The last three years of the British Mandate for Palestine, 1945–48, were peak years in the Jewish national struggle for the establishment of a Jewish state and the formation of a progressive society peopled by new Hebrew men and women. This article discusses the historical phenomenon of Zionist women in Palestine who were sent to Europe on special missions to rescue Holocaust survivors and bring them to Palestine. Their stories shed light on the emergence of a new feminine identity and serve as a platform for exploring nationalism and gender in general, with an emphasis on the evolving identity of women during a period of national struggle. The case histories presented in this study show how women of the time found personal fulfillment through nationalistic missions that helped to redefine the role of the Jewish woman. They became models for a new Jewish woman who deviated from the traditional model of the woman as homemaker and mother. Participation in these missions was significant in shaping their new identity. It was a three-stage process that began with a masculine initiative that prompted their activity; continued with traditional female roles carried out with a new twist, and ended with a change in female self-awareness. The experiences of these emissaries show how women’s participation in the national struggle was fraught with personal conflicts intimately connected to the encounter between traditional gender roles and their new role and nationalist identity.
Anthony Giddens, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991); Orna Sasson-Levy, Identities in Uniform: Masculinities and Femininities in the Israeli Military (Jerusalem: Hebrew University Magnes Press, 2006), 9–10 [Hebrew].
Ruti Glick, Captive in a New Land: The Story of the Immigrant Hanna Szenes (Haifa: Pardes, 2013) [Hebrew]; Billie Melman, “Introduction,” in: idem (ed.), Borderlines: Gender and Identities in War and Peace, 1870–1930 (New York: Routledge, 1998), 1–5; Deborah Bernstein, Women on the Margins: Gender and Nationalism in Mandate Tel-Aviv (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2008) [Hebrew].
Eileen Janes Yeo, “The Creation of ‘Motherhood’ and Women’s Responses in Britain and France, 1750–1914,”Women’s History Review8(2) (1999): 203–205; Wildenthal, German; Ann Laura Stoler, “Rethinking Colonial Categories: European Communities and the Boundaries of Rule,” Comparative Studies in Society and History 3(1) (1989): 134–161.
Nira Yuval-Davis, Gender and Nation (London: Sage, 1997), 626. See also George I. Mosse, Nationalism and Sexuality: Respectability and Abnormal Sexuality in Modern Europe (Madison, wi: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985), 18.
Anita Shapira (ed.), Ha’apala: Studies in the History of Illegal Immigration into Palestine 1934–1948 (Tel-Aviv: Am Oved, 1990) [Hebrew]; Aviva Halamish, Exodus—The Real Story (Tel-Aviv: Tel-Aviv University and Am Oved Publishers, 1990) [Hebrew].
Hanna Yablonka, Foreign Brethren: Holocaust Survivors in the State of Israel 1948–1952 (Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 1994) [Hebrew]; Keynan, Holocaust; Zertal, From Catastrophe.
Adrienne Rich, Of Woman Born (Tel-Aviv: Am Oved, 1989), 70–75 [Hebrew]; Nancy J. Chodorow, The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999).
Katz, Women, 147, 164; Lilach Rosenberg-Friedman, “Conservatism Blazes the Trail: On the Image of Religious-Zionist Women Leaders during the Yishuv Period,” Gender in Israel [Iyunim Bitkumat Israel: Thematic Collection] (Jerusalem: Ben-Gurion Institute-Ben-Gurion Univ., 2011), 409–438 [Hebrew].