Kibbutzim Debate Adopting Trumpeldor as One of Their Own

More than 3,000 names have been gathered from 230 kibbutzim which will be inscribed on tablets that were put up three years ago at the future commemoration site in the Kibbutz Forest.

The Kibbutz Movement is about to complete its list of members who have fallen in battle here since the first kibbutz was founded. But one thorny question remains to be settled: Will Joseph Trumpeldor appear on the memorial?

So far, more than 3,000 names have been gathered from 230 kibbutzim. The names will be inscribed on tablets that were put up three years ago at the future commemoration site in the Kibbutz Forest, which is located in Menashe Park, south of Mount Carmel.

memorial to fallen kibbutz members
Hagai Frid

“So as not to appear patronizing by deciding who to commemorate and who not, we decided to accept a casualty as having fallen in Israel’s battles if a kibbutz says so,” said Amikam Asam, who is gathering and cross-checking the names and finalizing the list together with Ezra Rabin and Brig. Gen. ‏(res.‏) Motke Ben-Porat.

As a result, not all everyone on the list was an actual kibbutz member. For example, the names of soldiers killed while serving on a kibbutz as part of the Nahal Brigade ‏(which combines army service with settlement‏) will also be inscribed, as will the names of children who grew up and were educated on a kibbutz but later left, and people who were candidates for membership when they were killed.

And that leads to the question of Trumpeldor, who died defending Kibbutz Tel Hai in the famous battle for the site on March 1, 1920.

“Trumpeldor was not a member of a collective,” explained Edna Shohat, archivist of the Tel Hai historical site. “He was clearly a socialist and a man of the kibbutz movement in his worldview, and certainly would have joined one, but he was not a member of a kibbutz or kvutzah [small collective farm].”

The decision is especially hard in this case because the cardinal rule − that the kibbutzim themselves would decide who to commemorate − does not apply here: There has been no Kibbutz Tel Hai for decades.

Amnon Levin, until recently director of the Tel Hai museum, argued that since kibbutz membership is not one of the necessary criteria for commemoration, Trumpeldor’s name should be on the memorial.

“Trumpeldor played a significant role in [developing] the idea of the kibbutz,” Levin said, noting that in 1911, he wrote the charter for the Hehalutz pioneer group in the farming community of Migdal, near Lake Kinneret.

Like Asam, Levin realizes that some people will accuse the Kibbutz Movement of laying claim to Trumpeldor unjustly. But he disagrees.

“Unlike others, who laid claim to him with only partial justification, the kibbutz can claim him justifiably,” Levin said. “The kibbutz represents him in the fullest way. It is the essence of the values that Trumpeldor promoted.”

Historian Smadar Sinai of Kibbutz Ein Gev, in contrast, opposes laying claim to Trumpeldor.
“There was a battle between the workers’ movement and the Revisionist movement over laying claim to Trumpeldor,” she said. “There is no doubt that he was a member of the workers’ movement, but not of the kibbutz movement. There is no reason to put him at a site commemorating the kibbutzim’s fallen. We know he made a huge contribution to the idea of the collective, but what does that have to do with [giving him] a place among the kibbutzim’s fallen?”

Trumpeldor and his comrades have already been properly commemorated since 1934 at the “roaring lion” memorial near Tel Hai, she added, and “the kibbutz movement has enough heroes of its own.”

Shohat noted that three kibbutz members also fell defending Tel Hai. Shneor Shaposhnik, a Tel Hai member, was killed in 1919. Aharon Sher, from Kibbutz Kinneret, joined the defenders of Tel Hai and was killed in February 1920. And three weeks later, during the famous battle, Binyamin Munter of Kibbutz Hulda was killed.