Hapoel Seeks to Archive 88 Years of Sportsmanship, Socialism and Zionism

Histadrut's veteran sports organization has launched an appeal to establish a central archive, the first since its founding in 1925.

Eighty-eight years after its founding, the Hapoel sports organization is establishing an archive. The absence of a central Hapoel archive has resulted in the scattering of historical material around the country, in libraries, other archives and in private collections. David Arnstein, Hapoel's director-general, has asked anyone with relevant historical material in their possession to contribute it to the new project.

The Hapoel sports organization was founded in 1925 with a Zionist socialist orientation. It had activities all over pre-state Mandatory Palestine and played a major role in the life of many Jews here. David Amitai, director of Yad Ya'ari, the documentation and research institute of the socialist youth organization Hashomer Hatzair, said the sports organization was considered an integral part of the effort to establish the state.

"It was an entity that was established as part of the perspective that a sports organization was an essential piece in the building of culture and society," Amitai said.

Nonetheless, he noted, it turns out that Hapoel had no archives of its own although the Histadrut labor federation archive does have material on the history of Hapoel, which is Hebrew for "the worker." Amitai, however, said the Histadrut archive on the sports organization lacks continuity and material on local Hapoel activities.

Tal Elmaliach, a doctoral history student at the University of Haifa who has specialized in the history of the labor movement, including its sports activities, said sport was seen by the labor Zionist movement as an expression of identity. This identity even found expression in the choice of sport. Volleyball, for instance, flourished on kibbutzim, having been imported from Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. It was seen as a socialist pastime in that it required cooperation, said Elmaliach.

The researcher expressed surprise that a well-organized Hapoel archive hadn't already existed. Amitai agreed, saying: "I would have expected that an entity like that would have a long-standing, established and sophisticated archive, but there's almost nothing. The project that has begun now is very important." Hapoel made its mark in localities all over the country. For dozens of Ashkelon residents, for example, the story of the 1963 founding of the now- defunct Hapoel Ashkelon sailing club and its accomplishments are an important chapter in the history of the city.

Over the years, however, the saga of the club has been forgotten by many, so recently the editor of a web-based newsletter on Ashkelon history and a former sailing club member who have not lived in the southern coastal city for 30 years are preserving the club's memory through interviews and pictures.

The material collected by the editor, Ofer Idan, and the former club member, Gilad Ben-Amar, is just one small piece of a whole range of material that is currently being collected. Among the items from Ashkelon are pictures that sailing instructor Reuven Ben-Harush had of young people in sailor hats, dressed in sparkling white shirts tucked into their shorts with the national flag and the Hapoel standard flying above the 1963 launch of a fleet of Hapoel Ashkelon boats. "The fleet and Hapoel played an important part in shaping my personality," said Ben-Harush. "This place gave us tools and education for life, such as discipline, responsibility and professionalism." He said the story of the club's founding sparked his interest and he felt an obligation to preserve its heritage.

Among the stories about Hapoel during the period before Israel's establishment is from 1932, when a group of young people from Hapoel's Vilna branch bicycled to pre-state Israel.

Kibbutz archives have begun to answer Arnstein's request for material. One such kibbutz is Afikim, where Hapoel was founded in 1925 in one of the member's tents.