My Mother, a Pioneer Who Helped Turn the Zionist Dream Into Reality

Remembering Drora Shulman, who was one of the founders of a cooperative village and was an inspiration for me and for many women of my generation.

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Nechama Rivlin, age 5, with her mother, Drora Kayla Shulman, at Moshav Herut.
Nechama Rivlin, age 5, with her mother, Drora Kayla Shulman, at Moshav Herut.Credit: Courtesy
Nechama Rivlin

To mark International Women’s Day, next Tuesday, I am writing about my mother, Drora Kayla Shulman. It’s thanks to her that I look admiringly on all the pioneer women who came to Palestine-Eretz Israel in order to establish a state, which was only a dream when they arrived.

For my mother, Hebrew was more than a language in which to communicate; it was her heart’s desire and an identity. She learned Hebrew in her parents’ home in Bilozirka (Ukraine), and memorized it until she was fluent. If I misspelled a word, she would be absolutely shocked.

In 1925, when she was 20, she received an entry permit to Eretz Israel, and together with others from her town she embarked on a pioneering road on which she realized a dream of being a farmer and working the land to which she was so deeply attached.

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She left behind her whole family – both her father and her siblings. Her mother had already passed away. She always remembered the crate her father prepared for her, containing Jewish ritual objects, her mother’s pearls and the perena – the down-filled blanket. She left the crate in Hadera, and when she returned to collect it discovered that everything but the blanket had been stolen.

At the outset she was on a farm of female workers in the Jezreel Valley. Later, after she married my father, who worked in Naharayim, she became one of the founders of Moshav Herut in the Tel Mond Bloc, northeast of Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, my father died at the age of 45, and she was left a widow in the cooperative village. But she continued to work her plot of farmland. She had an orchard, cows and chickens. I was a little girl and I remember her working hard and fighting like a lioness for the right to be a worker of land, amid all the objective difficulties entailed in choosing such a demanding way of life. She never sank into debt – no small accomplishment in a cooperative village.

Besides the difficult day-to-day life, in which she had the help of other workers, she was a cultured woman who always read and took pride in knowing Russian poems by heart. When she grew older and was no longer able to do farm work, she cultivated the yard around the house, which was filled with flowers, herbs and vegetables, in season. She planted dill, parsley and radishes around every tree trunk. When her lawn grew above a height that she found satisfactory, she would “bug” her grandson, Ron, to come soon and mow it. When she was very old, she was assisted by my brother-in-law and my sister, who lived in the village, but she knew exactly what was happening on her farm. We would give her the latest news – “You now have three Thais working on the farm” – and she would correct us: “Two.” It turned out that she was right.

In her last days, she imagined that water was flowing in the orchard unchecked.

As Jerusalemites, we had the privilege of spending the school holidays with my mother. For an entire month we would laze in the moshav, my children and I. We went to the sea every day and would come back to her house covered with sand and tar stains. After a shower, we would enjoy a homemade lunch with a menu of “everyone gets what he likes.” To this day, I have not managed to reproduce the taste of the fresh chicken patties she made.

When we returned to Jerusalem, she always saw to it that we took with us whatever was growing on the farm that season. Years after her passing, I couldn’t bring myself to buy lemons in the supermarket, because lemons you have to pick from a tree. And anyway, bought lemons don’t have the same taste.

She had come from Ukraine by herself, and her whole family perished in the Holocaust, and so she occasionally accused herself, and said sorrowfully, “Everyone made sure to bring their family here, and only I thought it would be hard for them because they were spoiled.”

To think today about what those strong female and male pioneers went through, gives one much strength to believe that things will be good here and work for that.

I would like to speak to her and tell her that Ruvi and I are in the President’s Residence. I am sure that would make her happy to the heavens. She would stand tall and break into a smile of tremendous joy.

I remember and conjure up all the women since then, and the men, too: all the women and men of her town, who established Kfar Vitkin, Tzofit, Netanya and Kfar Hogla and were like sisters and brothers to her.

And the female poets of that period: Rachel, Leah Goldberg, Esther Raab and Yocheved Bat-Miriam, who left us poems that tell the story of the women of their generation.

On this occasion I also salute the Arab women of my mother’s generation, who had a bond with the land and cultivated it, who raised their children with love, exactly like our mothers.

Whenever I read a column by Sayed Kashua about his mother, I think in my heart that it could have been written about my mother.

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