the man who had escorted them suddenly walk on stage, to the sound of rapturous applause.

In the meantime, the Nazis had annexed Austria. Frankl, who was an ardent supporter of the Austrian Zionist movement, needed to keep a low profile. He could no longer use the title “Doctor”, which was denied to Jews, and he was forced to close down the private clinic he had opened less than a year earlier.

In 1940, when he was 35 years old, Frankl was appointed director of the neurological department at Rothschild Hospital in Vienna, a Jewish institution. Although he risked his life in doing so, he gave patients false psychiatric diagnoses in order to prevent the Nazis from executing or imprisoning the mentally ill.

Despite his promising academic and social status, it was clear that as a Jew, Frankl’s future wasn’t bright. The Americans opened their gates to him, even as they remained closed to many others, but he chose to stay in Vienna with his elderly parents who weren’t granted the desired visa.

Just then, when the future seemed like a looming black cloud, he met a nurse in the hospital named Tilly Grosser and fell deeply in love. They got married that year, and were the last Jewish couple allowed to officially wed in Nazi-controlled Vienna. But when Tilly became pregnant, the young couple had to give up their dreams of a family; pregnant Jews were immediately sent east, and Tilly had to have an abortion to save her life.

Years later, one of his books would be dedicated “to Harry, or to Marion. Children who were never born”.

Viktor and Tilly on their wedding day. Photo courtesy of the Viktor Frankl Institut

In September 1942, he was taken, along with Tilly, his parents, and the rest of their family, to the Theresienstadt Ghetto. There, using his skills as a doctor and psychiatrist, he developed psychological programs to alleviate the initial shock of the new prisoners and to prevent cases of suicide.

When his father was dying in his arms from lung disease, he chose compassion over survival, injecting him with the only dose of morphine he had managed to smuggle into the ghetto so that he could die in relative peace.

Two years after arriving at Theresienstadt, the Frankl family was boarded onto one of the transports heading east, to a camp people didn’t return from – Auschwitz.

During the last few moments before he was forced to part ways with his wife, he held her hands and told her in the sternest voice he could muster: “Tilly, stay alive at any cost. Do you hear me? At any cost!” It didn’t work. He never saw her again, but was sure until the end of his days that she was among the 17,000 prisoners who died in Bergen-Belsen (the camp where she apparently was held at the end of the war) just after liberation.

The Nazis took more than just his family. In the pocket of Frankl’s coat, which he had to give up upon arrival in the camp, was the almost complete manuscript of his first book on the fundamentals of Logotherapy – The Doctor and the Soul. He later said that on the same day that the manuscript was taken from him, he was given a different coat, the pocket of which contained a page torn out of a prayer book with the words of the prayer “Shema Yisrael” written on it. He took it as a sign that now was the time not only to formulate lofty ideas but also, and perhaps above all, to live by them.

The cover of the first edition of Man’s Search for Meaning, published in Vienna, 1946. It still appears in lists of must-read books to this day. The original title in German was Ein Psychologe erlebt das Konzentrationslager (“A Psychologist Experiences the Concentration Camp”)

There was little he could do for his wife Tilly, he could only think and dream about her. But when it came to his book, there was something practical Frankl could do. He continued to write throughout this period – mainly in his head, but also on small scraps of paper that he was able to obtain.

“I am convinced,” he later wrote, “that I owe my survival, among other things, to my decision to recreate this lost manuscript. I began working on it when I was sick with typhus and tried to stay awake, even at night, to prevent a collapse of my vascular system. On my 40th birthday, a prisoner gave me the end of a pencil that he stole almost miraculously, and also some papers from SS documents. On the back of these documents, I wrote down the titles of the chapters, which helped me recreate my book.”

From those chapter titles, and his experiences from that terrible time, he was able to compose a new book. Man’s Search for Meaning was written in Vienna right after the war, when for nine consecutive days, Frankl stood and spoke before several typists who were able to put the flow of his words into text.

