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Mania (Wilbushewitcz) Shochat

(1880 - 1961)

Born on her father's estate in Belorussia, Mania Wilbushewitcz left home at a young age to work in her brother's factory in Minsk in order to learn about workers' living conditions and help them. She became associated with revolutionary circles and was arrested in the summer of 1899. While in prison, she met Zubatov, the chief of the Secret Police in Moscow. He suggested a workers' movement with his support, which would be loyal to the Czar. He convinced her to establish a Jewish workers' party which would be concerned with professional and economic matters and would abstain from politics.

Under his influence, she started to establish the Jewish Independent Labor Party in the summer of 1901. The strikes they declared were successful because secret police agents supported them. They were opposed by the Bund and other Jewish Socialist groups.

After the Kishinev pogrom, and with changes in government policies, the party dissolved in the summer of 1903. In 1904 her brother, Nahum, invited her to visit Eretz Yisrael. She traveled through the country for a year and concluded that collective agricultural settlement was an essential condition for the development of a Jewish country. In 1907, Mania went to Europe and the United States to study various communist settlements. Upon her return she sought a group of like-minded individuals, and became associated with the Bar Giora group led by Israel Shochat. Under her influence, the group settlement on a farm near Sejera (Ilaniyah) and tried setting up a collective farm in 1907-1908. This was the first attempt at collective settlement in Eretz Yisrael.

In 1908 she married Shochat and they were among the founders of HaShomer in 1909. When World War I began, the Turkish authorities exiled Mania and Israel Shochat to Boursa, Turkey. After attending the Poalei Zion convention in Stockholm, they returned to Eretz Yisrael in 1919 and joined the Ahdut HaAvodah party. In 1921, Mania Shochat was a member of the first Histadrut delegation to visit the United States. Her presence caused an uproar as Bundists and Communists recalled her previous collaboration with the Moscow Secret Police.

In the later years, Mania Shochat became active in Kibbutz Kfar Giladi and in Jewish-Arab cooperation. In 1948, she joined the Mapam party and settled in Tel Aviv, where she devoted herself to social work and writing.

Sources: The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente