- The Revolutionary: Ada Fishman Maimon—A Biographyby Bat-Sheva Margalit Stern
The burgeoning gender bookshelf has been enriched by a new and very weighty addition: Bat-Sheva Margalit Stern's biography of Ada Fishman Maimon, designated in the book's title as a "revolutionary." Following her publication, over a decade ago, of a comprehensive book on the General Council of Women Workers in Eretz Israel, prior to the establishment of the state, 1Margalit Stern has now provided us with a detailed description of the life of the remarkable woman who led the organization in its early days, for whom the status of women lay at the heart of her career.
Ada Fishman Maimon was born in 1893 in Marculesti, a small village in Bessarabia (then part of the Russian Empire), with a Jewish population of about 1,500 in the early twentieth century. One of eight children, she was instilled by her warm, religious family with a longing for the Land of Israel and a love of her religion and its obligations, values to which she clung throughout her life. Her eldest brother, Rabbi Judah Leib Fishman (later Maimon), the well known leader of the religious Zionist movement, was instrumental in shaping her personality. In early 1913, she arrived in Eretz Israel with him and his family, and together with him she changed her surname after the establishment of the state. The book follows their complicated relationship, which had its ups and downs. Her ability to combine devotion to tradition with her dedication to the mostly secular Israeli labor movement, its people and its values was one of her most unique and distinctive characteristics.
According to historian Aviva Halamish, the biography, an increasingly popular genre in the early twenty-first century, is "apparently the most popular nonfiction genre among readers throughout the world." 2Margalit Stern explains in her introduction that the aim of the book is "to weave together the personal and public dimensions of this highly accomplished and multifaceted individual and her impact on the history of women in her generation and on Israeli society in the future" (p. 10). The book indeed very carefully and in great detail—sometimes too much [End Page 203]detail—depicts the many junctures in Fishman's life, from the time of her aliyahuntil her death in 1973, during the Yom Kippur War.
One of the author's aims is to solve the riddle of why Fishman never married. To be sure, at the time it was not especially unusual for a woman of her circumstances to choose not to marry. Fishman was a member of the "wilderness generation," born between the late nineteenth century and World War I, that paved the way for women as they moved from the privacy of the home into the public domain. The young women who took this tortuous path often did not believe it possible to combine these two domains and function properly and simultaneously in both. Harriet Pass Freidenreich, 3who studied the entry of the first women into the universities in Europe and their subsequent activity in the public domain, noted that about two thirds of them refrained from having families. Margalit Stern cites an interview that Fishman Maimon gave toward the end of her life, in which she confessed that this was her position as well: "I never had time for a family. […] I devoted my time and energy to preparing the younger generation for a productive life. […] A person who is occupied day and night does not have time for a family life" (p. 12).
Fishman Maimon's activities had three focal points: her struggles and endeavors for women's rights in general and those of women workers in particular, in the context of the General Council of Women's Workers—activities that began immediately after the British conquest of Eretz Israel and continued throughout her life; her establishment of Ayanot, a women's farm, which she headed...