Kibbutz Ein Harod was once the symbol of the rejection of religion in Israel. Despite the fact that most of the founding members of the kibbutz came from rabbinic families – or perhaps because of it – the youthful pioneers were determined to wipe out every vestige of religion from their lives. They called their weekly day off "Shabbat" whenever it fell during the week. A new Haggadah, celebrating man’s freedom from capitalism in the spirit of communism (the kibbutz split in the ‘50s over the desire of half the members to officially ally with Stalin’s Russian), was written for the Seder, at which bread was eaten together with a few pieces of matzah.
The members only concession to Jewish religion was to provide kosher food, after a fashion, for their elderly parents, who joined them after the establishment of the kibbutz, and a small beit knesset. The latter, however, did not have a sefer Torah.
In the early ‘40s, an event took place on Ein Harod that caused an uproar among the religious population of Eretz Yisrael. One of the old-timers did not realize that the failure to provide a sefer Torah was not a mere oversight, but davka (intentional). He traveled to nearby Afula and asked the local rav for a sefer Torah for the beit knesset. The latter gladly provided him with one.
The old man returned to the kibbutz clutching the precious sefer Torah. But when the young people realized what he was holding, they seized it from him and threw the sefer Torah over the fence onto the ground.
The terrible event became known, and the old yishuv demonstrated against the chilul Hashem that had taken place. At one of the demonstrations, the Ponevezher Rav gave a speech in which he adopted the role of Rabbi Akiva in the famous Gemara at the end of Makkos (24b).
In the same vein, the Ponevezher Rav told his listeners: "You are crying, but I’m laughing. The members of Ein Harod have shown a deep understanding of the power of a sefer Torah. They know that even having the sefer Torah in the kibbutz for one night could effect a revolution in their lives, and so they threw it out. If they have such a deep understanding of the power of a sefer Torah, I know that one day there will be a beis medrash in Ein Harod."
Every cheder yingele in Eretz Yisrael could quote the Ponevezher Rav’s slogan: "Write tefillin and mezuzot for the children of Ein Harod; we will yet have to build chadorim and yeshivot for the children of Nahalal [another irreligious kibbutz near Ein Harod]."
Twenty-five years later, as the Ponevezher Rav lay near death, he received an invitation to Ein Harod for a Channukas HaBayis for a beit knesset in Ein Harod. His eyes shone with joy and he said, "True, a beit knesset is not yet a yeshiva. We have not merited that, but something has begun to move there."
Today, however, the study of Torah has already become a regular event in Ein Harod. For the last seven years a weekly Gemara class has taken place on the kibbutz. The rav who teaches the shiur is himself a third generation product of the kibbutz, whose grandfather was one of Ein Harod’s founding members and the first Minister of Agriculture in the State of Israel.
THIS LAST SHABBOS a sheva berachos took place at Ein Harod. The chattan, Gil Brand, has been learning for over three years at Yeshiva Ashrei HaIsh led by Rav Yosef ben-Porat in the Beit Vegan neighborhood of Jerusalem. Gil is already the third generation on the kibbutz. His mother is the manager of one of the kibbutz’s largest factories, and his brother-in-law (who himself is shomer Shabbos and lays tefillin every day) is in charge of the organic food division, another of the Ein Harod’s major money-makers. The kallah too was raised on one of the first kibbutzim.
In honor of the joyous occasion, the Brand family invited Rabbi ben-Porat together with his entire yeshiva, including families of avreichim – over eighty people altogether. To provide accommodations for such a large influx of visitors the kibbutz cleared three of its largest buildings and made all the arrangements necessary to host eighty chareidim.
Only two obstacles marred the visitors’ reception. There was no Shabbos clock for the air conditioner in the beit knesset and the older woman in charge of the beit knesset insisted that the air conditioner (a virtual necessity in the oppressive heat of the Jezreel Valley) could only be used if she turned it off during the hours it was not in use. In addition, none of the sifrei Torah turned out to be kosher. In the end, however, the two problems cancelled one another out. With only an hour left until Shabbos, a call was made to Afula and arrangements made to borrow a kosher sefer Torah. When the woman in charge of the shul saw the alacrity with which the group was able to obtain another sefer Torah, she was so impressed that she agreed to leave on the air conditioner for the entire Shabbos.
Perhaps only a veteran Israeli can fully appreciate the significance of what took place last Shabbos in Ein Harod. Mrs. Ayala Rottenberg was a madricha of the Yaldei Teheran. Last week four of her children were in Israel for a family simcha, and they were to spend Shabbos together. Yet when Mrs. Rottenberg heard about the shevah berachos in Ein Harod, she asked her visiting children for permission to attend rather than join them.
She remembered well the confidence of the Zionists in the early ‘40s, their absolute assurance that the future belonged to them, and the arrogance with which they had done everything possible to remove her and the other Polish-Jewish refugee children from their parents’ religious observance.
The confidence of the kibbutzniks in their future has gone the way of their one time belief in Stalin. In the end, only seven of the thirty kibbutz members invited to the shevah berachos joined the festivities. The others, Mrs. Rottenberg surmised, were too afraid to come, afraid that they too might become ba’alei teshuva. She could not help be amazed at the contrast between the self-confidence of the kibbutzniks of sixty years ago and the dying movement of today.
As of yet, there is no full-time beis medrash in Ein Harod, although a building formerly owned by the kibbutz in Afula Ilit now houses a Talmud Torah with over 200 students. Gil Brand, however, was not the first ba’al teshuva from Ein Harod, and we can be sure he will not be the last.
On Shabbos, the yeshiva students spent almost all their time learning in the beit knesset while the women and children toured the grounds. Rabbi ben-Porat told them that with their Torah learning they were removing the seven klippot of tumah (impurity) still to be found in Ein Harod, and preparing the way for the full fulfillment of the Ponevezher Rav’s vision.