BACHAD RESEARCH

by

Verity Steele

DipRAM, LRAM, LTCL, BSc Econ (Hons), MA(Mtpp), MRes

Brit Chalutzim Dati'im 

ברית חלוצים דתיים

Acronym: Bachad (בח"ד)

Translation: The Alliance of Religious Pioneers

Photograph: Edith Hepner, c.1949
Used with permission

I am currently writing a PhD (sponsored by the University of Southampton) about the German-Jewish pioneering movement, Bachad (full title: Brit Chalutzim Dati'im). Unbeknown to me as a child growing up in rural Essex near the small town of Thaxted, Bachad had been running a training (hachsharah) farm literally just across the fields from my childhood home since 1944! The farm became a centre, not just for Bachad's 'chalutzic' (pioneer) training for those wanting to make Aliyah, but influenced many members of Bachad's junior movement, Bnei Akiva held their camps and pegishot there. Many B.A. members went on to join the hachsharah as soon as they were old enough. You can read the full story of how I got into this subject by clicking on 'Verity's Research Journey' (above).

The main purpose of this site to provide a basic outline of the research which I hope will be of interest, whether you are a fellow researcher, a former Bachadnik or Bnei Akiva member (or the descendant of one) or simply wanting to learn more about aspects of Jewish life in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, the history of the Kindertransport or refugee settlement in the UK , Palestine (pre-1948) or Israel. Please feel free to connect by means of the contact form below.

 

I welcome comment, correction and any additional information in the hope that the thesis I am in the process of writing will be an accurate portrayal of this important and little-known historical subject. 

For more about my research, please scroll down or use the buttons below to navigate.

 

N.B. This site can only provide a brief outline -

the PhD thesis and eventual book will be far more comprehensive!

 

If you are puzzled as to how I, a non-Jewish lady got into researching this subject in the first place, click on either of the links below

Research Background

The Orthodox Jewish pioneering youth movement, Brit Chalutzim Dati'i'm, (usually known by its short title, Bachad), was formally inaugurated in 1928 in Germany.

 

The idea behind chalutziut (pioneering) was that young Jewish men and women would acquire agricultural or craftsmanship skills which would allow them entry to Palestine (then under British control) in order to establish and build up religious kibbutzim.

 

Although this concept of preparation for Aliyah (Hebrew = Hachsharah) had been implemented in previous decades by more secular groups, it had not been easy for young people from the Orthodox tradition to join due to their commitment to keeping the Sabbath and the Jewish dietary laws.

 

The first religious hachsharah farm had been set up at Betzenrod near Fulda in 1924, but it was not entirely successful, partly due to lack of suitable recruits and also because it was too small to be financially viable.  Bachad later established a larger hachsharah farm at Rodges, not far away.

Periodically, individuals or small groups, having spent at least a year or more training, would make 'Aliyah' to Eretz Israel. Occasionally, this 'drain' of expertise left the groups back in Germany floundering, so 'shlichim' (emissaries) were sent back to Germany from Palestine to mentor the younger trainees - and crucially provide them with first-hand knowledge of what to expect when they themselves would eventually make it to Palestine.

 

Bachad's Modern Orthodox approach was open-minded, outward-looking and ambitious in terms of striving to apply Torah principles to the whole of life. Members aspired to a high level of education - not only in the field of agriculture and the study of Judaism, but in the study of literature, history, knowledge of Eretz Israel and the Hebrew language. All this was put into practice within a socialist framework: the hachsharot were designed to be run like kibbutzim, along the lines of those already in operation in Palestine, but were customised to accommodate the particular needs of religious Jews.

 

The first pioneers from Rodges in Germany arrived in Palestine in 1929. They established a new kibbutz, which they also named Rodges - and kept very close contact, often sending members back to Germany (shlichim) to mentor the younger members, preparing them for the very different, and much harsher conditions they would encounter in Eretz Israel.

But with the Nazi rise to power in 1933, leading to harsh conditions in Germany for the Jewish population at large, the popularity of hachsharah as a means of emigrating from Germany suddenly took off!  By the late 1930s Bachad had established many more centres, including some in cities, where trainees would learn trades or crafts that would prove useful in Palestine. The two main hachsharot run by Bachad at this time were Geringshof and Steckelsdorf.

To begin with, the Nazis were somewhat tolerant of the idea of the hachsharah farms - they the 'retraining' of Jews, many of whom had been ousted from more 'intellectual' professions as a useful method of keeping unrest under control. It was also providing a method of getting Jews out of Germany.

But as Nazi persecution grew ever more severe, Bachad needed to find new solutions: this involved expanding their work to other countries through which its members might find a route to Palestine (the situation was made much more difficult by the fact that the British were not allowing many Jews in to Palestine). Holland and Italy were the obvious choices for expansion, but there were Bachad outposts in Sweden, Luxembourg, Denmark, Belgium, Austria and Czechoslovakia also.

 

Chaverim at Kibbutz Rodges, c. 1929

(by kind permission of S. Taaseh)

 

Bachad's HQ moves to London!

