Yaacov and Chaya Oren - kibbutz founders


The Orens - Pt. 1
13:23 minutes
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The Orens - Pt. 2
8:15 minutes
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The Orens - Pt. 3
7:48 minutes
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The Orens - Pt. 4
2:25 minutes
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The Orens - Pt. 5
5:38 minutes
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The Orens - Pt. 6
7:21 minutes
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The Orens - Pt. 7
2:00 minutes
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The Orens - Pt. 8
1:46 minutes
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Transcription (edited) of video clips: Part 1 • Part 2 • Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 6Part 7Part 8

Part 1 - In this first segment, which I will not transcribe at this time, we chat about their family, work life and kibbutz roles. Chaya became a psychologist, specializing in child and family practice; Yaacov worked in many roles on the kibbutz and for a while was in the Ministry of Agriculture for the state of Israel. I ask Yaacov where he was born and about his earlier experience. He was in the Russian army in WWII. His parents and family died in the Transnistria, as the Holocaust in NE Romania and southern Ukraine is known. Chaya tells me that was born in Hungary, and was 17 in 1944, when the Germans came. He family was all sent to Auschwitz. They all died there. Only she survived. She describes being liberated by British soldiers, and then, three weeks lataer, some people (it isn't clear who, but I think from Israel), preparing the survivors to learn Hebrew and come to Israel. "I was a Zionist," she says. When she met them, she tells me, she knew she would come to Israel, and not go back to Hungary. There was nothing to go back to.

Part 2 -

Chaya: It was '46, in August, when I came to Haifa .

Srul: (translating) They came with the illegal immigration.

Chaya: We were three or four weeks; they …

Srul: …They prepared them for the trip, and what to do once they got here. In Italy . They were waiting for a ship in Italy .

Chaya: Yaacov was in same place, on the beach.

Srul: So, that's where they met.

Chaya: He was…

Srul: He was in charge of health. He studied medicine before he was drafted, enscripted into the army.

Chaya: I came with my group and for me give some pills, and said if, and I write, if you have headache I give this, it you have diarrhea you give this and when we come to this camp…

Srul: (translating and summarizing) The first day that they met, he was working with a Polish doctor, and he made an aside, and old drunk he said. The first time they met, he proposed to her. She was going to get medical equipment, medicine and everything.

Peter: And instead, she got him! And when you first came to Israel , you came to Haifa ?

Yaacov: Yes, to Haifa . But, the English soldiers took us back to Cypress . The lagan…the camp…

Chaya: We were there three months.

Yaacov: We were on the (ship name?). It was very difficult the conditions. And in the lagan in Cypress it was a little better. We were free to do…but we could not go out from the lagan. This was very difficult for the people who come from a concentration lagan and after the liberation, more was.

Chaya: Two weeks we were in Haifa .

Srul: They were in Haifa for two weeks, then on the boat for two weeks, then they went to Cypress after that.

Peter: Because the British wouldn't let them land?

Srul: Right. Three months they were in Cypress and then they came to Israel . A lot of people had to wait, but there was a quota. How many they would let come into Israel .

Yaacov: It was a very strong relation between the Hagana and the people in the camps. And they organized a few main person from the Hagana came to the camps and they organized young people to be ready to go to fight.

Srul: They gave them military training.

Yaacov: We were a group organized to go to a kibbutz; so we went not to the army directly when we arrived, but we were like soldiers in the place where we stayed. Really, in times from the war, the Druz - they are now friends of Israel - attacked the settlement where we stayed, in '47, '48…

Chaya: '47. In September we came from Gran Shmuel.

Yaacov: So that this was in the beginning of '48. They attacked us. And we were soldiers, to fight.

Peter: The Druz attacked you?

Srul: The Druz are loyal to the country. Now they're loyal to Israel . Then they were loyal to the British and to the Arabs. And the Druz in the Golan Heights are loyal to the Syrians. And the Druz in Lebanon are loyal to the Lebanese.

Yaacov: After the wars, the Druz finished to fight against Jews, and they began to be with us. There were four settlements: the place where we was in '47, '48 was four settlements: Rabat Yohanon, Bal Macavi, Hoosha and Tiyoslim. We were in Tiyoslim. This was our first name.

Srul: Shamrat had an earlier name. It was in a different place.

Yaacov: After that, when we arrived at the place where you stay, now we kept the name Shumrat. Shumrat is one from the sons Asher. And this region belonged to the tribe of Asher.

