1889 – 1970
I am a simple Jewish woman with no higher education. Many of my friends were more educated than I, but they are unrecognized. They remained anonymous and secluded, and I, the simple girl, made a name for myself and accomplished a great deal (Baratz, 58).
Miriam Ostrovsky Baratz, a founder of Kevuzat Deganyah Aleph and one of the first two women members of the Haderah commune, was a member of the founding generation who exemplified the attempt to change the conventional norms of Jewish society, Yishuv society and workers’ groups.
She was born in Boguslav, Ukraine on December 23, 1889, one of six children. Her father, Rabbi Yosef Leib Ostrovsky, an ardent Zionist who made his living by leasing a ferry, imparted his Zionist values to his entire family. When Miriam was twelve years old, her mother died and her father remarried. Her older brothers, Asher and Aaron (1889–1979), immigrated to Palestine, and in their enthusiasm swept up the rest of the family. Her father traveled to Palestine in the summer of 1906 and bought a hundred and ten–dunam plot of land in Kefar Sava for planting almond trees.
On September 12, 1906, aged seventeen, Miriam immigrated to Palestine with some of her family. Young and carefree, she was nicknamed “the wild goat” (Baratz, 9). Her family settled in Petah Tikvah in order to prepare for the move to the property in Kefar Sava. For their livelihood, they opened an eatery for laborers in Kefar Sava, where Miriam worked as a cook and baker together with her grandparents. When the work was completed and the laborers left, the family returned to Petah Tikvah, which was a center for laborers. The family was left without livelihood or money and Miriam worked at temporary jobs. Women agricultural workers were a rare sight in those days and farmers refused to employ them. “They were completely ostracized” (Baratz, 9). The farmer Krol of Petah Tikvah was unusual in that he abided by the principle of self-help and even employed Miriam in his orchards. On Purim 1907, preparations began for a nursery for planting the Herzl Forest in Ben Shemen, which was the first planting project on Jewish National Fund soil. It was there that Miriam first met the members of the “Romny Commune,” (Romny, Ukraine: 180 km NE of Kiev) who were among the planters. Despite the fact that she had nothing to eat, Miriam did not join them in the capacity of housekeeper, a position filled by women pioneers who wanted to be agricultural laborers. On June 8, 1908, when the members of the group went to live at the “Kinneret Courtyard,” Miriam was called upon to replace Sarah Malkhin (1885–1949), who had fallen ill, as housekeeper, responsible for cooking, baking, laundry and cleaning in the residential building, even though she had no practical experience. She remained there for four months before she was asked to go to the moshavah Mizpah to work as housekeeper for six young men who had moved there. She stayed at Mizpah, where conditions were extremely difficult, for two months, then went to Haderah when Jewish workers were needed to help pick chickpeas (humus). In Jaffa she reported to Menahem Sheinkin (1871–1924), the representative of Hovevei Zion in Palestine, and a delegation of Haderah farmers who had come to choose laborers for this work. Sheinkin recommended Miriam, who impressed him with her persistence, enthusiasm and physical strength.
News spread in Haderah that “a woman laborer was coming” (Pirkei Hayyim, 11). When the farmers refused to employ her, she offered to work without pay, and the next day she was a paid employee. Her colleagues from the “Romny Commune” asked her to stay in Haderah, “to live and work together” (ibid.). Work there was considered “pioneering” because of the malaria that raged in the area. The commune had two women members, Sarah Malkhin, the housekeeper, and Miriam Ostrovsky, a laborer in the moshavah’s orchards. The “Haderah Commune” decided to accept the proposal of Dr. Arthur Ruppin (1876–1943) that they move to Umm Juni (Deganyah Aleph) and cultivate the land there. Ten men and two women settled there on October 28, 1910.
Among the members of the commune was Joseph Baratz (1890–1968), whom Miriam met in Atlit while he was working at stonecutting together with her brother, Aaron. His move to Zikhron Ya’akov enabled them to meet frequently and they fell in love. Joseph joined the commune.
