Yisrael Hofesh, Israel's Oldest Kibbutz Member, Dies at Age 107

Hofesh was an active member of the Hashomer Hatzair movement, who described his fascination with Zionism as such: 'I was occupied by the Zionist idea at a young age, and the Zionist worldviews grew within me'.

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

Hofesh (ne Ola Guttenbaum) was born in Poland in 1905. He immigrated to Israel in 1925 and joined the labor brigade in Kibbutz Ein Harod. Hofesh described his fascination with Zionism as such: "I was occupied by the Zionist idea at a young age, and the Zionist worldviews grew within me."

A meeting with activist Yaakov Hazan (who was among the founders of the Hebrew Scouts in Poland, which later streamed into the Hashomer Hatzair movement) especially impressed him, and Hofesh went on to join the movement himself.

In 1927, Hofesh went with the labor brigade to the settlement of Afula, where he met members of the Kibbutz Hashomer Hatzair of SSSR, which later became Kibbutz Afikim. Together with these 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 went on to Lithuania to establish the Pioneer Scouts Youth (Netzach). Until kibbutz was officially erected, Hofesh toiled in road-building, portage, swamp-draining, and construction.

In 1932, Hofesh was among the first to move to the "point" where the kibbutz would be built, and helped establish 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, and remained with her for 66 years, until her death in 1999. The couple had four children.

During World War II, Hofesh served as the volunteers committee recruiting fighters for the Brigade, and served in the Jewish Brigades in Europe.

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

Hofesh began working in the Afikim archives in 1966. Zvi Ashkenazi, now manager of the archives, said that the files were disorderly until Hofesh arrived on the job. Hofesh took it upon himself to tour the archives around the country to find a better system. He consolidated the "communal archives" system, the method now used in 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. Soon after, he published the widely read handbook "Kibbutz Archiving – the Afikim Model", in which he described the method, order and organization required in managing an archive of the sort.

Hofesh was one of the central members of the Israeli Archivists Association, and won the title of "notable archivist" in 2001. He was forced to retire at the age of 96 due to his deteriorating eyesight.

He remained updated on matters pertaining to archiving until just before his death, producing handbooks on various matters. He produced 19 "anthologies" dealing the history and membership in Afikim, and another 13 handbooks on the kibbutz's history, society, demographics, security, and culture.

Hofesh attended the founding assembly of Mapai, the Workers Party of the Land of Israel, the predecessor of today's Labor party, and  remained faithful to the party ever since. He was the oldest party member to vote in the 2008 primaries, when a computer glitch kept many of the ballots from being processed. Hofesh was disappointed that his vote had been wasted, but told Haaretz then: "There is no choice, next week I will come and vote again."  

Dror Artzi