I have chosen to write my project about Sheila Kritzler who lives on Kibbutz Lavi and was one of its founding members.
Sheila was a friend of my grandparents in Bnei Akiva in England. She came to set up Kibbutz Lavi in 1949. A few people went up a hill with a Sefer Torah under a chuppa and started the work of building the kibbutz when there was nothing there but rocks.

The story of Sheila’s life, particularly at the time when she was building the kibbutz, is very inspiring. She represents for me a true example of torah v’avoda. She worked very hard and gave her life to build what we have today. Everything she did was full of ideals and that is what I think an Israeli person needs to be.

I have often spoken to Sheila when I have visited her on the kibbutz or met her at family smachot and she has always interested me so I am very happy to have this opportunity to hear more about her life.

It is because of people like Sheila that we have Israel. I hope to learn from her not only the history of the kibbutz but also to get ideals for my own life.

Interview with Sheila Kritzler

1. What ideals made you choose to come on aliya at the time and in the way you did?

I was a schoolgirl when World War II ended and we knew that dreadful things had happened to the Jews in Europe so we thought that it was obligatory to come here to build a country. There were only 60,000 Jews living here and they had to take in all the Jews who had lived in such difficult circumstances, for instance, who had come through the Shoah or who had left Arab countries.

2. What was the hardest thing for you about making aliya?

The hardest thing was not seeing my parents and my immediate family. But the Jewish world was in such turmoil that it put everything into a different perspective including my personal difficulties about leaving my parents’ home and going to a place with no sanitation and little to eat.

3. As you came on aliya without all your family, how did they feel about it?

All religious Jews believed in the centrality of Eretz Yisrael and Yerushalyim was always in our thoughts so they really understood although obviously it was hard for them.

4. Tell me about what it was like in the early days of building the kibbutz. How did you get all the essential supplies e.g. food and water which you needed?

There was not much food. Water came in every day in a tank on the back of a lorry and it was shared out. It was polluted so we had to boil and cool it. There was not much for showering. As for food, there was no road so a lorry came up and brought us bread and oranges from Tiberias. We also had jam which we watered down and we had half a boiled egg each for Shabbat. Then, as we cleared more stones and managed to plant more crops we started to be able to earn some money and then we could buy a bit more variety of food. Even then, the choice of food was very unexciting. We lived in tents. The first hut which we built was the children’s house because people were having children and they could not live in our conditions. There was terrible heat and there were snakes and scorpions. You must remember, Israel was just another struggling Third World country after the War but look what we have become today.

5. Were there times when you thought that you would have to give up and when were they?

There was a time when several people left the Kibbutz because they could not see better days and many people outside the kibbutz were convinced that we would not be able to stick it out. But it is really easy when there is a whole group of strong-minded and like-minded people with one strong aim and they all have nothing together.

6. What were the womens’ jobs on the kibbutz then? As a woman, did you also lift rocks and do the hard physical work?

Yes, we did everything. Women worked in the fields too. It was lovely.

7. What went on in the kibbutz during Israel’s wars?

The wars were difficult for everyone in the country. When there was a total call-up as in 1967 or 1973, then the young teenagers took over their fathers’ jobs and kept the place running. That was the same everywhere.

8. What do you feel most changed in the kibbutz over the years?

The outside world has changed and that affects all of us. Everything has become about “me”. There is very little idealism. People sit on the internet and so they don’t interact. People have become increasingly selfish, not just on kibbutz. It’s like Bavel – technology can only take you so far and then something has to collapse. The world can’t continue without ideals, just with market forces. Something has to give.

9. What do you do in the kibbutz today?

I am an old age pensioner so I do not have to work but the kibbutz must give me work if I choose. So I work in the mini-market managing the stock database. I meet people every day. I only work in the mornings. It is very nice. I go to a lot of shiurim, read, swim and am generally very busy. I am having a jolly old age!

10. You made such a big contribution to Eretz Yisrael. If you could go back in time now, would you make the kibbutz the same way? And what do you think is the most important contribution that young Israelis today can be making to the Aretz?

