Irma Lindheim became a member of Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek
October 30, 1933
Irma Lindheim, a wealthy American-born Jewish woman, joined Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek on October 30, 1933. After trading New York City for Northern Israel’s Jezreel Valley, Lindheim became an ardent proponent of the kibbutz movement.
Born Irma Levy in New York on December 9, 1886, the future kibbutznik came from a prominent, assimilated German-Jewish family with anti-Zionist politics. At the age of 21, she married Norvin Lindheim, a successful lawyer. They had five children between 1908 and 1919. Her fourth child was only five weeks old when she enlisted for active service during WW I. The unconventional Lt. Lindheim drove her own Cadillac in the Motor Corps of America.
The Balfour Declaration of 1917 – the official statement of Britain’s support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine – inspired Lindheim to explore her Jewish heritage. She became increasingly involved in the Zionist cause, working with Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and Rabbi Stephen Wise, the Reform rabbi and Zionist leader.
At the end of WW I, Norvin Lindheim was falsely accused (for antisemitic reasons) of collaborating with the Germans; he was convicted, disbarred, and sent to prison. While he was incarcerated, Irma Lindheim took classes at the Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform Rabbi Stephen Wise had founded in New York. After her husband was released in the spring of 1925, Lindheim decided to travel to Palestine. Touring the country on horseback for six weeks, she fell in love with the land and with the Zionist idea.
Upon her return to the US in 1926, Lindheim was elected the third president of Hadassah, leading an organization of 30,000 members and occupying one of the highest positions open to a woman in the Jewish community. After the sudden death of her husband in 1928, she resigned from Hadassah in order to travel and figure out what to do with the rest of her life. She finally decided that the way for her to achieve self-realization was to make aliyah (i.e. immigrate to Israel) and become a pioneer herself. Accompanied by her children, Lindheim immigrated to Palestine in May 1933; on October 30, 1933, she joined Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek. Her fellow kibbutzniks assembled a pre-fab cabin that she brought with her to live in. You can visit it today.
After her children grew up, Irma Lindheim changed her name first name to the hebraicized “Rama.” She devoted herself to working as a Public Relations Officer for the kibbutz movement, often traveling abroad to raise money for the Jewish National Fund and Keren Hayesod, Israel’s central fundraising organization.
On one trip to the U.S. in 1948 after the declaration of the State of Israel, Henry A. Wallace, the head of the Progressive Party who had served as Franklin D. Roosevelt’s vice president, asked Lindheim (whom he knew from her work with Hadassah) to run as a Progressive Party candidate in the 6th Congressional District of New York. She lost the race, garnering only 9,000 votes, and returned to the kibbutz. A biographer suggests that “a victory in this election would have changed her life or even the trajectory of the kibbutz movement. A headline in a newspaper might have read: ‘A member of Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek wins a seat in the U.S. Congress.’ The absurdity of this headline is evidence of her exceptional life story.”
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Lindheim divided her time between the U.S. and Israel, working in fundraising, helping to found kibbutzim, and developing programs to strengthen Jewish identity, particularly in children.
Rama Lindheim wrote two autobiographical books and many articles and letters; she also made 16 mm movies that documented her family and travels. She spent the last years of her life living near two of her sons in Berkeley, CA. She died there in 1978 and is buried on her beloved kibbutz.
To learn more about Irma Lindheim, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: "Hadassah president Irma Levy Lindheim challenges American Zionist leadership" in This Week in History; Zionism in the United States.
Entry based on research by Professor Esther Carmel Hakim, University of Haifa.