Leaving Vilna in 1920, Arriving at Kinneret 2009

Shalom Simarintsky drowned days after arriving in Israel. Now he is being reinterred on the kibbutz he dreamed of establishing

Shmuel Hadash pointed out the empty plot yesterday, saying, "This is where he will be buried. This is the proper place for him, next to his friends."

Hadash and a number of members of Kibbutz Kvutzat Kinneret last year decided to reinter the remains of a friend of their parents in the cemetery at the Kinneret, having moved them from the cemetery on Tel Aviv's Trumpeldor Street. The young man drowned at sea 89 years ago and never realized his pioneering dream of founding a kibbutz in Israel.

"We, the children of the 'Vilna Group,' the founders of Kibbutz Kvutzat Kinneret, understood the time had come to return the lone boy to his friends," Hadash said of the unusual decision. The lone boy's journey, which will finally come to an end, two weeks from now at the Kinneret, started in Vilna in 1920.

Following the battle at Tel Hai, Shalom Simarintsky and his friends, teenage Jews from Vilna, decided to move up their aliya. After undergoing a period of agricultural training on farms around Vilna, they felt the time had come to fulfill the Zionist dream and build a kibbutz in the Land of Israel - all in the spirit of socialism.

Vilna's Jewish community was proud of its children and before parting with them at the train station, they presented the young people with a flag. On one side it was embroidered with the phrase "Work is our life," while the other read, "Carry the flag and standard to Zion."

Two of the group's members, Simarintsky and Mordechai Hadash, Shmuel's father, waved the flag as the 28 youngsters rode the train toward Israel, singing.

On August 10, 1920, the 20 men and 8 women reached Jaffa port. As the group crowded onto the wharf, they sang Hatikva, crying.

Only four days after arriving, while swimming in the sea, Simarintsky disappeared under the waves. None of the group were good swimmers who could have saved him, explained Shlomo Kinarti, one of the youths. Arab sailors found his body and the doctor was too late to revive him.

The next day the group made its way from Jaffa to Tel Aviv, carrying their friend's body on their shoulders to Trumpeldor Street Cemetery, to bury Simarintsky.

Hapoel Hatzair newspaper reported: "On Sunday, the first day of Elul, comrade Shalom Simarintsky drowned in the sea off Jaffa. He was one of the new immigrants, who arrived only in the past few days with the members of the Young Zion group from Vilna. He was 18 years old. May his memory be blessed," the obituary read.

Simarintsky was a trained electrician, one of the few young people who had actually worked with his hands, said Kinarti, and the entire group was shocked and in deep mourning.

Two days later the group was informed that there was work preparing land in Migdal near Lake Kinneret. They took the train north and for the next two years they were spread out all over the country, moving with the work they found: paving roads, construction and land preparation. However, their diaries reveal that they never forgot their missing friend. Mordechai Hadash, for example, wrote, "It is not too early to start thinking about putting up a gravestone... We need to take a picture," wrote Hadash.

But time passed and no stone was put up; the group had little money.

The oldest of the children of the original group, Avraham Kinarti, found numerous comments about Simarintsky in his father's memoirs and documents, including his diploma and passport.

The children of the original group's members located Simarintsky's grave, even though the post with his name on it had long since collapsed, with the aid of the burial society. Hadash asked Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar for permission to move the remains. Amar approved, saying that as Simarintsky had no other family or friends in Israel except for the group from Vilna, this was clearly preferable.

"He will end his anonymity and receive the place he deserves. Here the story will be told of the young man who left everything behind, came to Israel and never fulfilled his dream. We will grant him the memory he deserves," said Hadash.