Degania


By Asaf Agin




EARLY TIMES IN THE JORDAN VALLEY

... Herzelís death and the fear of pogroms in the Jewish quarters were his childhood harsh memories . The stories of Israeli Shlihim (messengers) and reading the "Hatsfirah" excited his imagination... The meeting with Yoseph Shprinzak, Barskyís letter to the members of Degania after the murder of his son Moshe, and the news about Yoseph Zalzmanís murder while plowing a field in Kinneret, concluded his decision...
Arriving on the ship "Heluan", in February 1914 (the last year of the Second Alyia) he stays in the famous Haiim Baruch hotel in Yaffo, and goes out to know the land, from Rishon Le'Zion to Ruhama.
Shkolnik was, from his first days here, a "Poel" - a Worker with conscience, and longing for the toil of the land. Laying water pipe for the irrigation of the orchards of Petah Tikvah was his firs chore. After that he goes to "conquer the land" in Kalandia, working in the olive and grape orchards, and experiencing the need of weapons for self defense. World War I ended that chapter in his life.
Wandering with his friends they lived for a while in Rishon Le'Zion (November 1914). That year he, with friends, founded "Kvutsat Avoda", aiming to establish a settlement. But due to the destitution caused by the war, he was elected to the central committee of the workers in Judea. He dedicated himself to public work, caring for employment, income and the basic needs of the Southern Workers. Thus was carved his public image as the man who deciphered the code of ties between Man, Land and Water.
In June 1918 he disregarded the dictum of his Party, "Hapoel Hatsair", and volunteered to the 40th Jewish Battalion.


FROM KFAR URIAH TO DEGANIA.

The "Avoda" group, coming together again after the war, in Kfar Uriah, moved to a collective settlement on JNF land, in the Jordan Valley. It was in response to a call by Yoseph Bussel. Their settlement was designed by Shkolnik. Degania B' was born near it's "mother", Degania A.
Shkolnik divided his time, from the first day of Degania B', between labor during the day and public service at night. Here he built his home, in the famous two stories shack, and developed the doctrine of equality between woman and man.
The goal of the settlement was a diversified and technologically advanced enterprise. Shkolnik guides the establishment of the water installation - the beginning of irrigation, and buys the first tractor - the beginning of cultivation.
As a delegate of "Hapoel Hatsair" to the Zionist Congress, he is the representative of the Settlement Movement, but delightfully he comes back to his beloved "turia" (the typical digging tool of those days), the one he loved since Petah Tikvah, and to channel, bare foot, the stream of water in the vegetable field. From behind the "turia" he was called to direct the preparations for the Second Agricultural Convention. Here his organizational talents were shown, hence placing him in the front line of the Workers Settlement Movement, in the "Merkaz Haklay".


SHKOLNIK AND THE SETTLEMENTS

The "Merkaz Haklay" was the mechanism that lead the Settlements during the pre-State era of the "Yishuv". Kvotsa, Kibbuts, Workers' Moshav, Collective Moshav, Womens' Enterprise ("Meshek Poalot"), and Seed groups working in the Colonies, were legends materializing into reality during the 20s (The Third and Fourth Aliah) and the 30s (the Fifth Aliah). The friendship with his colleagues, his membership in Degania B' and his Movement - where he was the key mover for the union of "Hever Ha'Kvutsot" and "Gordonia", continued. He was a full partner in the negotiations that brought forth the communal collaboration of the settlements in the Jordan Valley.
Shkolnik found "Nir" (the financial organ of the Workers settlements) in 1934, and with it he helped the JNF to purchase land. He was sent to Germany to negotiate the "Ha'avarah" agreement, for saving Jewish property in Germany. Establishing and managing "Mekorot" (the Water Sources and Distribution Company), he used "Mekorot" bonds as means to buy equipment for water systems with "Ha'avarah" monies. Jewish money from Germany come, that way, to strengthen the Settlements. "Hityashvut Ha'Eleph" and "Homa U'Migdal" that were the response to the publication of the English Pyll Committee, and the bloody events of 1936 -1939, were the last activities in this chapter.
In 1942 Shkolnik is called to a new front - the Secretariat of the Tel Aviv Workers Council. That role involves him with political activities: confronting the groups on the Right and the political opposition ("Syiah B") within the Party. There he comes back to deal with the hardships of the workers life. Shkolnik wins the trust of the workers, the respect of the political right, and the esteem of his opponents within the Party ("Ahdut Ha'Avodah").
In August 1946, as acting head of the Settlement Department of the Jewish Agency, he leads the settlement endeavors in the Negev, of which the crown act was the founding of eleven settlements in one day, Yom Kippur.

ESHKOL OF WATER, LAND AND MAN
Eshkol's 35 years before the birth of the State were sign posts for the active 22 years, until his death in 1969. The draining of the Hullah swamps, the Country's Water System, 400 Moshavim, Industrial and Agricultural developments - echo his claim: "Water for us is blood". Only he, who knew the right linkage between Man, Land and Water, understood the tie between man's blood and the blood of the land. The tie that linked the water hole in Kalandia to the Eshkol Region in the Negev.

Eshkol's humor -


turning a disadvantage into an advantage is found in a story that was told by his Degania friend Nachum Rosenfeld: Once we were confronted by a force of Arabs who were recruited to the Turkish army (First World War years). They tried to steal the Kibbutz grapes. Eshkol beat one of them. The Arab's friends grabbed Eshkol and hit him while throwing him onto the ground. In the meantime, the Turks who lead a troop approached, and the Arabs disappeared/ Eshkol got up, fixed his hair, and said: "Let them go to hell!" And then, with a tone of self-satisfaction: "I've been in this country for just a few weeks and I already curse in Hebrew and not in Russian."