Women in Zionist Pioneering History

9 October 2013

By Nachum Meyers, October 2013

When Aryeh Malkin left the Bronx, Lisa Engels took over our Hashomer Hatzair (youth guard) education. She too lived on Kibbutz Ein Dor.

Our separate groups of boys and girls were joined and we had discussions on gender equality that led us young male chauvinists to appreciate the role of women in the new world we were going to create in Palestine. Lisa was probably physically stronger than any six of us scrawny kids put together and that made for gender equality too.

Women’s role in Jewish life, however unequal it might appear from the practices of the religion, was far more emancipated than in most other religions and societies. Our discussions in Hashomer Hatzair on feminism, the role of women in kibbutz and in politics, and on their capability in the variety of human endeavors, led to a keen appreciation of the difficulties that women faced in achieving equality in the world.

Even in the supposedly emancipated kibbutzim, women worked in the laundries, the kitchens, and the children’s nurseries just as in bourgeois society. Interestingly, they themselves hooted men out of their “women’s” domain when some brave male attempted to integrate himself into the laundry work force or the children’s houses. The dam of tradition held strong against the currents of gender equality.

Lisa led her newly post-pubescent charges with aplomb and high intelligence through the intellectual exercises of Marx, Engels, and Freud. We read, discussed, and argued into the nights. We all fell in love with her, boys and girls. She did set our Jewish consciousness straight on so many aspects of what was expected of us in the new society we were creating.

The real outcome of all this was that being Jewish meant relating to women with a sense of equality rather than with a Victorian sense of respect.

Nachum Meyers: My life is a Jewish life of equality. Being Jewish, and educating my children as Jews, has been an integral part of my existence as a Jewish man. In Hashomer Hatzair from 1937 to 1948 and living in Israel from 1948 to 1960, and now back in the United States, my life and work, with women in marriage and at my side in equality as I have built many businesses, has made my years full as I celebrate my 87th year.


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