When Miriam’s family suffered economic disappointments in Palestine and returned to Boguslav, her father told her to return home. She set out in November 1910. “I left after four years in the country, right after we settled in Umm Juni, at my parents’ behest” (Memoirs, Miriam Baratz File, Deganyah Aleph Archives). When her father refused to allow her to return to Palestine, she ran away to Odessa and sailed back, posing as the twelve-year-old daughter of a Jewish man who listed her in his passport. (From 1904, the Ottoman regime allowed entry only to immigrants whose nationality was listed in a passport). Miriam returned to the group. “When I returned, I did not find Umm Juni. I found Deganyah” (Pirkei Hayyim, 13).
Joseph and Miriam were married in Deganyah on June 5, 1912, during the celebration of the group’s first harvest and their move to permanent living quarters. Thus began Deganyah’s first family unit, giving rise to fundamental questions regarding the family’s place in the group, since all its members had hitherto been single.
Joseph and Miriam Baratz lived in Deganyah all their lives, while all the rest of her family immigrated to Israel in 1921 and settled in Kefar Sava, where their descendants live to this day. They had seven children: Gideon (1913–1988), Deborah (1915–1997), Amos (1919–2000), Yonah (b. 1921), Batya (1924–2001), Michal (1928–2002), and Eli (b. 1930). Their daughter Yonah and some of their grandchildren live on Deganyah, while the rest are scattered throughout the country but maintain ongoing contact with each other. Joseph Baratz spent a great deal of his life on missions for the country, the party (Ha-Po’el ha-Za’ir and later in Mapai) and the Kibbutz Movement, with the approval of Miriam, who remained on the kibbutz, raising their children.
For forty-five years, from the age of twenty-one to sixty-six, Miriam Baratz worked in the Deganyah cowshed. She established and developed the kibbutz’s dairy branch, a fairly novel area of activity on the new Hebrew settlements in Palestine during the 1910s. She learned how to deal with cows from the most basic level, and went abroad twice to learn about dairy farming from professionals, once to Holland for half a year in 1926–1927, and again to the United States in 1936. The Woman Farmer, a cooperative organization for insurance and veterinary services for Israeli livestock, awarded her its Zimmerman Prize for forty-five years of work in the dairy and for her contribution to promoting dairy farming in Israel. When she stopped working in the dairy, she went to work in the kitchen.
Miriam and Joseph’s firstborn, Gideon, born on May 31, 1913, was regarded by kibbutz members as their communal child and as a source of pride: “Deganyah has borne a son” (Shemuel Dayan, Deganyah’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary, 118). Miriam wished to return to work in the dairy after she recovered from the birth, and took Gideon with her. However, the kevuzah cried out in horror at the sight of the baby lying in the manger with flies covering his face. Miriam stood her ground and even took her two children, Gideon and Devorah, with her when she went for professional in-service training on the Ben Shemen Farm, since she found no other arrangements available. A solution came only when more children were born in the kevuzah and one of the women members was appointed to care for them so that their mothers would be able to return to work.
On September 8, 1916, the foundations for communal child care, as conceived by Joseph Busel (1891–1919), were laid. “Children belong to their parents, but the responsibility for caring for them and educating them falls on the entire group. All educational expenses shall be borne by the group as a whole” (Deganyah Aleph Archives, minutes of General Assembly 10, 1906: 4). Thus began the children’s dormitory and the position of the children’s caretaker in the kibbutz movement. Miriam Baratz fought for communal caretaking and education against those kibbutz members who did not understand her, since the kevuzah was not yet ready for parenthood and children. She saw it as liberation for women members, enabling them to fulfill themselves while also caring for their children. Miriam, the first mother in the kibbutz movement, led the struggle which resulted in a collective solution to child care, allowing mothers to return to the workforce and contribute to the development of the group and the settlement.