The notes on which Frankl wrote the chapter titles for his book while in the concentration camp. Photo courtesy of the Viktor Frankl Institut

Frankl had developed his theory of Logotherapy before the war, but this book, published after years of wandering between concentration camps, was not the book he had originally planned. Now, in addition to his “dry” scientific theory, the book contained the story of his own survival in the concentration camps, an autobiographical story that served as a kind of case study for Logotherapy.

In the midst of the impossible routine inside the camps, Frankl tested his psychotherapeutic theory on himself and those around him. He found that the three main foundations upon which he had based the method of Logotherapy – the will to find meaning, the meaning of life, and freedom of will – were put to the most brutal test imaginable and withstood it.

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

― Viktor E. Frankl

Frankl argued that the people who survived weren’t the strongest or the most cheerful but rather those who had managed to find some meaning worth living for. “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how” may have been a saying of Nietzsche’s, but Frankl leant it some very practical meaning.

The result was a short book, barely 200 pages long, that sold more than 12 million copies and is considered by many to be one of the most influential books ever written.

With the end of the war and the gradual liberation of the concentration camps, Frankl returned to his hometown of Vienna, to the horrible discovery that his entire family, aside from his sister, had been murdered. Acting as a spectacular personal example – he rolled up his sleeves and set out to rebuild his life. In doing this, he kept in mind the greatest meaning his life could offer – “to help others find their meaning” – as he himself put it.

He got married again, to a nurse named Eleanore, and they had a daughter named Gabriel. This was a loving marriage between a practicing Jew and an equally practicing Christian. She went with him to synagogue, and he accompanied her to church.

Viktor Frankl with students in the U.S. Photo courtesy of The Viktor Frankl Institut

Ever since, Viktor Frankl’s ideas have spread throughout the world. He published around 40 books that have been translated into over 50 languages. He himself continued to live in Vienna until the end of his life but spent many years traveling long distances for lectures and meetings at every important academic institution across the globe.

The fact that Man’s Search for Meaning has again become a bestseller in Israel, precisely when we are in the midst of one of the most difficult and challenging times in the history of the state, shows more than anything how eternally relevant his ideas are.

Since he himself is not with us today to provide words of comfort and meaning, we have no choice but to find some solace in words he spoke in the past, in reference to other terrible events:

“What man actually needs is not a tensionless state but rather the striving and struggling for some goal worthy of him.”

The cover of the newest Hebrew edition of the book Man’s Search for Meaning – the edition that entered the bestsellers list in Israel in late 2023

The Be’eri Printing Press: Israel’s Print Shop

For over seventy years, Be'eri Printers – Kibbutz Be'eri's famous printing press - has touched the lives of all of us in Israel. On October 7, many dozens of Be'eri's sons and daughters were murdered. Despite this disaster, the printing press was back in operation less than ten days later. This is the story of a pioneering project that has risen from the ashes, like a phoenix.

Lazar Zorea taking a moment to rest while working at his lead printing machine at Be'eri Printers in the 1960s. Source: 'Lines and Dots' (Kavim VeNekudot) Blog (Hebrew), Yigal Zorea (Lazar’s son)

When Levi Zrodinski (Zorea) made Aliyah to the Land of Israel from Ukraine in 1925, he could not have imagined that his vision and initiative would be realized in a kibbutz in the Negev. He couldn’t have foreseen how this small kibbutz would become a printing giant in Israel over time, turning into one of the most advanced print shops in the world.

Levi, an enthusiastic Zionist, entrepreneur and industrialist, settled in the city of Haifa and established a successful print shop there. His idealistic and daring 18-year-old son, Lazar Zorea, was one of the group of pioneers who founded Kibbutz Be’eri.

Lazar Zorea at the Be’eri print shop in the 1950s. Photo: Hanan Bahir, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

 

Babel Lev, co-founder of Kibbutz Be’eri and Be’eri Printers. Photo courtesy of the Kibbutz Be’eri Archive

In a clandestine operation immediately following Yom Kippur, October 6, 1946, Lazar Zorea and his pioneering friends settled 11 new locations overnight. These settlements, which included Kibbutz Be’eri, have since been called the “11 points”, and were highly significant in strengthening the Jewish population of the Negev.

