Zionist pioneering movement. Local pioneering groups had been founded from the earliest days of Zionist settlement activity during the First and Second Aliyahs (1882–1903; 1904–1914). However, larger regional and national frameworks appeared only from 1917 onward, the year of the Balfour Declaration, the Russian Revolution, and the emergence of newly established states in Eastern Europe. The founders of He-Ḥaluts believed that no political or propaganda accomplishment would benefit Zionism in the long run unless it were complemented by deeds of personal fulfillment, which became a primary objective in the organization’s overall ideology. In other words, to actually implement the principles of He-Ḥaluts, the individual was expected both to identify with the Histadrut (Labor Federation) and to live on a cooperative kibbutz in Palestine.
He-Ḥaluts in Russia
On an ideological level, the basic foundations of the He-Ḥaluts movement were consolidated in 1917. Based on a combination of universal socialist and nationalist concepts, they drew ideological influence from the Tse‘ire Tsiyon party. He-Ḥaluts continued to evolve in Russia even after the change of regime. The fundamentals of agricultural training farms and links with the budding kibbutz movement in Palestine were laid down.
Come and unite in the effort to help the nation." Hebrew poster. Printed by Zakłady Graf, Poland, n.d. Advertisement for He-Ḥaluts's "organization month" in the Małopolska region of Poland. (YIVO)
By its very nature, an organization of this type was intended for small, elitist groups. Opposition to this trend emerged initially among a group of young members from Ukraine, who called themselves the Materialist group. They aspired to give He-Ḥaluts a wider character, accessible to party members as well as to youngsters with no record of public activity. Proponents of this vision saw He-Ḥaluts as a populist organization, representing unaffiliated Jewish youth in its entirety, independent of the General Zionist Federation and Jewish labor parties.
Eventually, this position gained widespread support among the various pioneer groups scattered throughout Russia, particularly in the western regions. Yosef Trumpeldor and his colleagues and followers spearheaded the change. They aspired for the movement to acknowledge Hebrew as the national language and to promote immigration to Palestine and reliance on their own labor once they had arrived. Before the new regime in Russia had stabilized, hundreds seized the opportunity and left Russia. They stopped for a time in various East European countries, where they spread their tenets in the spirit of the Russian chapter of He-Ḥaluts. Their ideological influence became evident particularly in parts of former Russian Poland.
When members of the Russian chapter of He-Ḥaluts arrived in Poland, the local He-Ḥaluts movement was undergoing a transition from its General Zionist foundations to finding solidarity with the Histadrut in Palestine. At the outset, the concept of hakhsharah (training) gained widespread popularity in dozens of localities, with emphasis placed on agricultural training. However, the actual training activity was mainly a part-time, seasonal affair, and when it was concluded, members reverted to their former way of life.
Members of the Zionist movement He-Ḥaluts from Poland and Russia on the way to Palestine, Constanța, Romania, 1923. (The Ghetto Fighters’ Museum/Israel)
The Fourth Aliyah (1924–1929) marked the first test of the populist concept, since at the time of the Third Aliyah (1919–1923)—the previous immigration wave—He-Ḥaluts had still been in an amorphous ideological phase and had been a marginal factor in Diaspora public affairs. When He-Ḥaluts held its world conference in 1923, the movement numbered only 7,000 registered members, but membership increased to tens of thousands within a year and a half. This massive growth led to a change in the organization’s social structure. High-school students and middle-class youth were now replaced with thousands of working-class youngsters and unemployed individuals, including members of Zionist Socialist parties.
But this high-tide period was short lived. The global economic crisis of that decade brought about massive abandonment. Chapters collapsed, training facilities were closed down, and as the crisis worsened, the movement shrank. Nonetheless (unlike other elements of the Zionist movement, which were practically obliterated), He-Ḥaluts still managed to maintain a stable nucleus. This was so even during the most despairing and isolating days of economic and social deprivation, a time in which the movement lacked assistance even from its leadership, which treated the radical attempt to establish permanent East European hakhsharah kibbutz societies, or farms, with suspicion. Followers were indoctrinated to disassociate themselves from the surrounding Jewish society, including their families, and to center their lives in the community of the kibbutz. At those remote settlements, or training farms, members implemented the most radical egalitarian principles; their ideal became ascetic self-denial, in the form of hard labor at stone quarries and sawmills. The acid test occurred when He-Ḥaluts spread into the urban centers, including some industrial centers, among a Jewish population that was alien to the movement’s collective and cultural concepts. This was at the time of the Fifth Aliyah (1929–1939), when He-Ḥaluts absorbed and trained tens of thousands of youngsters.
He-Ḥaluts and Youth Movements
He-Ḥaluts was originally established as an organization for young adults, age 18 and over. When the numbers of members decreased dramatically, He-Ḥaluts Ha-Tsa‘ir (The Young Pioneer)—a youth movement whose alumni would become members of He-Ḥaluts—was founded to reinforce the ranks.
Activists of He-Ḥaluts, the Zionist pioneering movement, Odessa, 1923. (The Ghetto Fighters’ Museum/Israel)
Initially, responses to this initiative included objection, incomprehension, and even ridicule. However, negotiations to merge with Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa‘ir and Gordonia in former Russian Poland and other Eastern European countries continued until late 1931, when the majority at He-Ḥaluts finally recognized those movements’ rights to autonomy in such fields as education, training, and immigration to Palestine. The debates and polemic disputes of 1934–1935, in preparation for the sixth conference of He-Ḥaluts, caused the movement to deteriorate nearly to the point of internal division. Under unbearable pressure from the movements, He-Ḥaluts postponed and subsequently canceled its conference.
In the meantime, as a result of the Arab revolt and the changes in British policy toward aliyah, the number of new immigrants decreased dramatically. As was the case in the past, the first to suffer were local chapters—ever the weakest link within He-Ḥaluts. Within the hakhsharah, this process was slower, but their activities, too, suffered from the marked decrease in the number of members. Unlike previous crises, these departures led to a change in the nature of hakhsharah; it ceased serving as a transition station.
In 1938–1939, the situation improved with the beginning of illegal immigration to Palestine. Many movement veterans left and were replaced by a generation of youngsters—youth movement alumni—who stirred new hopes. World War II, however, brought the movement to a halt. A new chapter in the history of He-Ḥaluts began within the youth movements, where young members played an important, and often crucial, role in Jewish life during the Holocaust.
Mosheh Basok, ed., Sefer he-Ḥaluts: Antologyah (Jerusalem, 1939/40); Mosheh Basok, He-Ḥaluts ha-tsa‘ir: Me’asef (‘En Ḥarod, Isr., 1944); Israel Oppenheim, Tenu‘at he-Ḥaluts be-Polin, 1917–1929 (Jerusalem, 1982); Israel Oppenheim, The Struggle of Jewish Youth for Productivization: The Zionist Youth Movement in Poland (Boulder, 1989); Israel Oppenheim, Tenu‘at he-Ḥaluts be-Polin, 1929–1939 (Kiryat Sede-Boker, Isr., 1993).
Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann