1889 – 1968
Hasya Sukenik-Feinsod, one of the first kindergarten teachers in Palestine and among the earliest to fight for equal rights for women in the Yishuv, received her professional training in Berlin, prior to her aliyah. Her stated goal was to be a kindergarten teacher and play an active role in the establishment of a network of Hebrew kindergartens. As she wrote in her book, Pirkei Gan (Kindergarten Chapters):
The kindergarten, as the first stage in education as a whole, fills an important function in our country by placing Hebrew speech in the mouths of babes, from the earliest days of childhood. It offers the children of Israel a proper, modern education and the pleasures of childhood, which the Diaspora denied them for thousands of years. … We should take special note of the valuable role played by the Hebrew kindergarten with regard to the working mother. Financial conditions force women to participate in the struggle to survive. The kindergarten frees the mother from the care of her children for most of the day, thereby allowing her the opportunity to work outside the home.
Securing the status of the Hebrew kindergarten, and guarding the rights of working women in general and kindergarten teachers in particular, became her life’s work.
Feinsod, daughter of Devorah and Matityahu, was born on December 7, 1889 in Bialystok, White Russia. She was raised in a traditional-Zionist home and educated in a heder, together with boys. She learned Hebrew at home and received a general education at the high school in the city of her birth.
Her Zionist involvement, which began with the Bnos Tsiyon association, led to her arrest on three separate occasions: the first time, for attending a meeting of the group (after which she was detained for four days); the second, for belonging to the Po’alei Zion Party (for which she was held for seventeen days, and released for lack of sufficient evidence); and the third, for possessing stamps of the Keren Kayemet le-Israel (resulting in eight weeks in prison). She remained on probation for approximately one year until her trial, after which she immigrated to Palestine in 1912.
Feinsod was a member of the first graduating class of the pedagogical training program for Hebrew-speaking teachers, instituted in 1907 in Grodno, White Russia. This in itself was unusual, since the courses were intended for male yeshiva students only. When Feinsod nonetheless sought to register for the program at its inception, it was decided to permit her to audit the classes as an external student, under special conditions: she was required to sit near the classroom door so that she could slip away quickly if the government superintendent appeared. Such an occurrence did indeed take place, but contrary to the plan, the superintendent noticed her departure and she was called back for clarification. Fortunately, the official was so impressed by her personality and knowledge of Hebrew that he allowed her name to be added to the list of regular students, but her arrest for belonging to the Po’alei Zion Party later caused her to be barred from taking the final examinations for her teaching certificate. Consequently, she traveled to Berlin in 1909 to study at the Pestalozzi Froebel Haus pedagogical institute. Upon completing her studies in 1911 and receiving the longed-for certificate, she signed a contract with the Hilfsverein der Deutschen Juden (Relief Organization of German Jews) and was assigned to run a kindergarten in Jerusalem and supervise students of the kindergarten teachers’ college founded by the Organization. These plans were implemented only in 1912, when she immigrated to Palestine.
In late 1913, when the “Language Conflict” (over German or Hebrew as the language of instruction) erupted, Feinsod played an active role, leaving her job at the kindergarten and the teachers’ college of the Hilfsverein, together with her fellow kindergarten teachers, and founding Kindergarten Aleph in the Zikhron Moshe quarter of Jerusalem. Combined with a college for kindergarten teachers under Feinsod’s direction, the kindergarten from the outset served as an experimental kindergarten and a setting where student teachers could gain practical experience.
In 1919, when the college moved to Jaffa and merged with the Lewinsky Teachers Seminary, Feinsod was appointed by the Education Committee to serve as superintendent of kindergartens in Jerusalem. One of her first actions in this post was to separate the healthy children from those infected with trachoma and ringworm. Recognizing that there was no way to protect the healthy children from contracting these illnesses she decided, with the approval of the Education Committee, to maintain at least one kindergarten in Jerusalem that would be free of contagious diseases. Kindergarten Aleph accepted healthy children from all the city’s neighborhoods.
When the Hebrew Language Committee decided to formulate terminology for kindergartens, the Committee’s secretary turned to Feinsod with a request that she assemble a detailed list of all the terms and concepts in daily use in the kindergartens and in the college for kindergarten teachers. In the absence of uniform terms in Hebrew, the kindergarten teachers were experiencing difficulties since every teacher individually translated the necessary concepts from German or another language, in accordance with her proficiency in that language. The Language Committee sought to “unite all our children and transmit to them a common tongue.” Toward this end, Feinsod and two of her fellow kindergarten teachers were invited to participate in a session of the Language Committee, under the direction of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, in order to formulate terms and “determine them for practical use.” The kindergarten teachers brought with them sample handicrafts (including folding, weaving, embroidery and wickerwork), labeling each of them in German, Russian and English. The members of the Language Committee then decided on uniform Hebrew terms for these activities, which were accepted from then on in all kindergartens in Palestine.
With the end of World War I and the entry of the British into Palestine, the network of kindergartens was expanded by the Zionist Executive, but this phase did not last long. Lacking the financial means to provide education to all, the leaders of Palestine’s educational establishment were faced with the question: What should take priority—kindergartens or schools? The eventual answer was the schools. And thus the process of shutting down the kindergartens began—precisely at the height of the Third Aliyah.
Upon the initiative of Feinsod and other kindergarten teachers, and with the support of Henrietta Szold, a committee was established in Jerusalem with the aim of safeguarding the kindergartens. Feinsod spared no effort in this regard, penning letters of protest to public figures: “The Hebrew kindergarten is fighting for its very existence!” Feinsod’s kindergarten in Zikhron Moshe, which was the first to be closed down by the Department of Education, continued to operate with the help of the pupils’ parents.
Feinsod served as director of the Hebrew Kindergarten Teachers College, inaugurated in Jerusalem in 1914; supervisor of kindergartens in Jerusalem; member of the Va’ad ha-Kehillah (Jerusalem community council); and member of the Union of Hebrew Women for Equal Rights in Erez Israel. She wrote numerous articles for periodicals, including Ha-Hinnukh, Gannenu, Hed ha-Hinnukh and Hed ha-Gan, which she compiled into a book entitled Pirkei Gan (Kindergarten Chapters). She headed the Association of Kindergarten Teachers, represented the kindergarten teachers as part of the Hebrew Teachers Association and served as the first and only female representative on the Education Committee, devoting all her time and energies to the development of kindergartens in Palestine.
In 1914 Hasya Feinsod married the archaeologist, Professor Eliezer Lipa Sukenik (1889–1953). The couple had three sons: Professor Yigael Yadin (1917–1984), an archaeologist and the second Chief of General Staff of the IDF; Yosef Yadin (1920–2001), an actor and founder of the Cameri Theater; and Matityahu, a pilot who fell in the War of Independence.
Academy of the Hebrew Language, Aaron M. Masie Institute for the History of the Revival of the Hebrew Language. File 8/1; Aviezer Yellin Archives of Jewish Education in Israel and the Diaspora, Tel Aviv University. Feinsod-Sukenik, Hasya files, 5.121/1814; Harari, Yehudit. Wife and Mother. Tel Aviv: 1959, 441–443; Katerbursky, Zivia. In the Footsteps of the Kindergarten. Tel Aviv: 1962; Shehory-Rubin, Zipora. “Hebrew Kindergartens During the First and Second Aliyah.” Dor le-Dor 19 (August 2002): 115–194; Sukenik-Feinsod, Hasya. Kindergarten Chapters. Tel Aviv: 1966; Tidhar, David. Encyclopedia of Pioneers and Builders of the Yishuv, vol. 6. Tel Aviv: 1955, 2672–2673.