Saturday, March 17, 2007

An old woman who lived alone is buried at a kibbutz

Above: Towing a glider to takeoff at the Hill of Moreh. (Megiddo Gliding Club archive)

We are visiting at a kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley, and a friend says he has to go up to the cemetery for a funeral at 2 p.m. He wonders if other people will show up.

The person they are burying is an old woman who lived alone for many years, and Friday at 2 p.m. is not prime time for any event at the kibbutz except maybe a nap.

Younger members may not have known the woman who died, although she had been active in kibbutz affairs.

Talking about her, we learn that her father was Max Beer. Our kibbutz friend mentions the family connection with the kind of esteem that others may attach to names of celebrities or rich people.

Beer was a prominent member of the Social Democratic movement in Europe. He wrote books.

Beer found it necessary to change countries a number of times. Born in Galicia in 1864, he emigrated in 1889 to Germany, where he was imprisoned in 1893-94 under the imperial press law. He moved to England, which 20 years later sent him back to Germany as a World War I enemy alien. He worked at the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow in 1927-29. In 1933, with the rise of the Nazis, he emigrated from Germany to England, this time for keeps. He died in London in 1943.

Beer wrote histories of socialism, and biographies of Jean Jaures and Karl Marx. He wrote a foreword to an edition of Rosa Luxemburg's letters from prison. You can still buy his works. At this writing in mid-March 2007, Amazon offers 10 of his titles for sale. Amazon lists five other titles as currently unavailable.

The friend who tells us the story of Beer's daughter does not know what first brought her to the kibbutz. By the early 1940s, her lifetime connection with the place was already sealed.

She became the lover of a kibbutz member. In 1942, during clandestine military training, he died in a glider accident on the nearby Hill of Moreh. His death left her with their seven-month-old son. The son grew up and eventually moved away from the kibbutz. The mother stayed until her death the other day at age 94.

The past can seem especially close in the Jezreel Valley. This area, also known as the Plain of Esdraelon, is where the biblical Gideon and his 300 warriors defeated an entire Midianite army, and where Orde Wingate taught Jews to emulate Gideon's tactics in the 1930s. The Hill of Moreh, where the fatal 1942 glider accident took place, is where the Philistines encamped before defeating King Saul. The Israel Gliding Club has long since stopped soaring from the Hill of Moreh. The club moved to Megiddo. This is where major battles have been fought over the centuries, and where some people believe the final battle of Armageddon will take place some day.

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

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