70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel

One of the creators of Israeli Jewish ethnography

Aviva Müller Lancet 1921-2015  

By Zsuzsa Shiri - 2018-02-23

Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll

Aviva Müller-Lancet was one of the most important ethnographers of Israel; she had a profound effect on the acceptance of this discipline in Israel, and as the founder and first leader of the Jewish Ethnographic department of the Israel Museum, she showed the way to the young generations of scientists through her European perspective.


Edit Lancet was born in Gyergyóbékás during the first shock after the disintegration of the Monarchy.  Her parents had known and loved each other since their early childhood; although they were cousins, their marriage was considered acceptable among the rural Jewry of the era. Her father was a successful businessman who was able to ensure a good life for his family in Romania, Palestine, and Israel. He had eight siblings, and the nine of them united in an alliance of defensive and offensive, trying to help each other to withstand the storms of history and their restart in a new country. Aviva was three years old when her father’s family of mainly wholesalers decided to move to Palestine. They bought a large part of Herzlya's sand dunes north of Tel-Aviv, and moved there. It turned out that their business acumen paid off, as this part of the country became one of the most expensive areas, and today it is still their most valuable property gained from their early investment.


The Lancet children - Aviva and her younger brother - attended a Jewish kindergarten and school in Palestine in the twenties and then, due to their mother's pulmonary disease they returned to Europe hoping that the Carpathian air would help. It did, and during that time, in the middle of the 1930s, the children spent several years in Bucharest at a boarding school run by nuns where they received the highest level of education albeit under harsh rule, and all that in French spoken at a native level. On a Sunday, however, an angry mob shouting anti-Semitic slogans and slurs invaded their home. Fortunately enough they were able to hide and escape from the pogrom, but eventually, they packed their things and returned to Tel-Aviv.

Aviva's brother was put through an Italian medical school by their parents because there was no medical faculty in Palestine. Later Mose Lancet became the famous gynecologist of the Kaplan Medical Center. However, it was never considered that the girl should also graduate, so she got married early, to the son of a furniture manufacturer. They had money in abundance; with no children they had a golden life in cafes during the Second World War. After the war, however, Aviva had visited Romania with her mother and met a doctor, Muci (Maximilian) Müller who survived Auschwitz after losing his first family.

They fell in love; Aviva came home and got divorced, then went back to work at the newly formed Embassy of Israel in Bucharest and became pregnant. She did not want to start a family in Romania, but Doctor Müller was a communist and could imagine his life only there. Aviva aborted her baby; packed and came back to Israel. Her life in Tel-Aviv seemed empty and meaningless, so she enrolled at the Hebrew university where she studied sociology and archeology, then traveled to Paris to study art history, but there, as she became a student of Levy-Strauss she switched to ethnography and anthropology. Later, she became one of the Israeli creators of Jewish ethnography, with a special interest in Eastern Jews, especially those from Yemen.

Dr. Müller reconsidered his position after a few years, and tried to immigrate to Israel, but the Romanian authorities prevented him for years from doing so. Aviva did everything she could to assist his move; she went even as far as involving the Knesset in dealing with his case. The groom arrived after seven years of struggle and so they could get married. A year later their only son was born.

Following a request by Teddy Kollek, the legendary Mayor of Jerusalem, the ethnographic department of the then-built Israeli Museum was established by Aviva and led by her for decades, until her retirement; it has since become the most important citadel of Jewish ethnography.


Please check out another article about this great person at: http://izraelinfo.com/2017/03/17/aviva-mesei/

If you have enjoyed reading this story, please support our project Izrael70.

Official sponsors:
Hivatalos támogatók: