Manya Shochat

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Manya Shochat
Manya Shochat.jpg
Born 1880
Died 1961

Manya Shochat (1880–1961) was a Belarusian-Jewish politician and the "mother" of the collective settlement in Palestine, the forerunner of the kibbutz movement.


Manya Wilbushewitch (also Mania, Wilbuszewicz/Wilbushewitz; later Shochat) was born in the Grodno Governorate of the Russian Empire (present-day Belarus) to middle-class Jewish parents, and grew up on the family estate of "Łosośna". One brother, Isaac, studied agriculture in Russia. He was expelled for slapping a professor who, in the course of a lecture, stated that the zhids (a derogatory term for Jews) were sucking the blood of the farmers in Ukraine. In late 1882, he left for Palestine and joined the Bilu movement. His letters home were a powerful influence on young Manya.[1] Another brother, the engineer Gedaliah, went there in 1892, and helped fund his younger siblings' education. As a young adult, she went to work in her brother's factory in Minsk to learn about working class conditions. She was imprisoned because of her contacts with Bund revolutionaries in 1899. There she was indoctrinated by Sergey Zubatov, the head of the Tsarist Secret Police in Moscow. Zubatov conceived a plan that fit with Shochat's ideological notions, through which workers would form "tame" organizations that would work for reform rather than for overthrow of the government. She was persuaded that this would also help achieve rights for Jews. She founded the Jewish Independent Labor Party. The party was successful in leading strikes because the secret police supported it, but was loathed by the Bund and other Jewish socialist groups. The party collapsed in 1903 following the Kishinev pogrom. Experiencing, as she put it, 'severe emotional distress' following the loss and failure of her political organization and path, she accepted an invitation from her brother Nachum, who was the founder of the Shemen soap factory, to accompany him on a research expedition to some of the wilder places of Palestine. She arrived on January 2, 1904.
"I couldn't see what direction I should take in my life. I agreed to join my brother's expedition, because, in fact, I was indifferent to everything. For me it was just another adventure."[2] Manya fell in love with the beauty of the land and was especially touched by the plight of the Jewish settlement in the Hauran. "The Hauran remained without a redeemer - and my soul cleaved unto this place."
Baron Edmond de Rothschild had bought land in the area, but the Ottoman government stipulated that no Jews be allowed to settle there. A small group which had disregarded the decision was evicted, so the Baron resorted to leasing out the plots of land to Arab Fellahin. Manya decided to visit all of the Baron's colonies and see for herself why they were in financial straits. She became acquainted with and greatly impressed by Yehoshua and Olga Hankin. Her decision to stay was due in a large part to their influence.[2]

In May 1908 she married Israel Shochat, who was 9 years younger. She had 2 children with him: Gideon (Geda) and Ana. Gideon Schochat was a pilot in the British Royal Air Force (RAF) during World War II and later became one of the founding pilots of the Israeli Air Force, rising to the rank of Colonel. He committed suicide in 1967. In 1971, his daughter Alona married Arik Einstein, a famous Israeli performer. They had 2 daughters together. They later divorced, the daughters remaining with their mother. They later became Orthodox Jews, and the daughters married Uri Zohar's sons. Zohar was a good friend of Einstein and became one of the leading figures in the Orthodox community.

In Palestine[edit]

As a result of her first visit, Manya reached a conclusion which anticipated that of Arthur Ruppin. She understood that the model of plantation settlement, favored by Baron Rothschild, where Jewish owners employed Arab workers and were subject to economic overseers, could never be the basis for Jewish national life. It led to financial difficulties and disaffection. She concluded that only collective agricultural settlement could produce Jewish workers and farmers who would be the basis for building a Jewish homeland. Her first priority was finding a solution for the problem in Hauran.

Manya left for Paris, in order to research the feasibility of her ideas and then to convince the Baron to back them. In 1905, a fresh wave of pogroms swept the Russian Empire. Meir Cohen, an old friend from Minsk, came to Paris seeking the aid of the Jewish community to buy arms so they could defend themselves. Manya laid aside the Hauran project, and put her efforts towards fundraising. She convinced Rothschild to donate 50000 gold francs to that end.

