70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel

Dance Village – Dream on the Appelplatz

or the Great Story

By Sándor Silló - 2018-02-13

Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll

Yehudit (Judit) Arnon, founder of the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, was born October 15, 1926 in Révkomárom. Her parents: Lajos Schischa-Halevy and Erzsébet Hoffmann.


But the Great Story begins like this:


She was 19 years old and often entertained her comrades with dancing, clowning and acrobatics in the Birkenau barracks. The Capos told the SS on her.  The officers got the idea that the prisoner should perform at their Christmas celebrations, but Judit said no. She was not killed, "only" made to stand barefoot on the Appelplatz during the December night. There, standing in the snow, the girl had reached the decision: "If I survive, my whole life will be devoted to dance!" She survived.


I have learned in dramaturgy class that a Great Story needs exposure, dramatic turns, episodes, and other such things. That is not enough! The Great Story needs a Great Person!


In this story, the Great Person is a petite, fragile girl. At the beginning of the story, her name is Judit Schischa-Halevy, and she lives in Révkomárom in a deeply religious Hungarian Jewish family. Movement is the most important thing to her. Her brother and sister are taking music lessons, but the rabbis do not allow her to dance. "It's not suitable for a little girl; it's immoral. Dance!?" But talent is such a thing: throw it out the door, it returns through the window. The tiny, fragile teenager is being sent to the physiotherapist due to the curvature of her spinal cord. This therapy straightens out her whole life. Her skillful, harmonious movements entice her teachers. Sometimes she is even allowed to lead the class. At the same time, as an adolescent she also becomes involved with the Zionist movement and joins the Hashomer Hatzair youth group. Although the family is religious, her parents are not opposed to her participating in the movement. In 1939, her sister makes aliyah to Palestine, and during the World War, she even serves in the European Jewish troops. Judit's path could have been straightforward if she did the same ... But in 1944, the life paths of many of the Jews in Europe are disrupted. The Schischa-Halevy family is ordered to report at the Komárom Fortress at the beginning of the summer, and the transport to Auschwitz begins on June 11. Judit stops at the ramp before Mengele and asks him in German to let her stay with her mother.  The adult members of the family are immediately sent to the gas chamber and Judit, with other young people, to Birkenau. In her video interview with Yad Vashem, she tells about the camp: "Somehow we survived. Sometimes we even entertained each other. They asked me to show something, dance, acrobatics, and other funny moves. I did it and I understood that I was doing something good. "


Some of them manage to escape a couple of days before the camp is liberated. Judit goes to Budapest, and here she is closer to her dream, by a big step - survival.  She begins teaching at the Hashomer Hatzair. Here she meets Irén Dückstein, who teaches at the Budapest Physical Education Academy and is the dean of the Faculty of Movement Arts. Judit is supposed to become her assistant, but love interferes. Judit meets Yedidya Ahronfeld. They marry on June 16, 1946 and change their family names to Arnon. It is decided: they would make aliyah; Jewish organizations help their journey, as they do not travel alone. Judith and Yedidya take pupils, orphans, survivors of destroyed families; they take more than hundred children with them. The group steals away to Turin using secret paths and then sails from the port of Venice to Haifa.

The couple chooses the life of the kibbutznik. They settle down in Gaaton, North Galilee. Again, the dream is becoming remote ...

Gaaton Kibbutz in the Fifties - photo: the kibbutz archive

But the Great Person story does not work that way.

The team-building force of the dance, the muscles, trained by harmonious movements, coming handy at work…. these could have been the arguments used by Judit to convince the leaders of the kibbutz about the significance of modern dance. First, she only teaches the boys and girls of Gaaton, and then receives pupils from the neighboring kibbutz as well. Initially, they work in an empty shed and later the first gym is built. It's a great step when the best players get a day off their work to make the dance floor ready for the kibbutz festival. In 1962, they receive awards at the Israeli Young Artists Festival. In 1965, the Kibbutz Dance Company is founded, and a modern dance studio built in the village.

Of course Yehudit not only teaches, but also studies. She is a student of Gertrud Kraus and Yardena Cohen, and meanwhile she raises her three little daughters - Ruthie (1949), Ronnith (1954) and Efrath (1961).

She corresponds with famous choreographers to negotiate and invites them to work leading workshops in the kibbutz in the middle of nowhere. Jiri Kylian, a renowned Dutch choreographer, wrote: "Many years ago, we met in my office at the old studio of Netherlands Dans Theatre. I remember your fragile body and your gentle force trying to convince me. A survivor who wants not only to live but to pass on a truly great moment to the present generation. Dance is a message of freedom." Even if they first come reluctantly, they leave happy, spreading the news about the wonder of the Dance Village. Then the dancers get three or even four days off work and the first foreign tour takes place, followed by a number of others. The international dance world immediately recognizes the strength of the new company stemming from a strong team spirit.

Of course this, so described, does not look like much, but meanwhile decades have passed. The Great Person builds her dream with little steps.

Rami Beer (among his ancestors there are also Hungarians) was born in Gaaton's kibbutz, in a musician family. He studied cello, but from the age of three he also visited Yehudit's movement classes. He became a pupil, a dancer, later a choreographer and then from 1996 the head - changing the name of the company to Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company. Yehudit passed away On August 17, 2016, at the age of 87. But the Great Story did not end with the death of the heroine.

Yehudit Arnon's Dream - the Dance Village – is carried on by her student, Rami Beer.

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