|Address:||Museum of Art, Ein Harod 18965 Israel|
By: Galia Bar OR
It is an interesting fact that in the kibbutzim, in the communal settlements situated at the periphery and numbering at most a few hundred members, museums were founded at an earlier stage and on a relatively broader scale than those that were established in the urban centers in Eretz-Israel. In the period between the ’30s and the late ’60s more than fifty museums were established in kibbutzim – museums of nature and archeology, museums for Holocaust research, and art museums.
The growth of museums of nature and archeology in kibbutzim may be explained by the spirit of the time: archeology had become the most meaningful science in the constituting of the national identity in Eretz-Israel, and in this sense its status was similar to that of the studies of history in the constituting of German nationalism. In the kibbutzim circles were formed to study local archeology and ‘knowledge of the Land’; there were expeditions and local excavations that yielded collections which were exhibited and which gradually grew into museums. These museums provided for the period’s needs by confirming the settlers’ affinity with an ancient past dating to the times of the Bible, and by establishing a historical basis that connected the people with its land, as part of the process of building a nation. The focusing on this subject and on the common past helped to bridge over the different and the divisive and to create a collective perspective of brotherhood and shared interest among residents who had arrived from diverse countries of origin. For the immigrants, becoming acquainted with the local nature and with the archeology was also a means of creating a sense of home in a foreign environment in a land that was on-the-face-of-it familiar (as part of the Jewish collective memory) but different from anything that they might have imagined in the Diaspora. Various items in nature were identified, were linked to their biblical names, and took on mythical and historical meaning in the nascent Israeli culture. The local accessibility of archeological items was conducive to the proliferation of these museums – archeological findings and nature collections were gathered in the nearby vicinity and brought together at the one site by members of the kibbutz.
The majority of museums that were established in kibbutzim are indeed museums of nature and archeology. The first of the museums in the kibbutzim, “Gordon House”, which was established in Degania Aleph (1935), brought together collections of nature, agriculture, and also included a memorial corner for the figure of A.D. Gordon, a thinker and intellectual of stature who had developed a spiritual view of labor on the land and had been a role model for pioneers in the first decades of the twentieth century.
Very few museums of Holocaust history were set up; the first of these was founded only a few years after World War II, with the arrival in Eretz-Israel of refugees from the war and a group who had been fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This united group found the “Ghetto Fighters’ Kibbutz”, Kibbutz Lochamei Ha-Ghettaot, and in 1951 inaugurated the “Itzhak Katznelson Ghetto Fighters’ House”. The museum became a center for education, research, mass memorial assemblies, and was a central institution on the subject of the Holocaust and the Rebellion until the consolidation in the ’60s of the “Yad Vashem” museum in Jerusalem, which had been established by the State government carrying out a resolution passed in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.
There is yet another category of museums that were established in kibbutzim, museums focusing on settlement on the land, but these were founded in a much later period. Until the late ’60s the tendency to genealogize, to establish the myth of the first settlers, had not become prevalent, and the flourishing of these museums of settlement actually occurred in the period after the Six-Day War (1967). After this period we can identify an additional process of state institutionalization of national culture, which found expression in the erecting of monuments and the production of jubilee celebrations marking constitutive events in the history of Jewish settlement in this country. The life-style of the settlers and ‘preservation of the heritage’ became part of the structuring of the national culture.
How can we explain the establishing of museums in kibbutzim? In the past the discussion of this question centered on the action of an individual, someone who was ‘fixated’ on the idea. Thus, for example, the establishment of the art museum at Kibbutz Ein Harod in the second half of the ’30s was explained by the strength of the charismatic figure of the local artist, Chaim Atar, who conceived and founded the museum.