Be’eri Printers in the 1950s was located in the Kibbutz’s first stone structure (center). On the right – the granary. On the left, the water tower with the menorah designed by Lazar Zorea in the kibbutz’s early days. From Yigal Zorea’s blog ‘Lines and Dots’ (Kavim VeNekudot) (Hebrew)

 

Children at Kibbutz Be’eri. Photo: Boris Carmi. From the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

The members of the young kibbutz sought after a stable source of revenue which would provide economic security for a small community located right on Israel’s border with Gaza. Zorea, who had witnessed the success of his father’s print shop, worked with three other members to found the first print shop in the Negev desert. The idea of a print shop was very unconventional in the kibbutz movement, but Lazar and his friends insisted and the project finally came into being after many talks between the kibbutz members. Zorea’s experienced father aided and encouraged them and the same was true of the Jewish Agency. Both worked to ensure the enterprise flourished.

The original note by Buda, a Kibbutz Be’eri member, to the Jewish Agency offices in 1949, asking for aid in acquiring the initial equipment for establishing the print shop. Courtesy of Wikibbutz – Kibbutz Be’eri Archive

 

Print shop workers at Kibbutz Be’eri. Photo: Hanan Bahir, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

 

Moshka, Kibbutz Be’eri member, next to the printing press, 1950s. Courtesy of Wikibbutz – Kibbutz Be’eri Archive

Yigal Zorea, Lazar’s son, tells of how it all started, from almost nothing: “The press was in the beginning no more than an abandoned stone house with one letterpress machine, a compositor whose lead letters were bought at a discount, and a modest binding machine. They printed a few simple forms and some documents of the new state institutions in the beginning.”

One of the first documents printed at Be’eri Printers in the early 1950s – listing parts of the Kibbutz Be’eri workshop. Courtesy of Wikibbutz – Kibbutz Be’eri Archive

 

A Magen David Adom document, also among Be’eri Printers’ first documents printed in the 1950s. Courtesy of Wikibbutz – Kibbutz Be’eri Archive

 

A German newspaper reports on a visit to Kibbutz Be’eri in the 1950s: “Most of the villages also have a small industry which in case of drought or locusts can cover the deficit. There is here – in the desert! – a modern print shop, which carries out orders from around the country.” From Yigal Zorea’s blog ‘Lines and Dots’ (Kavim VeNekudot) (Hebrew).

Yigal tells of how, as a youth in Kibbutz Be’eri, he had a job arranging the lead letters at the print shop, before moving to work in the orchard which was considered more “prestigious.” After his military service, he continued the family tradition, and after learning graphic design at Betzalel Academy he became a part of Be’eri Press, where he worked for 50 years, leading the transition from manual to computer design as a senior designer.

A child arranges printing letters at Kibbutz Be’eri, 1975. Photo: Boris Carmi, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Over the years, members of Be’eri never stopped inventing and developing new innovations, new ideas and ways to improve and increase the range of services which the print shop provided any business, company, or organization in need of its services. Thus, the print shop grew and grew, until it moved to a permanent structure which also changed and increased in size when needed. Over time, Be’eri Printers provided a livelihood for more and more residents throughout the Gaza border region.

Be’eri Printers in the 1970s. Yigal Zorea, who designed the company’s logo, describes how it was created: “With the aid of compasses and curve rulers, I drew a geometric logo representing a combination of a print roll and a paper roll, which combine to create the unique letter bet. I also drew the logotype (letter type for company logo) using a compass.” From the Be’eri Printers Blog (Hebrew).

But the importance of Be’eri Printers stretched far beyond this southern region of Israel. Over time, the company became Israel’s printing press. Its knowledge and technology enabled processes of economic modernization necessary for the growing country – the move from the Lira to the Shekel, the introduction of magnetic checks used by all banks, and more.

