Nitsa Ben Ari On:
Gila by S. Yizhar
When Yizhar was in the process of writing ‘By the Sea’, minute anecdotes kept creeping into his memory, and one day he brought me (his then editor at Zmora-Bitan Publishing house) the manuscript for Asides. Like all stories by Yizhar, “Gila” is a true story; it is one of the most touching stories in the collection, and one of the saddest and most reflective memories from Yizhar’s career as a young instructor in the Ben Shemen Youth Village, between the late 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s. It’s also one of the only stories that deals with the work of the instructors of that period with children who had immigrated to Israel as part of the Youth Aliyah, children who were forced to leave their homes and families in Europe, and in an accelerated process of “Sabrazation,” become Israelis overnight.
The educators, and even the boarding school’s headmaster, the legendary Dr. Lehmann, lacked the tools to treat these youths’ psychological problems. The word “Holocaust” hovered in the air at a slightly later stage, but the connection between most of the children and their families had been severed, and according to the consensus of that period (nowadays many have come to object this notion), they would be better off leaving the chapter of home behind them and starting anew. The educators, some out of awkwardness and others out of delicate sensibilities, chose to enshroud the painful subject in silence, and the children of Ben Shemen who had absorbed that message “overcame” it, or cried in secret, until fragments of the memories resurfaced, melodies like in the story ‘Gila’,bringing the home back to life and making the eyes well up again.
It is a delicate and moving story, which tells their stories, and above all—the painful sense of helplessness of their instructors.