Israel's Oldest Kibbutznik Dies at Age 107

Yisrael Hofesh, one of the founders of Kibbutz Afikim, was Israel's oldest kibbutz member at 107.

Yisrael Hofesh, one of the founders of Kibbutz Afikim and Israel's oldest kibbutz member, died Saturday at the age of 107.

Hofesh was born Ola Guttenbaum in Poland in 1905. He immigrated to Israel in 1925 and joined the labor brigade at Kibbutz Ein Harod.

"I was occupied by the Zionist idea at a young age," Hofesh once said, "and the Zionist worldviews grew within me."

Hofesh became inspired after meeting with activist Yaakov Hazan - who was among the founders of the Hebrew Scouts in Poland, which later became part of the Hashomer Hatzair movement - and he went on to join the movement himself.

In 1927, Hofesh traveled with the labor brigade to the settlement of Afula, where he met members of the Kibbutz Hashomer Hatzair of SSSR, today known as Kibbutz Afikim. Together with the other kibbutzniks, Hofesh moved to Lake Kinneret to establish the hydroelectric power plant in Naharayim.

In 1929, Hofesh was sent to the Hashomer Hatzair World Conference in Czechoslovakia, and then went on to Lithuania to establish the Pioneer Scouts Youth (Netzach ).

In the meantime, Hofesh continued to work on the infrastructure for Kibbutz Afikim, toiling on the roads, portage, swamp-draining and construction. He was the first to move to the location where the kibbutz would be built, arriving there in 1932, and he was instrumental in establishing the banana industry there. Hofesh also worked in the kibbutz's plywood factory and served as kibbutz secretary three times.

Hofesh married his wife Sonya in 1933. They were married for 66 years, until her death in 1999. The couple had four children.

During World War II, Hofesh served on the volunteers committee recruiting fighters for the brigade, and also in the Jewish Brigade in Europe.

Hofesh worked for 30 years as a teacher and educator on the kibbutz, primarily with youth groups. Many of these students remained in contact with Hofesh throughout his life.

In 1966, Hofesh began working in the Afikim archives, an endeavor that would become a lifelong passion. According to Zvi Ashkenazi, who is now the manager of the archives, Hofesh took it upon himself to tour archives around the country in order to find a better system for the kibbutz. He consolidated the kibbutz's communal archives system, and that system is now used by most kibbutz archives in Israel.

Hofesh authored a number of articles on the topic and was invited to lecture at various forums for archivists and educators. He published the widely read handbook "Kibbutz Archiving - the Afikim Model," in which he described the method, order and organization of the Afikim system.

Hofesh was one of the central members of the Israeli Archivists Association and was named a "notable archivist" in 2001. He retired at the age of 96 due to his deteriorating eyesight. Yet he remained current on matters related to archiving until just before his death, penning various handbooks, including 19 anthologies dealing with the history and membership of Afikim, and another 13 handbooks on the kibbutz's history, society, demographics, security and culture.

Hofesh, who had attended the founding assembly of Mapai, the Workers Party of the Land of Israel - the forerunner of today's Labor party - remained faithful to the party throughout his life. He was the oldest party member to vote in the 2008 primaries, though a computer glitch kept many of the ballots from being processed. Hofesh told Haaretz at the time that he was disappointed his vote had been wasted, but said: "There is no choice; next week I will come and vote again."