Srul: There's a scout camp in the place where the original settlement of Shumrat was.

Peter: And where is that?

Srul: It's between here and Haifa . And a little bit east. The three other kibbutzim are still there. (They withstood an attack from Syria during the '48 war.)

Part 3 -

Peter: What about the early days of this kibbutz? Can you tell me a little bit about how the kibbutz started and how it grew and what were your challenges?

Yaacov: They say when someone takes an ideology and is busy (trying) to build something, he has not enough time to think about his maladies. Now, the situation on the kibbutz is a little older than it was, and we are older. We see not the same view on the life in the kibbutz like was 50 year ago.

Peter: What has changed?

Yaacov: Fifty years ago we received for breakfast half an egg and a little piece of herring. We had a plan to do something. This was important. And it was easier to live. This is not the same kibbutz, not the same people who stay today on the kibbutz. We have 60 or 65 or 70 people who are more like 70 years, 65 years. And no all was in the first group, but we begin to get at this. And the people who came later they have other ideas, too.

Peter: Okay. In the beginning, how many people came to start this kibbutz?

Yaacov: In '48 we were 140 people. A lot of left the kibbutz, but until now we have, together the people who stay in the cemetery, I think we have 85.

Chaya: I think now 65 (living).

Srul: There's another couple of tens that are buried.

Peter: 65 of those original 140 people are still living here? That's pretty impressive.

Srul: The statistic that I know about of the kibbutz in Israel , is that every three people who come to live on a kibbutz, one stays.

Peter: Can you talk a little bit about the ideology when you first came? What were the principles? What was the main thing? What was in your minds?

Yaacov: We were socialist. And we lived like it. We were the poorest among the workers, I am sure, because the biggest part of our income, what we received from our work, go for education and health. And I am that between the hundred people who began were a few who didn't work so good, put the soul into the work.

We have always what to eat, what to wear, everything. We built houses for people, but all the things were very very simple, very modest. Until now we have a lot of people. I think that people who work 60 years, or 55 years in the land, or 50 years. I work until I was 80. They have more. They have money for pensions, and to give the children help, and they buy apartments for the children when they don't stay in kibbutz. We haven't this possibility. Begin, you know the name Begin? Begin spoke of the kibbutz millionaires. You know what is millionaire? Because they have a swimming pool. Our kibbutz builds a swimming pool what we have from the money we receive from the Germans. All the money for the members of kibbutz who were in the holocaust goes to the kibbutz. And we make a fund and we build more things, we make for the kibbutz from the money. But the biggest part goes to everyday life.

Part 4 -

Chaya: You ask about ideology and I remember that I was little …

Srul: She was religious. Traditional, more. After the holocaust she said that she was in a camp; until today she is mad at God.

Chaya: But I said to him I want to go to kibbutz. If you want to marry me, only, if you come with me to kibbutz. Then he said to me, if kibbutz only, Hashomer Hatzair.

Yaacov: I knew this from Romania .

Chaya: The ideology of Hashomer Hatzair was his ideology.

Peter: In other words, Hashomer Hatzair had a Marxist ideology. But not every kibbutz had that.

Chaya: I learned this (ideology) after.

Peter: So you (Yaacov) came to it from Marxism or socialism and you (Chaya) came to it from…

Srul: She was attracted to kibbutz. Also, like she said before, she was rebelling against God. She just said to me now she's adding ideology by the religion and all that. She said to me she realizes now that if you're rebelling against God you accept His existence.

Chaya: I, but not he!

Part 5 - I asked Yaacov if it was enough for him that the kibbutz develop along socialist lines, or if he hoped that the country would develop that way as well. Leads to a discussion of how practical considerations made the kibbutz modify its ideology. At some point the kibbutz had to hire outside workers, who sometimes look on the kibbutzniks as capitalist exploiters! We also discuss the alleged discrimination against Oriental Jews. "The workers came to work at our furniture factory in autos," Yaacov said, "and we came by bicycle. And WE are the capitalist exploiters!"

