Little agents of culture
The games from the 1950s and 1960s reflect a world of images. Next week they will be exhibited at the Holon Children's Museum.
Faces peer out of the crates piled on top of each other in the museum offices, above boxes of colorful games and carefully wrapped metal toys. One has dark purple lips and rosy cheeks, another is yellowing and aged and third rolls her eyes when carefully placed back in the crate.
Hadar Shiran, the organizer of the "When We Were Kids" festival, and the curator of its exhibition of children's toys, which will take place from next Monday to Friday at the museum in Holon, thinks the old dolls are great. When she holds one of them, about the size of a human baby, she caresses without noticing its tattered, flowery dress.
Were it possible to caress the metal rocket that looks handmade, or the rough-edged wooden cart children in the 1950s and 1960s used to ride down a hill, it is possible that they, too, would get their does of affection. It's not hard to realize that Shiran, who normally is the pedagogic director of the museum, is emotionally involved in the exhibition devoted to Israeli childhood. There is something nostalgic about the old toys, and especially when it comes to the toys produced here and that reflect "an entire world of images that you grew up on," as described by toy collector Yaron Guyer, part of whose collection is on display at the exhibition.
Viewing the old toys and games, children's household items and school gear (notebooks, journals, notepads) on display provides a glimpse into the concept of childhood, mainly in the 1950s and 1960s and even earlier.
The outdoor games will be featured in interactive displays and children will be able to learn to play them. Shiran tried the games on children of different ages before choosing the best ones, including, marbles and Five Stones (Hamesh Avanim). There will also be an area for making clothes for paper dolls, building a model of a kibbutz, paper airplanes and embroidery.
Apart from the fun of the games, the exhibition and the collections on display there document the building of a culture. According to Dr. Haim Grossman, an expert on Israeli culture and a collector of children's games and Israeli figures in applied arts, the children in the young State of Israel served as agents of culture. He says they carried on their shoulders the Zionist ideological world reflected, among other things, in the cards depicting Jewish holidays, the games about sites in Israel, imaginary trips on game boards and contributions collected for the Jewish National Fund. The children had assignments, for example, of sending Jews in the Diaspora "flowers from the children of the Jewish State" letters, in which a dried flower that they had to pick and dry was inserted.
"We were made to do things as kids," says Grossman. "They transmitted to us that we are lucky, because we're in the State of Israel. Our world as kids was much clearer than the post-modern world of today. The world was a place that was black-and-white, where you know who the bad guys are and who the good guys are: the good Jew, the bad and cowardly Arab, the heroic soldier. These concepts instilled in us through the box games inspired by classic books, such 'Shmoneh B'ikvot Ehad [Eight in the Footsteps of One],' 'Azit Hakalba Hatzanhanit'[Azit, the Paratrooper Dog] and [the adventure series] Hasamba, of course. In the imaginary world of books and kids' games, there were spy and detective games where you defended the state. The perception of the adults, and not just the institutional organizations such as the Jewish National Fund, but also the private game manufactures was that you don't play with children, but show them things as they are. You could argue whether this was good or bad."
Even regarding the knowledge that children needed, there was a clear understanding. Children collected cars about countries and continents in order to stick in albums, and bought gum to collect the wrappers, which had pictures of heroes on them such as Bialik, Herzl and Jabotinsky. Using a game board that they had to progress along, they learned about Israel's wars.
With the landing on the moon in the 1960s, attention started to turn to other countries and outer space in box games, cards of flags and the import and manufacturing of metal toys. "Abroad was a desire," says Grossman, "a reflection of the closed experience prevailing in the State."
Guyer says: "The games teach about the adults' perception of kids, but there certainly is in them a glimpse into their world, the pioneering culture, the old Eretz Yisrael." Guyer, 42, works in a family business manufacturing harmonicas and lives in Moshav Yatzitz, near Ramle. Around five years ago, he decided "to do something for his soul." He was always drawn to the flea market, and in general to anything that had an old flavor. At first he started collecting toys from all over the world and very quickly began concentrating on Israeli toys. Today he has hundreds of items, including, apart from toys, billboards, tin boxes, posters and traditional dolls of a Yemenite, an ultra-Orthodox man, etc. that tourists bought as souvenirs. Guyer finds a lot of them on eBay, because in the 1960s, they were the hit among Jewish tourists.
Guyer regrets that today there isn't enough documentation of the fascinating area. He set up a private publishing company to develop the study and knowledge of toy collections, and recently issued a book on the manufacture of dolls at the Mayer Plastics factory in Petah Tikva in the 1950s. The new book has some 100 photos of dolls, dated and numbered, for the benefit of other collectors. "There are collectors who don't like to show their collection," he says. "I like when they also play with them. When a toy has scratches and it's not perfect, it's value increases in my eyes, because it's a sign that once it delighted a child."