MY MOTHER WAS a Pioneer Woman! The Pioneer Women’s Organization of America, founded in 1925 and renamed Pioneer Women in 1947, attempted to raise money from American women in support of the creation of agricultural schools in Palestine. After 1948, “the organization focused on helping female pioneers and working women in Israel, largely by raising money for necessities ranging from laundry equipment to wells for irrigating fruit trees. Feminism and class consciousness were also crucial components of the Pioneer Women philosophy. Its leaders stressed the importance of women’s contributions to the Zionist enterprise and encouraged each member to become a ‘coworker in the establishment of a better and more just society in America and throughout the world.’”* (My mother was a feminist – who knew?)
So throughout my trip to Israel I thought about all the work she had done for the State of Israel without ever having seen it. I remember all the green malachite items that were imported from Israel in support of the new country. As I recently learned, Ben Gurion and Golda Meir believed that American Jews would make aliya and help the new country grow. But that didn’t happen in the numbers they had hoped for. How to engage American Jews with Israel became a focus of Israeli “marketing”. What better way than through art. And so items crafted in Israel became something almost every Jewish household had. I still use the Shabbat Candlesticks of malachite and brass, the letter opener and napkin holder and have and ashtray celebrating the 15tha anniversary of the State of Israel and a large bowl with a woman holding up a grapevine. And every time I use them, I think of Israel and my mother.
Needless to say, during my trip, I was flooded with memories of my mother and all the work she had done to support its establishment and building of the State of Israel. Like most Jewish families of the time, I cannot even try to count the number of trees purchased in honor of joyous events and in memory of those who had passed. So when asked if I would like to physically plant a tree myself, I jumped at the opportunity. Now I am no gardener; as my friends will testify, plants that need great attention usually don’t fare well in my care. But at the Jerusalem Bird Observatory Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, they made it very simple for us. The JBO is an urban bird observatory in a very strategic location on the bird migration route between Africa and Eurasia along the Great Rift Valley. Since its establishment, birds have arrived in greater numbers each year, to the great pleasure of bird watcher alike. Every spring and fall more than 500 million birds migrate through Israel. Two-thirds of the species seen in Jerusalem are migratory.
And so in a clear piece of land I planted a small tree that would bloom and grow and attract birds helping to maintain the integrity of the sanctuary. So it was a great joy to plant a tree in memory of my mother. I didn’t mind the digging and getting my hands a little dirty – because I thought of my mom and how she would love it. She was a gardener. There were always thriving plants in our house, and colorful flowers in our front and back yards. I know she would be pleased.
Florence L. Dann, a fifth year rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in LA, has been a contributing writer to Jlife since 2004.