“The establishing and the characters of the museums in this country were determined by the few who were ‘fixated on the idea’”, stated Yehudit Kol-Inbar in her pioneering study, The History of the Museums in Eretz-Israel Until the Establishment of the State as an Expression of the Zionist Vision (1992). In her position as administrator of the Museums Department at the Ministry of Education and Culture (1972-1994), Kol-Inbar became acquainted with ‘fixated’ people from among the first and second generation of founders of museums in Eretz-Israel, and the conclusions of her study are in line with the spirit of the Zionist ethos that constituted these museums. The dynamics of the establishment of museums was presented in her study as paralleling the character of the realization of Zionism as a whole, from an idea to a deed that “was borne on the shoulders of the pioneers who built this country from nothing, with an abundance of impetus, devotion, ideals and sacrifice of the individual for the collective (ibid.).” A prevalent Zionist myth is echoed in the narrative of the history of the museums as initiatives of individuals, glorifying the project of a solitary pioneer. This entails not only a kind of local invention, but is also a reflection of a general, universal trend. The Modernist conception developed and established the concept of the individual, which integrated well with the leading ideas of the museum institution. For example, until recently the figure of the authentic founder was considered both a necessary and a sufficient factor to set in motion the establishment of institutions such as museums.
Although this essay deals with museums in Israel, it will be illuminating to consider the story of a museum in Germany, the museum in Hagen, the history of which teaches that the solitary founder may be a necessary factor, but is certainly not a sufficient factor for a museum’s survival. Osthaus, founder of the museum in Hagen, was a ‘fixated’ person of a rare kind – owning land, means to build infrastructures, and finances to purchase whatever collection he wished. The museum he dreamed of was indeed built, and also operated for a relatively brief period, less than twenty years. The museum in Hagen died despite its success, because the overall circumstances – the local, historical and social contexts, both diachronic and synchronic – were not conducive, and were not able or willing to incorporate it even after it had been established.
Another example, this time from an Israeli context: the establishment of the museum at Kibbutz Lochamei Ha-Ghettaot, to eternalize the Holocaust and the Revolt, became possible not only because of the existence of someone ‘fixated on the idea’, Itzhak (Antek) Zuckerman (Cukierman). The museum was founded also because the particular kibbutz movement that Zuckerman belonged to (Hakibbutz Hameuchad) saw an importance in adopting the memory of the Holocaust and the Revolt into its system of symbols. The decision to hold an annual assembly for the Ghetto fighters in the presence of the museum building, and on a fixed date, was a movement resolution from the outset, and it anticipated by two years the Knesset’s 1953 resolution to mark an annual Remembrance Day for the Holocaust and the Heroism. The idea of linking the Remembrance Day with the Revolt, as well as the date of the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt with the day of the ‘ascent onto the land’ of Kibbutz Lochamei Ha-Ghettaot, was conceived by the leadership of the Kibbutz Meuchad movement. Active in another kibbutz movement, Hakibbutz Haartzi Hashomer Hatzair, was Abba Kovner, a charismatic poet and thinker, who was also ‘fixated on the idea’. All his life he wanted to establish a museum in memory of the Holocaust and the Revolt in his movement, and he designed 16 versions of museums that were not built. He did not win cooperation from his surroundings, and implemented his ideas in other museums, outside his kibbutz and his movement, in Israel and the U.S.A.
It appears that the institutional, ideological, political and social contexts are inevitable, and that they are particularly meaningful when it comes to kibbutz museums: the museum’s founder does not have any money in his pocket, even cash for a fare to Tel Aviv has to be asked for from the kibbutz’s Secretary; the land does not belong to the founder, and as for his work hours, even they are not his to decide.
The question arises most distinctively in the context of art museums established in kibbutzim by kibbutz members. What has an art museum to do with an egalitarian society such as a kibbutz? It seems that it is not difficult to establish a social and ideological context for the establishment of museums of nature and archeology, and a museum of the history of the Holocaust and the Revolt may be explained in historical and social terms. An art museum is an outsider, in the sense that unlike the museums of nature and archeology, it is not an ‘organic’ phenomenon stemming from the ideology of the time and the practice of Zionism. Art museums generally do not have an anchor in local artistic creation, and their collections are supposed to include international art that is accumulated over the years. An art collection is generally concentrated in an urban center, in a metropolis, and the ambition to build an art museum is characteristic of countries that possess status and power. In the 19th century art museums were also founded in middle-sized towns in Europe in the context of the growth of the bourgeoisie or as an inseparable part of the effort to build collective identities of specific communities. In Eretz-Israel, too, art museums were established in the big cities – “Bezalel” in Jerusalem (which had its beginnings in 1906 but actually opened only in 1925), and “Dizengoff House” in Tel Aviv (1931). The institution of the art museum is not generally prevalent in a community of immigrants that numbers only a few hundred and is situated in periphery areas. On the assumption that institutions such as art museums require an organizational and financial infrastructure, we can ask: what were the social and ideological arguments for establishing them and what was the platform of the political discourse that enabled individuals to mobilize a broad agreement for the establishment of an art museum. The institutional context has two aspects – one ideological, and one financial-organizational.