You may not be aware of it, but Be’eri Printers is an integral, daily part of the lives of all Israeli citizens and everyone living in the country: all credit cards and driver’s licenses are printed there. The same is true of all the envelopes sent to you by the banks and official state institutions. In fact, it is at Be’eri Printers that the ma’atafit – the letter printed on the envelope itself – was invented. This innovation has saved enormous amounts of paper over time.

Report on the new invention of the ma’atafit – a letter printed on an envelope – at Be’eri Printers. The company was awarded the Kaplan Prize as a result. Reported in Maariv, March 27, 1988, the Historical Jewish Press collection at the National Library of Israel

On the Black Sabbath of October 7, 2023, Kibbutz Be’eri suffered unspeakable losses. At least 91 of its members were slaughtered. That number is not final. Heroic battles took place among the pathways, and many areas in the beautiful kibbutz were entirely destroyed. Miraculously or thanks to good luck, the print shop structure was unharmed.

Despite the heavy mourning over the murdered kibbutz members, which has not ended, and despite the fact that there are still members missing and held in Gaza, the surviving kibbutz members decided to renew operations at the printing press as fast as possible, rather than give up on the illustrious project they created and cultivated for decades. Ben Suchman, CEO of Be’eri Printers in recent years, along with other kibbutz members, did not let the shocking news and difficult situation drag them into despair. Ten days after the massacre at their kibbutz, they declared – “Be’eri Printers is open,” and they intend to bring the print shop to full capacity.

Ben Suchman (left), present CEO of Be’eri Printers, and Naor Paktzierez, member of the board. In the background is a sign saying “We are here.” It is a sign which Yigal Zorea designed in previous wars and which was unfortunately updated for a 2023 version and hung at the entrance to Be’eri Printers. Photo from the Tmunot Be’eri (“Be’eri Pictures”, Hebrew) Facebook page

 

The current Be’eri Printers building, which has resumed operations in the last few days

Yigal and his family were among those extracted from Kibbutz Be’eri and they are currently residing at Kibbutz Ein Gedi, which is hosting many of those remaining from the Be’eri community. In a conversation with him, he shifts constantly between past and present. Every name and every event from the past of Be’eri Printers is tied to the disaster which befell the impressive, creative, and cohesive kibbutz community.

“For us, this is home, no more, no less. And that, on its own, says it all.” – The song Bishvileinu Ze Bayit (For Us, This Is Home) was written by Yigal Zorea, a graphic artist at Be’eri Printers, in honor of the 30th anniversary of Kibbutz Be’eri’s founding in 1946. The words were put to music and the song was performed during the Kibbutz Be’eri farm festivals for many years thereafter. From the ‘Lines and Dots’ (Kavim VeNekudot) Blog (Hebrew)

We all hope that Be’eri Printers, which is already up and running, can once again embody the pioneering spirit at the heart of the dear community of Be’eri. This enterprise can be the vanguard of efforts to rebuild all of the kibbutzim, towns and cities of the Gaza border region. They will rise, like a phoenix, from the ashes.

You can support Be’eri Printers by ordering stickers, or by ordering pictures and picture albums from the “albume” website, a Be’eri Printers project. You can also visit the PIX website, another product of Be’eri Printers, where you can find different kinds of stamps, envelopes, stickers, signs, and more.

 

This article is part of our special series: “Life on the Border: A Tribute to the Communities of the Gaza Border Region”

Click here to see all of the articles and stories

 

Women on the Homefront in 1973: How the Kibbutzim Coped With War

When the Yom Kippur War broke out, the women of Kibbutz Beit Alfa mobilized to protect the delicate fabric of community life, something that happened across Israel. They were determined and resourceful, despite the uncertainty and anxiety: “All we thought about was how we’d survive the next day.”