In those days we had a state to build. It was an enormous privilege and a responsibility. Now your generation needs to make it more decent. That is less romantic than building but it is very challenging. That is the responsibility of your generation. We did make mistakes but they were not deliberate.

11. How do you feel, after having built a kibbutz, about the fact that your grandchildren are living in kibbutzim and yishuvim?

I am happy that my grandchildren have been given the opportunity to think. Some of their actions involve a different kind of politics from mine but that’s the way of the world.

12. How do you think that you can teach your values to the children of your kibbutz?

Things must change. We can explain our ideas but we have to let them carry them out in a way which is relevant to their times.

13. What do you think of the distinction which is being made by young dati youth between Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael?

It is very difficult because we were brought up with the idea that Eretz Yisrael comes from the Tanach and Jewish thought. Medinat Yisrael is seen as a modern liberation movement and that cannot be a total answer for the religious Jew because the religious Jew sees Eretz Yisrael as something eternal and outside time. Now we have so many people who are so ignorant of their cultural heritage and of the covenant between God and the Land and its People; and they see it just like any other country – which of course it isn’t. For me there’s no difference but in the country today there is a difference. We are very hurt by scenes such as those we saw in Gaza and Amona. It so blasted their belief in how the State behaves. It was such a terrible thing to have to cope with that. Making a distinction between the Aretz and the Medinah is an understandable reaction to all of that. I was never brought up to do what the Rabbi said in all matters. I can’t think why the people of Aza believed the Rabbanim when they told them that they would not have to move and why they didn’t make preparations. I wanted to give a chance to moving them but now I am in a state of shock and horror about how they were treated.

14. Are you happy with the life path that you chose?


Profile of Sheila Kritzler

Sheila Kritzler is a very special woman who was one of the founders of Kibbutz Lavi.

She was born in the year 1928 in London. She was studying for a Chemistry degree at London University when she met her husband through Bnei Akiva. He had left Germany with his sister as part of the Kindertransport and in 1949 he made Aliya to set up Kibbutz Lavi. At her parents’ insistence she finished her studies but then she immediately came out to join him in 1951. Sheila says that after the Second World War people knew what terrible things had happened so they felt a duty to come out to set up a country to receive all the Jews who had suffered so badly.

In the first years of building the kibbutz life was very hard. They lived in tents with no sanitation. Polluted water was delivered every day in a tank on the back of a lorry and there was hardly any food – just bread and oranges and watered-down jam, with half an egg on Shabbat. She set to work clearing stones. Gradually they managed to plant some crops. Then they built a childrens’ house as children were being born who needed to be protected from snakes and other dangers of living in tents. Then came the communal dining room (‘chadar ochel’) and gradually, as more crops could be planted, came a greater variety of food and a bit more money to build with. Slowly and with a great deal of hard work, Kibbutz Lavi became what it is today.

Sheila feels that although it was personally difficult for her to leave her family and the comfort of her home in London, all those difficulties were put into perspective by the turmoil that the Jewish world was in after the Shoah. She says that “In those days we had a state to build. It was an enormous privilege and a responsibility.” She is critical of our modern times in which everything has become about “me” and there is very little idealism. She says that even though times were hard it always felt easy to carry on because she was with a whole group of people who were strong and like-minded and they all had nothing together so no one envied anyone else and they all worked together to build the State, not thinking about their own interests.

Sheila says that the challenge of her generation was to build the State of Israel and that the challenge of our generation today is to make the State decent. As a religious person, she sees Eretz Yisrael as something eternal and outside time. It is not enough to see it as a country like any other. She says that now there are so many Israelis who are so ignorant of their cultural heritage and of the covenant between God and the Land and its People. We have to educate them and to change our society to realize its special Jewish character.

Sheila has three daughters, two of whom live on kibbutz (one on Lavi and one on Tirat Zvi). She has nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren and she also says that she has all her own teeth! Of her grandchildren, a number live in kibbutzim and yishuvim (one lives in Kfar Etzion). Sheila admits that some of the actions of her grandchildren involve a different kind of politics to her own but she accepts that every generation must think for itself and she is very proud of them that they are living up to their ideals.