Miriam Baratz helped to define a gender niche on Deganyah Aleph by ensuring opportunities for women in work and by creating an environment in which they could fulfill themselves. She fought inequality between the sexes in order to create an egalitarian, cooperative economic structure which freed women from financial dependence on their husbands to grant them occupational equality based on a woman’s right to choose whatever profession she wished. As a result, the formulation of gender at Deganyah led to its formulation throughout the entire kibbutz movement. She was a role model and an inspiration in the women workers’ movement, in which she was active together with other women of her generation. Active in the Po’el Za’ir and Mapai political parties, Miriam Baratz died on December 30, 1970.
Ben Avram, Baruch. “The Formulation of Collective Ideology.” Shorashim 3 (1982): 37–80; Ibid. “The Development of the Kevuzah due to Members of the Second Aliyah’s Desire for Independent Labor,” Cathedra 18 (1981): 118–123; Ibid. “The Kevuzah: An Erez-Israeli Creation from Life.” Cathedra 23 (1982): 187–189; Ben-Arzi, Yossi. “Between Farmers and Laborers: Women at the Beginning of Settlement of Erez Israel, 1882–1914.” In A Window on the Lives of Women in Jewish Societies, edited by Yael Azmon, 309–323. Jerusalem: 1995; Ben-Yaakov, Yonah, and Miriam Sion, ed. The Wisdom of the Founders: Deganyah Aleph at Seventy, 1911–1981. Deganyah Aleph: 1981; Ben Rafael, Eliezer, and Sasha Wittman. “Women and the Renewed Growth of the Kibbutz Family.” Megamot 29:3 (February 1986): 306–320; Bassevitz, Lilia, and Yokheved Bat Rahel. Women Members of the Kibbutz. Tel Aviv: 1949; Bezer, Shifra. The Second Aliyah. Edited by Bracha Habas. Tel Aviv: 1947; Bernstein, Devorah. Women in Israel: Striving for Equality during the Yishuv Period. Tel Aviv: 1987; Ibid. “Woman Pioneers among the Water Tanks: Women’s Status in the Work Force during the Yishuv Period.” In Community, Nation and Status, edited by Moshe Lissak, 78–90. Tel Aviv: 1989; Baratz, Yosef. A Village on the Banks of the River Jordan. Tel Aviv: 1959; Baratz, Miriam. “The Beginnings of the Kevuzah.” Devar ha-Po’elet 2:8 (1936): 174–176; Ibid. The Founders of Deganyah Aleph. Deganyah Aleph: 1971; Divrei Po’a lot. Tel Aviv: 1930; Dayan, Shmuel. On Deganyah’s Twenty-Fifth Anniversary. Tel Aviv: 1935; Ibid. On the Banks of the Jordan and the Sea of Galilee. Tel Aviv: 1959; Habas, Bracha, ed. The Second Aliyah Book. Tel Aviv: 1947; Izraeli, Dafna. “The Women Workers’ Movement in Erez Israel from Its Beginnings until 1927.” Cathedra 32 (1984): 109–140; Ibid., et al., eds. Sex, Gender and Politics: The Red Line. Tel Aviv: 1999; Levi, David. “The History of the Agricultural Branch.” In The Encyclopedia of Agriculture, Vol. 4, Part 2: Animals. Edited by Yizhak Arnon, 555–568. Tel Aviv: 1982; Maimon (Fishman), Ada. The Women Workers’ Movement in Erez Israel, 1904–1929. Tel Aviv: 1929; Azmon, Yael. “Introduction: Judaism and the Exclusion of Women from the Public Sphere.” In A Window on Women’s Lives in Jewish Societies. Jerusalem: 13–43; Fogiel-Bijaoui, Silvie. “Motherhood and Revolution: The Case of Women on Kibbutz, 1910–1948.” Shorashim 6 (1991): 143–162; Ibid. “Women on the Kibbutz: Mothers or Members?” In The Woman Kibbutz Member: Change and Continuity. Edited by Silvie Fogiel-Bijaoui, 453–499. Tel Aviv: 1992; Shilo, Margalit. “A New Look at the Second Aliyah (1904–1914).” Kivunim 11–12 (December 1997): 117–140; Ibid. The Changing Identity of the New Jewish Woman in Erez Israel. Jerusalem: 1998, 33.