Following the violence of Kristallnacht (9-10 November, 1938), all but two of Bachad's hachsharot (Geringshof and Steckelsdorf) were closed - and these only continued under very restricted conditions under the tight supervision of the Gestapo. Jews were trying to flee Germany as never before. Jewish leaders, along with some from the Christian community, including a significant number of Quakers, began putting pressure on the British Government to 'do something'! The result was a scheme, which became known as the Kindertransport, by which the British government granted entry to around 10,000 unaccompanied children from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. This scheme was of particular interest to Bachad and also to another organisation with whom it was linked: Youth Aliyah.

Bachad leader, Arieh Handler, who had previously been granted permission by the Gestapo to travel to the various hachsharah farms (including to Bachad's centres elsewhere in Europe), happened to be out of the country (in Jerusalem, in fact) when Kristallnacht took place. He received a telegram informing him of the violence and arrests that had taken place and was instructed not to come back! At the suggestion of Henrietta Szold, Arieh proceeded to London with letters of introduction to key figures in the Jewish community. There, from an office in Woburn House, close to the hub of the Refugee Movement in London, he set about networking and organising. The need to find placements for Orthodox children amongst the 10,000 children permitted to enter the U.K. via the Kindertransport schemes from early 1939 tested Handler's organisational skills to the limit - he was determined to provide places of refuge (ideally, hachsharah training farms) for as many of the children from observant families as possible. 

The most famous and largest hachsharah for which Bachad had some autonomy in terms of management was at Grwych Castle (August 1939-1941), but others had already been set up earlier in the year: Thornham Fold Farm, described by Arieh Handler at one of the later Pegishot as the first of Bachad's UK hachsharot, was set up with the help of the Manchester Jewish community in February1939 and closed in 1942. By this time, the hachsharah at Kynnersley was underway and accommodated chaverim from other hachsharot when they closed - including Gorman's Farm, Millisle, Co. Down, N. Irleand and the Whittingehame Farm School, near Haddington, East Lothian (Jan 1939- Sep. 1941). Whittingehame  was not run by Bachad, although quite a few Bachad members were placed there and close contact was maintained, so that the religious requirements of chaverim would be met. Other centres absorbed chaverim as the first hachsharot closed: Kempsey, Kynnersley, Ollerton, Avoncroft College at Bromsgrove (Kibbutz Shivat Tzion),  a number of smaller places in N. Wales - St. Asaph, Rosset and Ruthin - and The War Agricultural Hostel, Buckingham. The kibbutzim at Bromsgrove and Buckingham were considerably larger than the others. However, most chaverim in these centres were sent out to work for local farmers. What Bachad needed, was a farm of its own, where it could be in charge. With the help of the Bachad Fellowship (set up by Arieh Handler in June, 1942), a run-down farm at Thaxted, Essex was purchased and quickly became Bachad's 'flagship' -  The Bachad Farm Institute, Thaxted, Essex.

Another centre was opened in Surrey in December, 1949 - Dockenfield Manor, near Horsham.

In addition to the hachsharot, December 1941 saw the opening of the Mercaz Limmud in Manchester. The idea was that selected chaverim from the hachsharot would be sent there for a period of three months' study - sometimes more. Some of the girls were sent there to do the cooking and cleaning!

Below are a few photographs of the hachsharah farm at Thaxted:

 

Left:

The living accommodation at the Bachad Farm, Thaxted.

Photograph: Edith Hepner

Right: The late Mr. Edmund Leeder (a distant cousin of Verity's and farmer of adjacent land) talking to Aaron Ellern (ז"ל), the first manager of the Thaxted farm and another Bachad member with the old farmhouse in the background.

Left:

One of the farm buildings at Thaxted. Take note of the sign on the gable end - 'Handler Rd'!  In 1942, Arieh Handler gathered together a group of London-based Jewish businessmen to form the Bachad Fellowship under the chairmanship of Oscar Philipp. They served as guarantors for the loan taken out by Bachad to buy the Thaxted farm and were in reality Bachad's executive committee, shaping policies and taking the big decisions. The hachsharah farm at Thaxted was the first farm actually owned by Bachad, providing the long-awaited opportunity to run an establishment in line with their beliefs and values.

If you have further information or comments, please use the contact form below.

 
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PhD THESIS:

No comprehensive account of Bachad's history has so far been published, and wishing to rectify this, I deliberately opted for a broad working title:

The Jewish Youth Movement, Bachad (Brit Chalutzim Dati'im): Ideological development and legacy

This has allowed me to cast my net as widely as possible (thinking ahead to the possibility of publishing a book!). However, the PhD - which cannot include everything - will analyse the 'transnational' and 'diasporic' elements present within Bachad's thinking, its extensive networking and reach, including the tensions that exist between these two elements. I will also draw out the competing driving forces present in Bachad, especially how the desire to preserve and protect Jewish Orthodox youth from the influences of secularism was balanced with its cooperation with less religious organisations. And of course, much more!

I am always happy when someone with connections to Bachad, or information makes contact - please use the form below and I will reply as soon as I can!