Children gather in a kibbutz bomb shelter to protect them against shelling during the Yom Kippur War. Photo: IPPA staff, the Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Rachel (“Rochaleh”) Peled, a member of Kibbutz Beit Alfa, remembers the months of Autumn 1973 well. At the time, she was studying education at the Kibbutzim College of Education, Technology and the Arts (Seminar HaKibbutzim) while simultaneously working in the kibbutz children’s home. “That Yom Kippur, I came to Beit Alfa and was assigned to work in the kindergarten. I would come on Saturday mornings, wake the children up, and then they’d go to their parents to eat, etc. I went to rest around four in the afternoon. Someone who lived nearby woke me up. She was very stressed. We listened to the radio and heard that war had broken out. No one knew what had happened; it was incomprehensible and frightening. Afterwards, I discovered that some of the pilots had already been called up. On the radio, there were codes for each army unit, and based on those codes, people knew they needed to report for duty.”

An announcement on the Kibbutz Beit Alfa bulletin board during the Yom Kippur War: “For the public’s information, when you hear these code words on the radio – eshet khen [“woman of grace”] is the alarm signal, mavreg kis [“pocket screwdriver”] is the all-clear signal.” Courtesy of the Beit Alfa Archives.

“When I returned to Tel Aviv, there were no buses. They used to finish running at 8 pm, because there were hardly any drivers and people weren’t going out. It was a depressing atmosphere,” Rachel says. Her classes were also canceled. In fact, she didn’t return to school until Hanukkah. “We had a biology teacher that we saw maybe three times the entire year.”

Due to the situation, Rachel spent most of her time on the kibbutz, where she was needed. “My mother, Chaikeh, underwent surgery in Afula during the war, so in between, I was with her in the hospital. The entire hospital was full of injured soldiers. There were several bomb shelters on the kibbutz, trenches, and the corridor of the dining hall that also served as a shelter,” she says.

Rachel Peled in her youth, from a private album

The women remained behind in the half-empty kibbutz. “We didn’t know our left from our right, and we were surrounded by a sense of chaos and confusion.” Most of the kibbutz’s young people were enlisted. Those that remained were older men past the age of military service and women, who accepted this new order and created a new reality that sought to maintain routine for the sake of the children and for the sake of the kibbutz. Their strong friendship, familiarity and shared destiny helped them support each other and survive the difficult period together. “We would sit on the grass in the evenings, to feel a sense of togetherness. We didn’t know the extent of the disaster or what had happened. To this day, I have a good friend, Shula Reshef, who I met and became friends with during those meetups on the grass.”

Given all the uncertainty, those meetings and conversations among the women provided them with strength and support, and they tried to pass this sense of security on to the next generation. “We tried to maintain some routine for the children. In the afternoon, they’d go to their mothers, and then they’d return to sleep in the children’s home,” Rachel says. “I stayed to work in the kindergarten. In Gan Kalanit (“anemone garden,” the name of the kindergarten), there was a basement under the building, a sort of shelter, but in general, there were hardly any air-raid sirens.” The caregivers made sure to sleep with the children in the children’s home, everyone in turn. “Most nights I slept in the kindergarten, on a fold-up bed with a mattress inside the showers. Even though the children didn’t understand what was happening and there was tension in the air, they never cried and were never hysterical.”

Everyone’s main challenge revolved around the lack of communication with the kibbutz members who were fighting the war. 50 years ago, television sets were a rare commodity in Israel, though one could usually be found in the kibbutz dining hall. There was no real communication with the soldiers at the front. “The children were tense because we didn’t have a television. No one understood what was happening. We were all in a panic. Despite this, we functioned at full capacity because we had no choice.” One of the things that stands out most prominently in Rachel’s memory is the time she spent answering the phone. “If anyone called the phone at the kibbutz, we’d pass on a message through the children. We had a call center that we manned with women who worked shifts.” The phone shifts, which were set 24/7, were another role the women took on, in addition to manning the other kibbutz enterprises and replacing the men in their regular jobs.

An announcement on the Kibbutz Beit Alfa bulletin board during the Yom Kippur War: “For the members’ information, the Danish Embassy has offered to return its citizens back home to Denmark. After a discussion, all the Danes among our volunteers decided unanimously to stay!” Courtesy of the Beit Alfa Archives

Rachel remembers how the young children would cope with their parents’ absence. “In the children’s home, there was a doll corner with a toy phone. One child would take the phone and “speak” to his father who was on the front lines. ‘Hello, Dad? How are you? I’m ok…’”

For lack of any other option, the women of the kibbutz also took on the roles that the kibbutz men who were called up to serve generally filled.  “We worked the chicken coop, the fields, and all the other jobs. The bigger children who were already in eleventh or twelfth grade and the adults who weren’t called up helped a great deal in the fields with the tractors.”

