Mania Shochat, Political Activist, is born, 1880
On This Day in Jewish History: October 11, 1880
Born on October 11, 1880 in Western Russia (modern day Belarus), Mania Wilbushewitch quickly became a profound political activist in the world of Socialist Zionism. One of ten children, Mania was influenced from a young age from a variety of ideological and religious approaches to society and culture. At 15 years old, Mania left her home and joined the carpentry workshop where her brother worked in Minsk. It was here that she began to learn about Judaism as she was taught Yiddish and interacted largely with Jewish laborers. Much of her life was devoted to improving the conditions of agricultural and industrial laborers, and later, merging that with Zionism.
Though she grew up religious, witnessing the physical and economic suffering of Russians and Jews made Mania rethink her own ideologies, leading to her own approach to religion. While in Minsk, Mania put her cultural and religious theories to practice, establishing study groups that taught literacy, history, economics and socialism.
This led to Mania joining the effort in the Tartar region to bring economic and medical relief to peasants experiencing hardship. Mir, the Russian communal system, was introduced to Mania, who loved the idea of social and economic equality. On returning to Minsk, Mania brought with her own version of a communal system. However, her political activism landed her in prison shortly thereafter.
While in prison in June 1901, with the encouragement from the head of the Moscow secret Police, Sergei Zubatov, Mania established a legal trade union, the Jewish Independent Labor Party, with the goal of improving working conditions for Russians and Jews alike. Zubatov promised Mania that the government would protect Jews from harassment so long as the party did not engage in revolutionary ideas.
Mania agreed and before long, the party was a great success. However, by 1903, the Russian Minister of Interior, Vyacheslav von Plehve, felt disenchanted by the party and exiled Zubatov, which ultimately led to the Kishinev pogrom. In this mass of aggression, Mania began to view violence as an effective measure to take action and even joined a terrorist organization.
Mania’s brother Nahum was largely distraught by Mania’s recent actions, and in early 1904, he was able to trick her into moving to the Land of Israel, then the Ottoman Southern Syria (Palestine), coinciding with the year of the Second Aliyah. Spending a year traveling the land, Mania learned of labor issues, specifically in Jewish towns. It was then that Mania came to believe that Jewish workers were needed to develop the land into a Jewish state.
Therefore, Mania began to share the belief with others that a collective agricultural development was essential to the development of working class Jews. By 1907, Mania succeeded in merging the Jewish Settlement Association and socialist Zionist ideologies. This also led to Mania promoting peace between Arabs and Jews in the Land of Israel.
Upon establishing a collective agricultural settlement (kibbutz) in Sejera, Mania met her soon-to-be husband, Israel Shochat, with whom she had 2 children. Shochat was one of the founders of the pre-Haganah / IDF Jewish defense organizations, Bar Giora & Hashomer. Although the settlement only lasted for one year, it was considered a success as it was proof that women were as competent as men in agricultural work, as well as it was the founding place of the Jewish defense group Ha-Shomer, in 1909.
Though she left for the US several times to obtain donations for the labor movement, she was often diminished, or met with public attacks in popular newspapers. Mania did, however, succeed in gaining some donations from private funders in the US.
In 1930, Mania became one of the founders of the League for Jewish-Arab Friendship and in 1948, she joined the Labor Zionist Mapam party in Israel. Eventually settling in Tel Aviv, Mania passed away in 1961. May her memory and devotion to peace be a blessing.