Yehudit Arnon, the founder of the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company and recipient of the Israel Prize for dance in 1998, died Saturday at the age of 87. Her funeral will be held Sunday at Kibbutz Ga'aton, where she made her home after immigrating to Israel in 1948.
Arnon served as artistic director of the kibbutz dance troupe for 26 years. Born in Kornaro, Czechoslovakia to an Orthodox Jewish family, she went through Auschwitz before moving to Budapest, Hungary, after the war. She was active in the Hashomer Hatzair Zionist youth movement, where she choreographed dance, among other activities.
In 1946 she married Yedidiya Ahrenfeld. The two immigrated to Israel two years later, settling at Ga'aton, where they raised their three daughters. In 1958 she established a dance studio at Ga'aton, which, together with the Western Galilee dance company, was the base on which the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company was founded. She was appointed artistic director of the troupe in 1970 and served in the position until 1996.
Over the years, she forged collaborative relationships with leading choreographers. She also groomed Rami Be'er, a dancer in the troupe, to succeed her. "Yehudit belongs to that generation of giants, like Sergei Diaghilev, who established the [Russian] Ballets Russes, or Marie Rambert, who founded Ballet Rambert [the oldest English ballet company],” Be’er said. “Yehudit was a moving force that managed to implant unseen tender roots, gently but decisively, and with an ability and devotion to intertwine root, trunk and branch. Perhaps she belonged to that group of people who didn’t create themselves, but she knew how to identify others and develop [their talents]." Be'er called Arnon an "extraordinary personality, with extraordinary powers and with a genuine love of the world of dance. That was the essence of her being."