Berl Kalzrelson (1887-1944)
Berl Kalzrelson was born in Belorussia in Bobrinsk. His father was a member of חובבי ציון, Hovevei Zion. As a child he dreamt of emigrating to Eretz Israel. He worked as a Hebrew librarian and taught Hebrew literature and Jewish history. He influenced many young people to develop Zionist ideas.
He was a firm socialist in his ideals and tried to influence his Zionist contemporaries. He became a blacksmith before travelling to Israel. ‘What I want is to go to the land of Israel, to work and to light a little spark.’ He wrote in 1908.
He landed in Israel in 1909 and began to live out his dreams. He worked on farms and served on labour councils. Katznelson was profoundly committed to retaining his Jewish values. This was often at odds with his fellow labour Zionists. He was one of the few voices in non-religious labour voices who pressed fought for Shabbat observance, keeping the festivals, kashrut in the Histadrut kitchens, and the circumcision in the kibbutzim.
Along with colleagues such as Meir Rotberg, Katznelson helped found the cooperatives for the sale of food, known as ‘Hamashbir.’ He instigated a National Health Service to meet the needs of workers. This was later to become the Kuppat Holim. Both Hamashbir and Kuppat Holim are well-established institutions in Israel today. Katznelson later became the editor of the Histadrut’s newspaper Davar. The newspaper became a must read for the labour class and had a loyal and opinionated readership. He also helped establish libraries, and a workers’ publishing house, Am Oved.
In 1939, Great Britain was opposed Jewish immigration to Palestine, Katznelson actively aided ‘illegal’ immigration to Israel. Influence by Katznelson a group of Zionist parachuted into Nazi-held territory to try to aid Jewish survivors.
During World War II, Katznelson prophesied that the Jews would have to emerge from the war with a Jewish state. He died in 1944 before he could see his prophecy realized. Monuments to his memory were established at Bet Berl in Zofit, Oholo on Lake Kinneret and Kibbutz Be’eri.
South of the graves of Borochov and Katznelson are the graves of Samuel Yavne’eli and his wife. Yayne’eli visited Yemen in 1912 and returned to Israel with several hundred Yemenite immigrants. Many Yemenite families are also buried in the cemetery.