Members of Frayhayt, a founding organization of the Dror movement, at a summer camp, Byten, Poland (now Byten’, Bel.), 1932. (The Ghetto Fighters’ Museum/Israel)

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The name of two different youth organizations, disconnected geographically, but related to each other ideologically and politically. The term dror means “freedom.” The Zionist Socialist Federation “Dror” originated in Kiev, where a group of Jewish youth began to evolve into an organization on the eve of World War I. The group chose the name ‘Et Livnot (A Time to Build) in 1914; among its leaders were Ze’ev Zelikin and Yesha‘yah Pisarevski.

In the days following the February revolution of 1917, ‘Et Livnot sought a popular following but failed to attain one. This failure (as was shown in elections to Zionist organizations in Russia) reinforced its self-image—and its role in the Jewish community—as an elitist group that would lead the Jewish masses along the “correct” ideological path to a new life in Palestine. According to this view, Jewish politics in Russia was corrupt and degenerate and the only segment that could be molded and led along proper guidelines was Jewish youth. Therefore, ‘Et Livnot focused on preserving its ideological purity and educational goals. The idea of immediate aliyah (immigration to the land of Israel) was secondary on its agenda. Toward the end of 1917, the Dror Federation was established with members of the Kiev group as its guiding center. With the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power, Dror members left Russia for the West, where there were opportunities for political action; to do so, they secretly crossed into independent Poland.

While trying to preserve its unified organizational structure in a new environment, Dror actually followed two paths: a group led by David Lifshits acted as a political party, one that failed in every aspect of its endeavors. Dror’s other focus was on education, and the arena of its efforts in this facet was the He-Ḥaluts organization. The Polish He-Ḥaluts was an administrative institution that organized immigration of Jewish youth to Palestine. It had neither a particular ideology nor educational or preparatory institutions in Poland. Dror’s members, led by Aharon Berdichevski, held national and regional posts and cast He-Ḥaluts according to their vision, implementing an educational system with a clear-cut outlook.

In 1925, Yitsḥak Tabenkin, an emissary of the Aḥdut ha-‘Avodah Party and the ‘En Ḥarod kibbutz movement, arrived in Poland. His influence ended the independent history of Dror, as members joined his kibbutz movement. The youth organization Frayhayt (Freedom) was founded in the summer of 1926; it had an eclectic socialist Zionist ideology that focused primarily on political and professional activities in the Jewish communities and on the socialist education of its members. It differed from other Zionist youth movements in its social composition: 85 percent of its members were working youth. For this reason, perhaps, Frayhayt supported the Yiddish school system.

Although Frayhayt viewed itself as a movement of adolescents, the pressure of younger age groups compelled it to change its structure and to build an educational stratum of scouts. Internal ideological developments, along with severe unemployment, shifted the focus of Frayhayt’s activities to preparing its members for the pioneering kibbutzim. At the second conference of the movement in May 1931, it declared itself an integral part of He-Ḥaluts, with the goal of preparing its members to join the kibbutzim of Ha-Kibuts ha-Me’uḥad.

The opportunity to immigrate to Palestine inspired masses who faced unemployment in Eastern Europe to join the He-Ḥaluts kibbutzim. In many cases, as in eastern Galicia, the kibbutz was virtually Frayhayt’s only visible activity. If in 1931 the movement had decided to send 1,000 members to He-Ḥaluts, by 1933 some 4,000 members belonged to He-Ḥaluts, with 1,000 living in the actual kibbutzim. Two years later, 2,000 Frayhayt members lived in such kibbutzim.

As it became increasingly difficult to immigrate to Palestine and the kibbutzim of He-Ḥaluts began to wither, Frayhayt became the dominant body in He-Ḥaluts, coordinating its moves with the Labor Party in Palestine and Ha-Kibuts ha-Me’uḥad, and tried to subordinate its partners to the policies of its leaders in Palestine. Thus in Zionist youth circles in Europe Frayhayt became the representative of the Labor leadership of Jewish Palestine. This status was reflected in numbers. The center of the movement was in Poland where in 1926 it numbered 3,500. In 1931, Frayhayt had 8,000 members, a number that expanded to 10,000 in 1933 and to 18,000 in 1936.

In 1934, Frayhayt became one of the founding organizations of the world organization Dror. In addition to Poland, Dror embraced branches in Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, and Hungary. As in Poland, those movements were composed predominantly of working youth. In Romania, the Dror youth movement was founded in 1935, but after a few years of activity, when its members formed 20 percent of the Romanian He-Ḥaluts, it was compelled to operate clandestinely because of the government’s policies. The history of Dror affiliation in Hungary was not significantly different from that of Romania. The movement Labor Youth was established in the early 1930s but was doomed to go underground by the end of the decade. In 1938, Dror merged with Young He-Ḥaluts; merely 15,000 to 18,000 members remained in the united organization.

Suggested Reading

Menaḥem Daniv, ed., Ha-Ḥolmim veha-bonim: Ha-Bonim be-Transilvanyah uve-Hungaryah; Deror—Ha-Bonim be-Romanyah, 1932–1949 (Kibuts Ma‘agan, Isr., [1998]); Deror (Warsaw), nos. 1–4 (1922); David Gottesfurcht, Ḥayim Hadari, and Aharon Raykhman, eds., Sefer Deror (‘En Ḥarod, Isr., 1946/47); Matityahu Mintz, Ḥogrim u-mefatḥim: Le-Toldoteha shel ḥavurat “Deror” be-Rusyah (Tel Aviv, 1982/83); Shmuel Nitzan, Tenu‘at Deror be-Galitsyah (Tel Aviv, 1983/84); Israel Oppenheim, Tenu‘at he-Ḥaluts be-Polin, 1917–1929 (Jerusalem, 1982).