1889 – 1952
An agricultural teacher and leader of women workers in Erez Israel, Hannah Chizhik was born in 1889 in Tomashpol (Ukraine). The region of Podolia where her family lived was one in which many Jews were employed in forestry and farms. They were traditional and full of faith. Hannah’s mother, Bryna Bronstein, had relatives on whose estate the large family of nine children resided. Her father, Shmuel Zanwill Chizhik, raised geese. Hannah’s brother, Baruch (1855–1955), decided to immigrate to Erez Israel and therefore took training in agriculture, wandering from farm to farm and to vegetable gardens and nurseries owned by the local gentry. Thus Russian gentlemen grew accustomed to the notion that a young Jewish man wanted to go to Erez Israel to be a farmer. When Baruch decided to immigrate, Hannah, a young woman full of dreams, decided to join him. She persuaded her parents that, despite her youth, she had to leave together with her brother.
On arrival in Erez Israel in 1906 she went to Rishon le-Zion for the almond harvesting, after which she came to Jerusalem and joined the school for arts and crafts founded by Boris Schatz, a portraitist of the king of Bulgaria, who had decided to revive Jewish art in Erez Israel. The school he established in Jerusalem, Bezalel, trained young people in stonecutting, weaving, jewelry making, drawing and sculpture. Here Chizhik trained in carpet-weaving and art.
When Baruch and Hannah urged their family to join them, her parents plucked their geese, made numerous pillows and bedcovers to take with them and in 1908 set out for Erez Israel, settling in the moshavah of Kinneret where they linked up with the workers of the Second Aliyah (1904–1914). Hannah left Bezalel and joined the family. Despite their relatively advanced age, her parents lived together with the younger, economically indigent workers. Chizhik’s sister Rivkah died of poisoning in the Jordan Valley at the age of seventeen. Deeply shaken by her death, the author Joseph Hayyim Brenner dedicated one of his great stories of Erez Israel, “Mi-kan u-mi-kan” (From both directions) to her. Another sister, Sarah (b. 1897), was killed in the attack on Tel Hai in 1920. A brother, Ephraim (b.1899), was killed in the battle at Huldah during the 1929 riots. Baruch became one of the first researchers of agriculture in the country. During World War I the Ottoman authorities recruited him to plant cypresses brought from Lebanon in Damascus’s main avenue. Her brother Aharon was one of the country’s first pilots. The entire family were involved in all the activities of the workers in Erez Israel.
Chizhik imbided the message of women’s emancipation from her women friends, the veterans of the Second Aliyah. Through study, wandering and her hard work she derived valuable experience and decided to devote her life to developing the women workers movement in the country. She became an expert in vegetable farming, agricultural work and domestic labor for the groups of women pioneers. In 1911, she was among the pupils of Hanna Maisel-Shohat when the latter established the Havat ha-Alamot (Young Women’s Farm), a school for agriculture and center for the organization of women workers in Erez Israel, at the Kinneret moshavah.
At one point, Chizhik reached the school for the orphans of the Kishinev pogroms established by the distinguished educator Israel Belkind (1861–1929), who asked her to educate his pupils as Hebrew children in the traditions of the Patriarchs, in order to reestablish the Hebrew tribe. Chizhik was a teacher at the school after it moved from the moshavah of Shefeyah to Ben Shemen in 1906. However, the school was forced to close down in 1909 because of lacks of funds and the orphans were dispersed. Chizhik wandered around the country, establishing groups of women workers with her friends. She took part in setting up such groups as farms in Merhavyah and Ben Shemen.
During World War I she was at Kinneret, to which many unemployed and hungry workers were sent. When they started organizing work there with the aid of funds that arrived from American Jewry, the workers decided to utilize the money as wages for public works. They built clay houses for the Yemenite pioneers of Kinneret, began draining swamps and developing plots of land for growing vegetables. Chizhik was active in all of this work. Together with her women colleagues she organized a Passover seder for all the single halutzim (pioneers) in the region. To many, this seder became a symbol of the ability to survive and to create even in what appeared to be impossible conditions of the war.
With the end of World War I Chizhik and her fellow women workers of the Second Aliyah prepared to welcome the many young people who started arriving in the framework of the Third Aliyah (1919–1923). Throughout the country a network of schools was established to train women in agriculture, in order to liberate them.
The death of her sister Sarah at the legendary battle of Tel Hai deeply affected Chizhik and in 1920 she went to Vienna to study vegetable gardening. While there she also participated in Zionist meetings for the purpose of encouraging the participants to come on aliyah.
In 1922 she returned to Kibbutz Merhavyah, where she married Meir Dubinski (1889–1969), whom she had met at the moshavah of Ekron. Meir was an American volunteer in the Jewish Legion (a Jewish military formation which during World War I fought in the British army for the liberation of Palestine). The couple had two children: Miriam (b. 1925) and Efrayim (b. 1929).
In 1923 Chizhik left Merhavyah to establish a women’s smallholding in Nahalat Yehudah and shortly afterwards she was joined by her husband. In 1926 she founded a women’s smallholding in Tel Aviv which she managed until her death. In 1930 she spent a year in the United States as an emissary of Mo’ezet ha-Po’alot.
Women’s work and consciousness were, in her opinion, an educational challenge of the first order. For years she developed education and agricultural labor in the heart of the big city. The women’s smallholding in Tel Aviv became an important center for pioneer youth from all over the Jewish world.
Hannah Chizhik died in Tel Aviv on December 19, 1952.