The Old Young Guard

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Criticized for applying a theme-park mentality to matters of the utmost seriousness, the museum has moved to bring the technological innovations in line with the kibbutz's own more down-to-earth sensibility. According to the curator, Vered Bar Samech, the yellow stars, now turned off, will be switched on again only if they answer to a need arising from a particular tour group. Consistent with her emphasis on education, Bar Samech would also like to add a wing where students will be introduced to the basics of modern Jewish history, since all the technology in the world cannot give a young person the context to understand what he is seeing, let alone help him to think about it.

There is undoubtedly something charming about the old-school simplicity and straightforwardness still on display at Yad Mordechai. These values have to a large extent disappeared from the Israeli scene. But, from the outset, Hashomer Hatzair as a movement suffered from the limitations of its strident rebellion against Jewish tradition and its contempt for religion; these limitations, now a source of stagnation, remain unfortunately on display at the museum.

Thus, a tour of the exhibits begins by descending into a dark, gloomy basement where seven columns depict Eastern European Jewish life through, among other things, a wall lined with photographs of stereotypically scraggly Jews in traditional garb. The visitor then ascends a set of stairs, where, now in the light in more senses than one, religious Jews and other evidences of Jewish tradition have all but completely disappeared. The stark dichotomy faithfully reflects the encrusted perspective of Hashomer Hatzair but hardly the living reality of present-day Israel, where it is no longer the secular left-wing kibbutzim but the religious-Zionist community that produces the disproportionate share of elite Israeli troops.

True, the museum does feature one religious-Zionist kibbutz. This is Kfar Darom, founded in 1946 as one of a family of Gaza-based settlements that, along with Yad Mordechai, were attacked by the Egyptians in 1948. Kfar Darom, too, fell in the war of independence; it was not rebuilt until after Israel re-conquered the territory in 1967, only to be abandoned again in the Gaza disengagement of 2005.

In the Yad Mordechai museum, however, the history of Kfar Darom is told without any mention of the disengagement plan or of what followed afterward, including the Kassam missiles that promptly began falling on Yad Mordechai itself. One can make sense of this oversight only by reference to an ideological commitment to "peace" that tends to ignore inconvenient details of political reality and that was and is another aspect of the Hashomer Hatzair program. Indeed, the movement was originally in favor of a binational state, declaring in 1945 that the choice for the Jews of Palestine lay between "fascist reaction and democratic progress," the latter to be achieved by sharing government with the Arabs. Presumably, some variant of that dream is still alive.

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Aryeh Tepper

Aryeh Tepper completed his doctorate in Jewish Thought at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in July, 2010. He presently writes for Jewish Ideas Daily.