On the face of it, it seems that kibbutzim are all alike, but in fact there were four kibbutz movements, different from one another in their conception of individual –society relations, and each of them developed a distinct social vision of its own. A specific discussion on the question of the establishing of museums requires and understanding of the different conceptions of the kibbutz movements in this country and a clarification of their different attitudes to the artist, to the initiator, and to the establishing of museums. In the framework of the present essay it will not be possible to describe the characters of the kibbutz movements, but it is important to note in that the various movements different forms of collective memory developed, mobilizing means were shaped, and a variegated platform of styles and ways-of-life developed, through which communication channels operated between the individual and the society. The differences between the movements are discernible in subjects such as the building of monuments, the use of posters, the publication of books, the culture of memory and the founding of museums.
Nature and archeology museums were established in all four kibbutz movements, but art museums were established only in two of them. It was these two movements, too, that established an additional network of cultural institutions, such as a publishing house and a press.
The first of these was Hakibbutz Hameuchad, in whose framework the veteran art museum at Ein Harod was founded already in the ’30s, and another art museum was established in the ’50s, at Kibbutz Ashdot Yaacov. Both these museum were founded on the initiatives of local members who collected art from Israel and abroad. Today too both museums are active in the fields of contemporary art, and the collection of the museum at Ein Harod contains some 16,000 items. Both museums were founded by members who came from towns in Eastern Europe, where museums and concert halls were very rare. These members were sons of hard-up families of artisans and small merchants, some of whom turned to Zionism following a trauma of pogroms (conducted against the Jews by the Ukrainians led by Petlyura in 1919) and a sense of hopelessness.
The second movement was Hakibbutz Haartzi Hashomer Hatzair, in which until the late ’60s two museums were founded (one in the ’50s and one in the ’60s) after donations of private collections from abroad were received. It is important to note that Kibbutz Artzi movement was in its essence an elitist movement that championed ideological collectivism, while the Kibbutz Meuchad movement had the orientation of a mass movement and opposed the mixing of party politics and kibbutz life.
The two kibbutzim of the Hashomer Hatzair movement to which the collections were donated were Kibbutz Hazorea and Kibbutz Nir David. The founders of Kibbutz Hazorea, for example, came from well-to-do families in Germany, had been members of the socialist Jewish youth movement, the Werkleute, and migrated to Israel following the rise of Nazism. By the nature of things they had connections with the elite of German Jewry, one of whom, Wilfred Israel from Berlin, left a will bequeathing to his friends in the kibbutz the collection of Far Eastern and Egyptian art that he had collected over many years, as well as a sum of money to establish a museum (he was killed when the plane he was in was shot down by the Germans above the Bay of Biscay in 1943). In the case of the museum of Middle-Eastern archeology at Nir David, the collections were donated in their entirety to the kibbutz in the late ’50s by Daniel Lifschitz, a member of the movement in Zurich who had lived in the kibbutz for a brief period in his youth. Would these museums had been established in the kibbutzim of the Hashomer Hatzair movement if these collections had not been donated? It seems that the answer is a negative one.
The four art museums are still active today, as is also another art museum that was established in the ’80s at Kibbutz Bar’am. The museums, and the founding of non-commercial art galleries in kibbutzim, which exhibit contemporary art, constitute a significant component in the overall artistic activity, above and beyond the relative proportion of the kibbutz population in Israel.
The founding of museums in the kibbutzim is a fascinating topic because it entails the relationship between culture and society and touches upon the acute context of the boundaries between the individual’s space and the public realm.