Guns and ammunition were bought in Liege and smuggled into Russia. In order to deliver the final consignment, Manya disguised herself as a young rabbanit from Frankfurt, bringing eight cases of scriptures, a gift for the yeshivot of Ukraine. In Odessa, an undercover police agent gained access to her apartment and discovered where the guns were. Manya, who had a silenced pistol, shot him before he could get out and report his findings. The guns were successfully delivered to the Jewish underground. Not one was lost.

She returned to Palestine in 1906 to further pursue her Hauran plan. Towards the end of the year, she travelled to the United States to raise funds for that and for arms for Russian Jews. The idea of collective settlements in general, and the Hauran scheme in particular, received no support. She realised that the only way to convince people that it could work was by putting it into practice, so she returned to Palestine in 1907. Manya shared her idea with members of "Poalei Tzion" and "Hapoel Hatzair". Hankin convinced Eliahu Krauze to give them stewardship over a failing agricultural experiment in Sejera for a year.[3] A group of eighteen young men and women, mainly friends of Israel Shochat, went on to establish the first ideological cooperative. The project succeeded and lent credence to the idea of collectives. In 1908, with Israel Shochat, she helped found the HaShomer, a guard organization, which evolved into the basis of Jewish self-defense. Its goal was to put the responsibility of guarding settlements in Jewish hands.[4]

She married Israel Shochat in May 1908 and had two children with him. During World War I, the Turks deported the Shochats and others who were Russian nationals to Bursa, in Turkey. They returned around Passover, 1919, after attending the Poalei Tziyon convention in Stockholm.

In 1921 she was in Tel-Aviv when riots broke out among the Arabs, who then attacked Jewish settlements. Along with other Hashomer members, she took part in the defence of the city. At great risk, she would walk around, disguised as a Red Cross nurse, to keep an eye out on developments. Her experience in Russia came in handy as they attempted to smuggle in grenades for the defenders of Petah-Tikva. She hid them among baskets of vegetables and eggs. The car they were in got mired just outside the town. A patrol of Indian cavalry approached. Their role was to search all travellers for arms. With great presence of mind, Manya averted disaster. She ran up to the patrol, begging them to help rescue the car from the mud. While they were pulling it out, she watched the baskets, saying that she didn't want the eggs to break. The cavalry then even provided an escort until they got into town.

After the riots were over, she travelled the United States to raise funds for the defence efforts. Due to a series of differences of opinion between her and Pinhas Rutenberg, the transfer of funds was frozen and the two didn't speak for years. However, she did manage to send several thousand dollars to her husband who was waiting in Vienna, earmarked for the purchase of weapons for the Haganah. Israel Shochat oversaw the procurement and shipment of the weapons to Palestine.

Manya and Israel Shochat were active in the Gdud HaAvoda (lit.: the "Work Battalion") and clandestine immigration, as well as arms-smuggling. In 1930, Manya Shochat was among the founders of the League for Arab-Jewish Friendship. In 1948 she joined the Mapam party.

Literary and cultural references[edit]

Mania Schochat's life is the subject of a novel by Israeli author Dvora Omer. Manya Shochat is a main character in Amos Gitai's 2003 film, Berlin Jerusalem. Her character's name in the film is Tania Shohat.


  1. ^ "Darki Be'Hashomer'" (My Path to Hashomer) Manya Schochat, in "Sefer Hashomer; Divrei Chaverim" A book edited and published by Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, Israel Schochat, Mati Meged and Yochanan Tversky.
  2. ^ a b "My Path"
  3. ^ A Voice Called: Stories of Jewish Heroism, Yossi Katz
  4. ^ The Jew in the Modern World: A Documentary History, Paul R. Mendes-Flohr and Jehuda Reinharz

Further reading[edit]