The war continued into the Sukkot holiday, and the women of the kibbutz were debating how they’d mark the holiday while their loved ones were in danger. “We didn’t celebrate the holiday, of course, but I remember that it was important to everyone to be together and give the people strength and power. There were many women and children, and we needed to prepare food. I didn’t know how to cook a thing, I had never been in a kitchen before, but they asked me to be in charge of the special dinners. They gave me some quick instructions on how to cook rice in an enormous pot and how to cook chicken. I can’t say I enjoyed it, but I did what was needed.”

Similar to what was done in the other kibbutzim, Beit Alfa, a kibbutz established by the Hashomer Hatzair movement at the foot of Mt. Gilboa, took in “refugees” from other kibbutzim that were closer to the more dangerous areas. Mothers, women, and children arrived from Kibbutz Snir, which sat at the foot of the Golan Heights to the north.

A page from Kibbutz Beit Alfa’s bulletin board. “Yesterday, 14 October, 20 girls from Snir [a kibbutz in the north, close to the border] who were evacuated to us immediately after Yom Kippur, left us to go back to their home. They had come with 4 children and one 80 year old woman (the grandmother of one of the members)…” Courtesy of the Beit Alfa Archives

Tamar Paz, another kibbutz member who had worked many years as Beit Alfa’s accountant, was 33 years old when the war started. She was a mother to children aged six, four, and two. “My husband was from Kibbutz Ashdot Yaakov. After we got married, we lived in Beit Alfa, where he was the kibbutz janitor.” When her husband was called up to fight, Tamar stepped up to help run life on the kibbutz. “I continued working and in addition, took on the phone shifts. There were only 4-5 phones on the kibbutz but there was a phone room in the accounting office, and we took shifts. If the shift was at night, I’d sleep there so I’d be able to answer every phone call.”

A large bulletin board had the names of all the kibbutz members and the dates when they were on the frontlines, along with other relevant dates. “Every time we got a phone call or letter, people would write it down on the board so we could track everything.” Tamar managed her daily life while in constant fear. “I didn’t want to believe my husband was not going to return, even though I was afraid. I tried not to think about anything at all. I was exhausted at night.” Tamar got a sign of life from her husband thanks to her shift work. “One night, when I was sleeping in the phone room, I got a phone call. They asked to speak to the wife of Yehuda Paz and sent me warm wishes from my husband. I was very emotional.”

A note on the Kibbutz Beit Alfa bulletin board: “15 October 1973, 9:00 AM, to all the families who sent packages to our soldiers on the [Golan] Heights, Gaverush says the packages were delivered to their destinations and they send their thanks and they are perfectly well. (relayed wirelessly)” Courtesy of the Beit Alfa Archives

The women on the kibbutz found themselves in double, and sometimes triple, roles. They continued working their regular jobs, in addition to the extra jobs they took on in the absence of the kibbutz men, all while functioning as single parents to their children. “My son was excited that I was suddenly the one putting him to bed instead of his father. The children’s homes continued operating as usual. As it was, at the time, we didn’t have the option of living as a family in our apartment. We had tiny single room houses. Other mothers were doing shifts in the children’s homes. They were responsible for bringing the children to the shelters when there were air-raid sirens.” Tamar and the other women from the kibbutz oscillated between hope and anxiety. “I tried to live in a bubble, not to show my children that there was anything unusual. They were so small.”