Part 6 -

Srul: Something else that I thought might be interesting to talk with them about. There were a lot of debates when the kibbutz started that we laugh at today. And one is like you see in their house, they have books. Or they have a coffee kettle. It wasn't automatic that somebody had a coffee kettle. They had to discuss in the general assembly whether or not somebody could have his own bookcase in his house. And that would mean that he would be spending time in his house and not spending time in the library or collectively. Everyone would be together. Or if he had his own coffee kettle, he'd be drinking coffee in his house and not together with everybody else. These are a lot of the things that we laugh at today. But they were serious discussions. I remember the discussion about television. That was is in my time. When I was here already there was a big debate about whether or not people should be allowed a television. And of course if they were allowed to have television, the kibbutz would start buying them and giving them out to people. So there were all these issues. And everything was a heated debate.

Peter: Is that in the past or do you guys still do that?

Srul: We do not have debates like we used to. And today an issue like privatization was a lot less of a debate than an issue like whether or not we should sell our own furniture or give it to somebody else to sell. Or whether or not there should be televsion.

Chaya: speaking Hebrew ...

Srul: (translating for Chaya) Okay. This is an important issue for me to translate. The whole issue of the evolution of kibbutz democracy. There were a couple of reasons. Now it's a lot more representative democracy. And it used to be direct democracy. It used to be shunned upon that somebody would not show up at a general assembly. People were expected to be there. People were expected to speak their opinions. And we had what we call a collective ideology. Meaning you can debate as much as you want, you can disagree, but after we all raise our hands and we have a majority and everybody straightens the line and says whatever the majority decided. Whether or not that happened, I don't know. They can maybe tell you. I've heard there cases where it did and where it didn't. Ten years ago, we were pulling ourselves out of a serious economic crisis. In the late 80's there was a terrible economic situation on Shamrat, most of the kibbutzim. What was happening already in the general assemblies were two things: less people coming and the people who came were not necessarily a cross section of the kibbutz, or they were people who knew what they were voting on and talking about. They had an ideology. They had an opinion, so they would come. So a lot of the financial leaders of the kibbutz of ten years ago said “we have to stop this direct democracy. We need a representative democracy.” People who the kibbutz can vote on. It wasn't even a representative democracy. They said we've learned finance, we've learned economics. You have a choice of letting us get the kibbutz out of the mud or letting the ‘mobocracy' get us out of the mud. Choose. We send people to study economics and finance, in our institutes, and this is what they learn. They learn to come back and usurp the power.

What do we have today? Today we have secret ballots. Those things are done by ballot.

Peter: Do you have a representative body?

Srul: Yes, we do have a representative body that votes on a lot of stuff. And we have a weekly protocol that everybody reads and knows what was decided. And anybody has a right to appeal. A group decides something, and somebody says ‘I don't accept this decision' he can appeal it and it can be brought up. There is though, I'm seeing for myself, and I think there are a lot of people who feel like I do. I have a feeling of fatalism. I feel like I don't really have a lot of influence any more on the way things are moving in the kibbutz. Kibbutz has a certain stychic process. It's moving in a certain way. Whether somebody stops it or helps it, it's going to be moving in that way. What we have to do is make sure that we remain a fair society. That we can still be friendly with each other. Whatever comes along the way.

I just feel fatalistic about it. I don't feel there's anything I can really to prevent something that can happen. I usually don't go to general meetings any more. I usually don't speak when I have something to say or present a resolution. I don't usually come with my ideas any more.

She says it's a pity. She feels that people in their 80's they have an excuse for not showing up. When I say I feel like a fatalist, she says it's too bad I feel that way. It's important. A pity.

Part 7 - We discuss the taking of Hebrew names, as Srul did with his first name, but many of the founders did with their last names. Yaacov was a Fichman, but they changed it to Oren (Hebrew for pine). Now he's thinking of reclaiming his old name as well.

Part 8 -

Peter: Russia? No traces of communism remaining. China? There is no communism in China today. Cuba? I don't know. Maybe, maybe not.

Srul: Not for long.

Peter: Is it true? Is the kibbutz the most successful socialistic experiment in history?

Srul: Good question.

Chaya: Until now, it is the kibbutzim…they believe in kibbutz. It is kibbutzim. I know, very good.

Srul: We're always discussing ‘are we still a kibbutz' because we've got…if we've got a tea kettle in the house, are we still a kibbutz? If we have a bookshelf in our house, are we still a kibbutz? And now, if we have differential incomes, are we still a kibbutz? For me the answer is ‘yes, we're still a kibbutz'. We have collective ownership of our means of production. We have collective ownership of our dining room and our muladon. A lot of things are still collectively owned. And we still have solidarity. We still feel responsible and interdependent. And that's more important than whether or not somebody has a wage incentive and somebody else has less.

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