Of archives and memories and Zionist youth groups

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The Rhode Island Jewish Historical Association’s archives are a treasure chest of fascinating aspects of our history in Rhode Island: minutes and notes of organizations present and past; clippings and photos of people and places and events; unusual artifacts; ephemera from all sorts of sources. 

The archives have a special place in my heart because the collection is named for my father and mother, The Beryl and Chaya Segal Family Archives. My father was one of the founders and a past president of the association. My mother had a profound sense of the importance of remembering, recording and studying Jewish history.

RIJHA’s Notes also are a treasure trove, of academic research and folk memories of aspects of our rich history in Rhode Island. The first issues also contained short notes about Jews from Rhode Island, nuggets gleaned from a variety of sources.

Missing from the archives and sparsely mentioned in Notes is the existence of Zionist youth groups in the 1930s and 1940s. I remember three of these clubs for teenagers: Hashomer Hatzair, in the 1930s, Habonim, led by Jackie and Joe Teverow in the 1950s, and Young Judaea, to which I belonged during my last two years in high school. 

I must confess that I remember very little about the meetings, which were held, I believe, once a month. We had a leader from Junior Hadassah. We elected a president, a secretary to take minutes and read minutes of the previous meeting, and a treasurer to collect dues. Programming, no doubt, dealt with current events and some history of the pioneers working on land purchased by the Jewish National Fund.

I vaguely recall meetings with other Young Judaea clubs from the Boston area and from Fall River. Then a name in a website jogged my memory into recalling vignettes of an event from my Zionist youth, a New England region conclave held at the end of the camping season at Camp Young Judaea. 

Most of us in attendance were about to start our senior year in high school; others were about to leave for college. It was special, in retrospect, because we had the kind of leaders who could stir the mind and the imagination.

We plowed the fields in Eretz Israel with the young Halutzim (pioneers) and manned the watchtowers to guard against marauders. We met Arab neighbors against the backdrop of the Mufti’s hate speech. We built roads and drained the Hula swamps to destroy the breeding grounds of malaria-carrying mosquitoes. We showed our unity with the Halutzim by lustily singing one of their songs, “Lo Nelech Mi-po” (“We Shall Not leave”), all the while sitting on the ground in New Hampshire.

A visit to the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County, New Jersey, where my daughter and I now live, is what brought back these memories.

On their website is a brief  mention of a place called Cream Ridge, a rural area of farmland and horse farms. It was the name Cream Ridge that triggered these recollections. 

In 1936, an organization called HeHalutz established a training farm on rented land in Cream Ridge. At some time during my teen years, most likely at that aforementioned conclave, I learned about HeHalutz. Part of its mission in Europe and the United States was to train urban people who wanted to emigrate to Israel to become farmers, members of a kibbutz. The organization had farms in Canada and the U.S., including two in the Northeast,  I believe, in New York state and Cream Ridge.  For some reason, perhaps the interesting name, I only recall the hachshurah (training farm) in Cream Ridge.  

One last memory: At the close of that conclave, we bid each other lump-in-the-throat goodbyes. We promised to keep in touch, and some of us did, for a short while, until our lives took us in separate directions.

GERALDINE S. FOSTER is a past president of the R.I. Jewish Historical Association. To comment about this or any RIJHA article, contact the RIJHA office at info@rijha.org or 401-331-1360.