Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Israel: The early years - 1. A Baker Woman

Deborah Dayan was mother to general Dayan, architect of the 1956 defeat of Egypt, the man who reinvigorated the Israeli army after a period of stagnation following the 1948 war. Deborah Dayan was herself a chalutz who carried out important work helping to absorb immigrants, who set up an industry to help sephardi artisans make a living out of their crafts.

Dayan also wrote short articles for 'Davar' later collected and published as 'Pioneer' about her experiences, some of which i'll post here. The book is long out of print, but well worth finding for the wealth of information about Israel around the time of independence. 

In seeking permission to republish extracts from this long forgotten book I did an unsuccessful internet search of the publisher, Masada Press. I can only conclude the publisher has gone out of business.

A Baker Woman (Pioneer p138-9)

She found me at home. She had never filled in a questionnaire and was not on file as a welfare case. She spoke a fresh and lively Yiddish. She began by excusing herself for asking me for a place in an Old Age Home.

She had come from Roumania and her old and lined face still testified to her former great beauty.
"I know there are more urgent cases than I" she said "Heaven forbid, I'm not complaining. My children are looking after me, all Jewish mothers should have such children. But please: just listen to me and try to understand."

She was born in a little town in Roumania. Her father was a baker and she had helped him from childhood. Then she fell in love with a worker at the bakery and they got married. They had gone on working at the bakery and later it passed onto them.

Children were born. They lived a hard life, but they were happy. And then the First World War broke out. Her husband was conscripted and she, the mother of four children had to work hard for the upkeep of her family. The war came to an end. Her husband returned - a hopeless invalid, who was incapable of working.
"I loved him when he was young and healthy, I loved him when he was sick" she went on. More children were born.

When she was, at last, left a widow with a house full of children, she had to work harder than ever. Then the Communists took over in Roumania, the bakery was taken away from her and she became a salaried worker. She worked faithfully under the new conditions and was known as a good baker everywhere.

When she finally reached Israel, she immediately took a job baking Halloth (Sabbath loaves). It was night work, but she didn't mind. At times she felt as if she was slowing down, that the dough appeared heavier every day. Until, one night, she left the bakery to rest a little and never went back. She felt she had done enough. Her daughter took her job, and she stayed at home, looking after the children.
Everything was fine, she wasn't complaining, she felt wanted and loved - but she felt "she just wanted to sit back quietly and remember, I said. just sit like this," she said, and leaned back in the chair and crossed her arms on her chest.

"Please, arrange for me to go to an Old Age Home. Don't you think I deserve it?"
"I am sure you do," I said.

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