Generation of ’48 proves too racy for Israeli stamps

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Generation of ’48 proves too racy for Israeli stamps

Why does the Philatelic Service fear photos of women in shorts?

By | Feb.13, 2013 | Haaretz

Yehudit Ayalon, one of Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael’s founders, was very happy to receive a request several weeks ago from the postal service’s Philatelic Service. She was informed that soon a new stamp would be issued to honor “100 years of industry in Israel” and was asked whether she might have old photographs from the Ayalon Institute, where she worked when she was young.

Ayalon, now 88, is exactly the person to turn to in this matter. She is named after the institute that was a secret ammunition factory that operated until the State of Israel was established, producing bullets for the Haganah underground.

She wrote in reply to the letter: “Indeed we have photos of the Ayalon Institute, including the production of bullets for the War of Independence.” Together with Shaul Goldberg, director of the kibbutz’s archives, Ayalon collected and sent to the Philatelic Service photos of young women – including herself – working in the factory and in the laundry built above it to conceal its real purpose.

Still, the response of the Philatelic Service shocked her: “Could you possibly find photos that feature less women with bare legs?”

Speaking to Haaretz on Tuesday, she said: “The nerve! I couldn’t contain myself and wrote about it in the kibbutz leaflet.” Ayalon recounted in her short piece her letter of response. “The words ‘exclusion of women’ and ‘religious coercion’ figured prominently in the letter – and that what the end of that. We didn’t hear from them anymore.”

Why does the Philatelic Service fear photos of women in shorts?

Yaron Ratzon, director of the Philatelic Service responded: “The Philatelic Service issues stamps dealing with various issues, while strictly observing that 50 percent of the figures on the stamps are women. It must be noted that the stamps, official symbols of the State of Israel, are sold in all post offices to all populations in a uniform fashion. Therefore we take special care that the issues, illustrations and photos do not insult the feelings of any segment of the population.”

Ayalon sounded amused. She was happy to reminisce about the old times: “When we worked in the factory, in 1948, we wore working clothes of the time – short pants,” explaining why the girls dared be photographed in such outlandish attire.

Yehudit immigrated to Palestine in 1936 and later joined “Scouts Group Aleph,” which in the beginning of 1946 settled at Kibbutz Hill, between Rehovot and Nes Tziona. A huge pit was being dug there at the time, where the Ayalon Institute was built. The kibbutz that was established there served as camouflage for the factory. Its members lived a double life: on the surface they operated a chicken coop, a dairy barn, a laundry, a bakery and a carpentry shop. Underground, the professionals and kibbutz members worked at producing the bullets.

“We produced all the bullets needed for Sten submachine guns, it was the only ammunition we had. We worked there until the state was declared,” she said. “My husband and I took our last name from the institute, since, at the time, Ben-Gurion insisted that people bear Hebrew names. So we took Ayalon.”

After the 1948 war the production line was halted. The machinery was removed from the pit and transferred to the military industry plants. Today, the plant is a heritage site run by the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites.

Ayalon’s next stop, together with Scouts Group Aleph, was the establishment of Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, where she still lives. She worked later as a biology teacher and guide with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.

Today, at 88, she is retired but still very busy: “I volunteer for all sorts of projects, and among other things I enjoy my work at the Ma’agan Michael archives.”