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

Welcome to the world of research into the Orthodox Jewish pioneering movement, Bachad!

The site's main purpose: to provide an outline of my PhD research into Bachad, sponsored by the University of Southampton. I hope it will generate repsonses from site visitors, whether they be former Bachad members or their descendants, fellow researchers or anyone with a general interest. I always welcome comment, additional information / documentation and suggestions. I hope to do justice to this important history through an accurate PhD and eventually a book. Do get in touch using the contact form below.

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

Please be aware that this site only contains a brief outline of Bachad and my research - more than that would put in jeopardy the PhD and future publications!  I will be adding a few  other pages in case anyone is interested in my previous history and hope to be starting a blog soon. Use the links in the top header for these).

Research Background

The Orthodox Jewish pioneering youth movement, Brit Chalutzim Dati'i'm, usually known by its short title, Bachad), came into existence in Germany in 1928. Until then, any observant Jewish young people wanting to prepare themselves for Aliyah (emigration to Eretz Israel) were limited to joining in with far more secular groups - which created problems when it came to observing the Sabbath, or Jewish dietary laws (Kashrut). Many training centres (known as 'hachsharot') had already been established in Germany during the first few decades of the 20th century, but the first attempt at setting up a religious hachsharah took place in 1924 (Bätzenrod, near Fulda in the region of Frankfurt am Main). However, insufficient numbers of religious trainees joined to enable the hachsharah to be run as planned. So the group remained a mixture of religious and secular. This gave rise to much discussion over a period of years - about the importance of keeping the mitzvot, about political affiliations and many other issues. Finally, in 1928, Bachad established itself formally. It's first hachsharah was 'Rodges', not far away from Bätzenrod.  Bachad's Modern Orthodox approach was open-minded, outward-looking and ambitious in terms of aspiring to the high ideal of applying Torah 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 literature, culture and the Hebrew language. All this was put into practice within the socialist framework: the hachsharot were designed to be run along the lines of kibbutzim that had already been in existence for decades in Palestine, but customised to accommodate the particular needs of religious Jews.

The first pioneers from Rodges in Germany arrived in Palestine in 1929. They named their new kibbutz in Palestine, 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 Palestine.

But with the Nazi rise to power in 1933, conditions in Germany for the Jewish population at large became more severe, so the numbers of young Jews wanting to emigrate to Palestine increased. Bachad responded to this need by increasing its hachsharah activities in Germany. By the late 1930s it had established many more centres, including some in cities, where trainees would learn other trades that would prove useful in Palestine. The largest of Bachad's hachsharot at this time were Geringshof and Steckelsdorf.

But 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 we British were not allowing many Jews in to Palestine). Amongst the many countries into which Bachad spread were Holland and Italy.

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

 
 

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 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 in Palestine, Arieh proceeded to London with letters of introduction to key figures in the Jewish community. There, from an office in Woburn House, the HQ 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 first hachsharah was at Grwych Castle, followed by others at Whittingehame, Scotland, St. Asaph, Rosset, Castleton (Thornham Fold Farm), Millisle (Co. Down, N. Ireland), Bromsgrove (Kibbutz Shivat Tzion), Buckingham, Kinnersley, Ollerton, Dockenfield Manor and Thaxted, Essex.

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.

 

CONTACT

I look forward to hearing from anyone

who can shed further light on this important, but little-known history.

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