Sheila is a very strong and cheerful personality and says that she is very happy with the life she chose. She is an example of someone who has given her life for others and that has made her happy. I hope that with the same ideals and willpower we will be able to carry on what she began.

Background Article

Kibbutz Lavi was founded in 1949 in the Lower Galil. Kibbutz Lavi is part of the Religious Kibbutz Movement.

On Wednesday 24th Shvat, a group of young religious Zionists from England went up to the piece of land which was to become Kibbutz Lavi with a sefer torah under a chuppah. One of the elderly men who lived in the area made a bracha of ‘shechecheyanu’ and in that way Kibbutz Lavi began.

Kibbutz Lavi was built on the land of the Arab village called Lubia that was deserted in the War of Independence. Lubia was called by that name because of the Jewish town of Lavi which had existed in the days of the Mishna on the way from Tiberias to Tzippori. The kibbutz chose Lavi as its name both because of the name of the place and because of the verse "עם כלביא אקום" .

The first years on the kibbutz were hard and primitive because of the difficult conditions. The land was full of rocks which had to be removed and there was no water in the place – it had to be brought in by the tankload on trucks. After five years a well was dug which solved the water problem.

In Kibbutz Lavi there are six hundred and fifty people. The kibbutz is built on religious ideals which are expressed through democracy and equality. The community makes sure that the people have a basic standard of living for all of their lives. The community gives food, medical care and education. The kibbutz is run by twenty three committees including ones for financial matters, religious life and culture. The members of the committees are chosen every two years by the members of the kibbutz. In the kibbutz there is a communal dining room which provides three meals a day and the members of the kibbutz can come to eat in it as often as they like.

The kibbutz earns its income from agriculture, carpentry and tourism. Its carpentry factory was opened in 1962 and specializes in the production of shul furniture. Its hotel is one of the most successful kibbutz hotels in the country.


Interview with Sheila Kritzler

‘Kibbutz Lavi’, Wikipedia

www. lavi. co.il

For all these
- Naomi Shemer

For the honey and the sting
For the bitter and the sweet
For our daughter the baby
Protect them my good Lord.

For the fire that is burning
For the waters that are clear
For the person who’s returning home
From far away.

For all these, for all these
Keep me please, my good Lord
For the honey and the sting
For the bitter and the sweet.
Please do not uproot what has been planted
Do not forget hope
Bring us back and we will return
To the good Land.

Protect, my Lord, this house
The garden, the wall
From sadness, from sudden fear
And from war.

Protect the little that I have
The light and the baby
The fruit that is still unripe
And that which has been picked.

For all these …

The tree waving in the wind
From far away a star falls
My heart’s wishes are written now
In the darkness.

Please guard all of these
And my soul’s loves
Guard the quietness, the cry
And this the song.

I chose this song because I feel that it shows our life as Israeli Jews. This song was written during the Yom Kippur War in 1973. It is a prayer to God to protect everything about our lives here in Israel and in particular to protect the man who is going out to war far from home.

The song describes all the opposites that make up our lives: “the honey and the sting”; “the bitter and the sweet”. By repeating “for” this and “for” that, we feel that there is an endless list of things, all different or even opposite, which we should appreciate. Then the song moves to the word “protect” at the beginning of the two verses. It asks Hashem to guard all the different things. It describes the things in her life like her garden, her wall and her baby and it asks Hashem to protect against having the balance of opposites suddenly destroyed.

At the end of the song, she asks Hashem to protect the quietness and the cry – two opposite expressions of feeling. They come together in “this the song” (her voice in the quiet of the darkness), the last thing which she asks to protect.

The song describes how the bitter always comes with the sweet and how we appreciate each thing more because we know its opposite. The sad and hard things make us appreciate the precious things even more.

Understanding how connected each thing is with its opposite makes us experience things more deeply. This is part of our life in Israel and what makes life here so special. Even though things are hard, we remember that we still have hope and a Land to build. For me, this song describes what it means to be Israeli.