A note on the Kibbutz Beit Alfa bulletin board during the Yom Kippur War, assigning the women to the various shelters when needed. Courtesy of the Beit Alfa Archives

They functioned amidst uncertainty and great chaos. “After four weeks, my husband returned for two or three days. I remember the day he returned; suddenly without warning and without anyone saying anything – the door opened and there he stood. When my husband came to visit us, he bought us a television from the city of Afula, and all the kibbutz children would come to our house instead of the dining hall. After that, he went back to the army and we continued working as usual, including the phone shifts at night. It was tiring, of course, but we didn’t complain. All day, we just thought about the next day, not the distant future. We thought about how we’d survive the next day.”

Yael (Yaelik) Halperin was 23 years old with a baby during the war. Her husband was not called up and he worked the fields to replace those who were. She was the coordinator of the women’s shifts on the kibbutz. “The atmosphere was tough, one of anxiety and distress. On the third day, a Syrian plane appeared and dropped a bomb that caused a fire to break out in the fields. I was terribly frightened, until I was able to make certain my husband was fine and unharmed.”

The bulletin board for emergency notices at Kibbutz Beit Alfa. Courtesy of the Beit Alfa Archives

The women who remained on their own hurried to organize themselves in order to allow routine life to continue on the kibbutz, as much as possible. Yael explains, “There were some who did jobs that they weren’t used to. For example, if someone used to knit sweaters, that was a job that could be dismissed during this period, and she was moved over to the children’s home or the chicken coop or the cowshed, somewhere in need of more working hands. There was a great spirit of volunteerism in order to fill the places of those who were missing.” Yael still remembers the trauma that her friend Edna Bashan, a teacher in the children’s home, experienced when her husband Yehuda Bashan was taken captive. “She spent a lot of time in my house, and we tried to make sure families like hers and families who hadn’t heard from their loved ones were surrounded [with support].”

The nephew of Michal Lans, who currently acts as the director of the kibbutz archives, fell in battle during the war. At the time, she was a teacher in the children’s home along with Edna Bashan. “The casualties and the captive from the kibbutz, those things were very traumatic of course. I was a teacher in the school. We were tense. When Yehuda Bashan was taken captive, his wife was teaching at the same school as me, and it was really difficult. We tried to continue the lessons despite the difficulty. I remember that a month later, we received word that Yehuda was returning from captivity, and the kibbutz erupted in joy. Everyone ran out to the grass and jumped up and down.”

Yehuda and Edna Bashan during the kibbutz celebrations upon Yehuda’s return from captivity. Courtesy of the Beit Alfa Archives

None of the kibbutz women who were interviewed for this article, including those who lost loved ones or had to deal with the absence of the men and raising the children alone, thought twice before taking part in the joint efforts. Even today, they pause a moment to think, and then agree unanimously that there was no way they could have stopped working and taking care of their shared enterprises. Kibbutz families who suffered loss during the war praise the sense of support and shared fate that characterizes the atmosphere of a kibbutz. Perhaps it also had something to do with the historical period, when there was less emphasis on the individual.

“When I think about it, what could I have done? Working protected me,” Edna says. Rachel, Yael, and Tamar agree with this feeling, and Tamar adds, “We did what was needed. There was never any thought about ‘I won’t, and she will’.” And as Yael summarizes, “Routine provides strength.”

When the People of Ofakim Opened Their Hearts to Vietnamese Refugees

How of a group of refugees stranded off the shores of Vietnam somehow ended up in a small town in southern Israel...

A Vietnamese child arrives in Ofakim, June 1977. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

Somewhere on the face of this earth, lives a man in his 40s named Ofek. This man, the son of Vietnamese parents, received this name simply because he was born here in the State of Israel, in the town of Ofakim.

It’s difficult to imagine what he might be going through during these difficult days. Has he heard of the bloody events of October 7? Does he know of the terrible massacre that was carried out in his place of birth, the place for which he is named? We may never know.

Ofek – A Vietnamese Sabra From Ofakim”, a headline in Al HaMishmar, September 8, 1977, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

But let’s start at the beginning.

