We Were as Dreamers by Pinchas Govrin (1904-1985) reveals, through the story of a single family, the drama of Jewish life in Eastern Europe from the beginning of the 20th Century to the days of the third wave of immigration to Israel (‘Ha’alia Hashlishit’ 1921-3). The book presents a colorful and delicate picture of the towns Shpikov and Braslev, in which JEW/S and Gentiles, Hasidim, beggars, house lords (ba’alei batim? If so, perhaps householders would be a little closer? Or simply ‘balebassim’?), secular intellectuals and Zionists – all live side by side.
These are years of war and pogroms. Chaos challenges established ways of life and the world is irreversibly changed. In the new world, winds of modernism blow; of Bolshevik revolution and a Ukrainian struggle for independence. While the majority of JEW/S immigrate to the U.S, four generations of one family, which differ in lifestyle, but are united in their deep-rooted love for Zion, journey to Palestine. While the elders settle in Jerusalem, the youth join the Avoda regiment. Pinchas Govrin, the young pioneer, joins the group of “bare-footed singers and drillers” in the Jezreel Valley, to take part in the foundation of Kibbutz Tel Yossef and Kibbutz Ein Harod.
Govrin’s rich and humorous writing presents the reader with a great number of characters and events, as they are revealed to the eyes of a sensitive child and to the wandering look of a young man.
Extracts from the Forward by Prof. David Asaf, Head of the Jewish History Department, Tel Aviv University:
Govrin’s memories of youth join the loaded shelf of memoirs describing life in towns and cities before the Holocaust. It is indeed a challenging task to write in an attractive fashion, which distinguishes, through humor and self-irony, between center and margins and between what is to be forgotten and what is to be remembered. This book speaks not only to a limited group of the writer’s relatives, but to anyone interested in human affairs. A magical spirit hovers over Govrin’s memories, which as well as being graceful and appealing, are also a captivating historical and cultural document.