Eleanor and Youth Aliyah: A tribute in Israel

Within a month of Eleanor’s death, her lifelong companion and friend, Elizabeth Macadam had been approached by the Children and Youth Aliyah Committee in Great Britain proposing a permanent memorial for Eleanor in Palestine.  On the one hand they wanted tangible recognition of the deep interest that Eleanor had expressed on her visit to Palestine in 1934, when she had met Henrietta Szold and seen the work being done by the organisation for children, and the educational and agricultural systems being used. But they also wanted to pay an enduring tribute and expression of gratitude for her work for persecuted Jewry.

A few months later, in November 1946, the Manchester Guardian reported that there were plans for a memorial to Eleanor. An appeal was subsequently launched, in conjunction with the London Rathbone Memorial Committee to raise funds for a school in Israel. The Association of Jewish Refugees were represented on the appeal committee as they felt that ‘Jewish refugees owe a special obligation to contribute to this project as an expression of their gratitude to Eleanor Rathbone.’ The cornerstone for the school, designed by Tel-Aviv architects Averbuch and Baron, was laid on 3 September 1948,

The Eleanor Rathbone School (House) at the Youth Aliyah Farming Institute in Magdiel, near Tel Aviv, was finally opened by Dr Vera Weizmann (Chaim Weizmann’s wife) on 19 October 1949. The building had four classrooms, laboratories, a concert hall, library, reading room and offices. Eleanor’s fellow MP and refugee activist, David Grenfell had travelled, with Dr Israel Feldman, a fellow member of the London Rathbone Memorial Committee in Palestine and Chairman of the British Youth Aliyah Committee, from London for the ceremony, and he presented a picture of Eleanor to the Institute. Dr Feldman had this to say:

 ‘ After the death in London on January 2nd 1946, of Miss Eleanor Rathbone, a representative committee was formed in Great Britain with a view to arranging for a fitting permanent memorial to this great social worker. With no hesitation whatever this committee accepted the proposal conveyed through the Youth Aliyah Committee of Great Britain that an institution for the comprehensive rehabilitation of Jewish children in Israel would be a most suitable memorial to Eleanor Rathbone and one of a type that she herself would have wished…In the sphere of humanity Eleanor Rathbone recognised no boundaries, and it is in that spirit that I now formally ask the Governors of this institution on behalf of the Committee in Great Britain and of Youth Aliyah to accept this great trust. We are confident that through your work within these walls, and in a wider sphere, the cherished memory of this great Christian lady, Eleanor Rathbone, will remain fresh and fragrant and that generations of Israeli children will throughout the years learn to bless her work. ‘

The Foreign Minister, Moshe Sharrett, paid tribute to Eleanor, whom he had met in London in 1944 in connection with the Jews of Hungary, describing her as ‘a unique British woman who devoted her life to fighting for causes which she considered just. She had fought relentlessly to save European Jews, and especially the children. ‘  The London committee under the patronage of Lord Horder and chairmanship of Mrs Barbara Ayrton-Gould MP, had contributed 10,000 IL towards the total building costs which totalled 24,000 IL. On 22 October 1949 David Grenfell gave a most moving speech that was broadcast on Kol Israel. The Eleanor Rathbone School still stands today immortalising her spirit, courage and compassion.

Copyright: Susan Cohen 2015

The dedication ceremony of  Eleanor Rathbone House at Magdiel, Israel on 19 October 1949. Bertha Schoolman is addressing the audience.

The dedication ceremony of Eleanor Rathbone House at Magdiel, Israel on 19 October 1949. Bertha Schoolman is addressing the audience. Courtesy of Hadassah Archives at the American Jewish Historical Society, New York

Rathbone House, 1949

Rathbone House, 1949. Courtesy of Youth Aliyah Collection at the American Historical Society/Central Zionist Archives, Jerusalem. Israel

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