HDNA and HDUK’s Kvutzat Chasa Finishes Shorashim

Speech to the Workshop-Shnat Kvutza from Shorashim Rakaz Adam Kausman

Kvutzat Chasa - Workshnat 73.

In the last radiant moments of the long Israeli summer, you landed. Just after Rosh Hashana, when the evenings were still warm and the sky bright blue until long after dinner time. You were 25, we were 5, and it seemed the long Israeli summer might never end.

Soon, the days grew shorter. At first, slowly, and then very quickly, all at once. The night took hold earlier, and sweaters emerged from your suitcases for the first time. The summer that, for a while, seemed like it would never end, faded into the background. 

On October the 7th 2023, we were plunged into darkness. You all were luckily safe here on Kibbutz Ein Hashofet. But in the kibbutzim and towns of the Gaza Envelope, something truly dark was playing out. The worst single day for Jewish death since the Holocaust. The details are so depraved, so horrifying that the mere description of some events still plays in my mind 49 days later like a movie that I can’t turn off no matter how hard I try. The darkness was blinding and all-encompassing. We blinked fast through thick tears, our pupils struggling to adapt to the new conditions.

In those early days after the 7th, we all struggled to find our way in the dark. We, your madrichot and rakazot, knew that things would change for your program. I know you knew it too. But we were still stumbling in the dark, all of us, trying to latch on to something, anything, that would tell us we were safe and that the dark would dissipate at some point. Those were the days that it was too early to really hope, to really believe, that the dark would ever subside. Still, I often feel like we are in those days. But now, our eyes have adjusted to the dark, even just a little bit. 

The nights now long, the days now short. The sunbeams less radiant, the breeze more penetrating.

One of the stories that still sticks with me after all these weeks is that of Vivian Silver, Zichrona L’bracha, of blessed memory. 

Vivian grew up in Winnipeg, Canada. Driven by a burning sense of identity and responsibility, she joined Habonim in the 1960s. She was active in the movement, particularly as a trailblazer for women’s liberation in Jewish and Zionist spaces. She organised the first National Conference of Jewish Women when she was still in North America. In 1974, she and her Garin from Habonim made aliyah and revived Kibbutz Gezer. She caused a borderline scandal when she became the kibbutz’s chairperson, mazkira, at a time where that was considered a man’s job. She was the first mazkira of any kibbutz in Israel. Later, she founded the groundbreaking Department to Advance Gender Equality of the United Kibbutz Movement.

Vivian moved to Kibbutz Be’eri in 1990 with her husband and young children. She co-directed the Arab-Jewish Center for Equality, Empowerment, and Cooperation, part of the Negev Institute for Strategies of Peace and Economic Development, an organization that focuses on education and development for the Bedouin community of the Negev and Arab citizens throughout Israel. In her retirement, she founded the organisation Women Wage Peace, where she remained active. She took joy from meeting members of our movement, Habonim Dror, when they came to visit her on seminars in Israel, hoping to glean some wisdom from an exceptional woman. 

On the 4th of October, she marched in Jerusalem with thousands of Palestinian and Israeli women in “The Mother’s Call,” an event aimed at rallying female activists for creating a peaceful future for Israel and Palestine.

On the 7th of October, Vivan Silver was murdered by Hamas in her home in Kibbutz Be’eri. 

“On the one hand, she was small and fragile. Very sensitive,” her son Yonatan describes. “On the other hand, she was a force of nature. She had a giant spirit. She was very assertive. She had very strong core beliefs about the world and life.”

In the darkness of October 7th, we, our movement, our society, and all lovers of peace - lost a shining light. The darkness seemingly only accumulates.

How are we, then, to fight the dark? 

AD Gordon, one of the great thinkers of Socialist-Zionism tells us:
“There will not be a victory of light over darkness as long as we do not recognize the simple truth, that instead of fighting the darkness, we must increase the light.”

And for that, we can take a lot of inspiration from Vivan Silver. Light, it seems, is the word that so many associated with her:
At her funeral, Ghadir Hani, long time colleague and friend, wept “Vivian, you were a lighthouse to us all.”
In a letter, a group of her closest family, friends and colleagues wrote that she was “a small woman with unflagging energy and a smile that lights up the room.”
In the title of his obituary of Vivian published in The Forward, Bradley Burston describes her as “a lighthouse of a human being”. 

If we are aiming to increase the light - there is so much to take from the life of Vivian Silver z”l. 

So, increase the light we must.

It may start small. In my eyes, you have already produced sparks of light. 
Your choice, all of you, to be here in this room at this moment is a ray of light. To choose to stay in Israel, to connect yourselves to this moment, to this place, and to each other, increases the light. To say - “no. We won’t let the darkness consume us” - that is increasing the light. And to choose life, to choose kvutzah, to choose the movement and hachshara - that increases the light, too. 

To the madrichimot Matan, Mushka, Shandler, and Nancye. You also have been rays of light. I am so overwhelmingly thankful that it was this tzevet that happened to be here when the darkness struck. Your choices to lead these chanichimot, in all circumstances, have been inspiring, I know for them, and most certainly for me as well. Your dedication to be on kibbutz more than imagined, to come up with engaging, fun and silly moments when plans fell away, and to choose friendship and love with each other as well - all of that has increased the light around us. Thank you all for choosing to see the light inside of each of your chanichot, and helping to bring out that light, to strengthen it. Thank you for being my partners in one of the most difficult hadracha challenges any of us are likely to face. 

In a little under two weeks, Chanuka - the festival of light - begins. It is no coincidence that we celebrate chanukah when the nights are longest, when darkness is at its most all-conquering. By lighting a candle - increasing the light - we ensure that the darkness does not go unchallenged.

One of the most iconic songs sung on Chanuka goes as follows:

באנו חושך לגרש,
בידינו אור ואש.
כל אחד הוא אור קטן,
וכולנו אור איתן.

We have come to expel the darkness
In our hands - light and fire
Each of us is a small light
And all together - we are a strong light. 

Kvutzat Chasa: as you leave Shorashim to continue on your Workshnat journey, today I say to you - increase the light.

Aleh Ve’Hagshem.