Opposite the shores of Vietnam, a fishing boat containing 66 men, women, and children fleeing the horrors of war in their country, found itself adrift in the South China Sea. An Israeli freighter, the Yoveli, noticed the rickety vessel. Its captain, Amnon Tadmor, decided to take all the refugees onto his ship, saving 30 men, 16 women, and 20 children, all of them exhausted after experiencing such an ordeal. It turned out that their engine had broken down, leaving them stranded at sea for four days without food or water.

Israeli Ship Gathers Vietnamese Refugees and Seeks Shelter for Them”, a headline in Davar, June 12, 1977, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

All that remained was finding them a home. Taiwan, Captain Tadmor’s original destination, said “No.” Japan and Hong Kong also refused. Even the Israeli Foreign Ministry initially replied that bringing the refugees to Israel was “impractical and out of the question.”

“No Country Wants to Absorb the Refugees Rescued by the ‘Yoveli’”, a headline in Maariv, June 17, 1977, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

But the story hit the headlines in Israel, and ultimately reached the Knesset, where Knesset Member Yossi Sarid submitted an urgent proposal for the parliamentary agenda, calling on the government to absorb the refugees. The government was changing hands in those days, as shortly before, the Likud party had managed a historic victory in the national elections that brought to an end nearly 30 years of dominance by the Mapai party and its predecessors. Now, on June 19, a day before he was set to introduce his government to the Knesset for a vote of confidence, incoming Prime Minister Menachem Begin declared his first official decision: taking in the refugees.

The Jewish News of Northern California, August 5, 1977, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

“We will never forget the ship which left Germany before the outbreak of the Second World War, and the passengers who had Cuban visas which were not honored,” Begin explained, justifying his decision. “No other country wanted to accept them, and after the ship was brought back to Germany, many of those who were on its deck went to the gas chambers. We, as the Jewish state, will not tolerate this injustice to humanity as done in the past, and we will therefore grant refuge to these refugees who chose freedom.”

J. The Jewish News of Northern California, August 12, 1977, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

 

Vietnamese refugees arrive in Israel, June 1977. Photo: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office

Days afterward, the refugees were in Israel, where were they sent to the small town of Ofakim.

Reception for the refugees, the Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

There was great excitement with the arrival of the refugees. Hundreds of residents from the modest town received the Vietnamese with great excitement. “We receive you with joy, just as we received our Jewish brothers who made Aliyah to the country,” said Chaim Raviv, Director of the Absorption Ministry for the Negev District at the celebratory reception. “You are wanted by us in all respects, and we will do everything to make your stay easier here.”

“Thousands in Ofakim Receive the Vietnamese”, a headline in Haaretz, June 27, 1977, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel
“’You are wanted here’ – Refugees are Told at Celebratory Reception in the Town of Ofakim”, a headline in Maariv, June 27, 1977, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

And indeed, the treatment of the Vietnamese was heartfelt. They were given warm meals, medical treatment, and were even sent to learn Hebrew at the local ulpan (Hebrew language school). The refugees were also given tours of the area so they could get to know the surroundings and locals a little better. This enabled them to feel more comfortable in their new, temporary home. “The food and atmosphere and the people here,” they were quoted as saying, “it’s all very good.” The town and the people of Israel lovingly received these Vietnamese refugees, to the extent that many wanted to adopt the orphaned children among them – requests which, as far as we have been able to discover, were rejected due to the desire to maintain the refugees as a single homogenous unit.

Refugee with a Sabra hat in Israel. Photo: Moshe Milner, Government Press Office

The local council in Ofakim hoped the national and even global interest in the refugees might generate some good press for the town itself. “I want people in the country to know that Ofakim is a ‘garden city’, dipped in greenery, even though it is in the Negev,” said council head Yechiel Bentov, who hoped that new olim (Jewish immigrants) would also come to his town to establish a permanent home for themselves in the south.

And that’s the end of the story. After spending a few months in Israel, the refugees moved on to their next destinations. But there is no doubt that they took the big hearts of the people of Ofakim with them, forever.

And Ofek? If you’re reading this, let us know. We’d love to know how you’re doing.

 

This article is part of our special series: “Life on the Border: A Tribute to the Communities of the Gaza Border Region”

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