Pioneering olah Betty Doari mourned

Betty Doari. Photo: Lior Glickman

ISRAEL’S oldest Australian immigrant has died, aged 97.

Betty Doari, one of the founders of Australian Habonim, made aliyah with movement’s first group in 1946, on a boat that left for British-ruled Palestine from the docks of Melbourne.

Hundreds of people gathered on Sunday as she was laid to rest on the kibbutz she established, Kfar Hanassi.

With the Golan Heights as a backdrop, mourners smiled as they heard her music choice for the occasion – Monty Python’s Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.

“She was a real pioneer,” one of her two sons, Yair, told The AJN. “She was one of the first four members who put their legs on Kfar Hanassi on the Syrian border in 1948.”

She is remembered as a dedicated nurse, a keen dancer, a social linchpin, a raconteur who loved to tell youngsters about her experiences, and a pillar of the community of Australians in Israel.

Doari would have probably never made it to Israel had a figure from the Australian Jewish establishment not outraged her in 1942, when she was working in the community.

Her son Yair said, “She heard somebody from Australian Jewry saying to a government figure that they shouldn’t give too many certificates to Jews [fleeing the Nazis] to enter Australia because doing so will cause antisemitism.

“The next day she resigned and was part of the group of youngsters that established Habonim, motivated to go to Israel and build a state. That’s what she did four years later – against the will of her parents.”

Doari’s father was Aaron Kezelman, chazan of the Great Synagogue in Sydney, and wanted her to marry and settle down. She did return to Australia – but only to encourage more people to follow in her footsteps, as a shlichah, for a three-year stint from 1958, together with her husband Michael.

Yair said, “There are probably hundreds and hundreds of youngsters who followed them to Israel. She became quite a legend.”

David Mittelberg, chair of the Steering Committee at Oranim International School, was a nine-year-old schoolboy when the Doaris were emissaries. “Michael Doari to a large extent organised the building of the Habonim moadon on Sinclair Street in Melbourne, a major contribution to the movement.

“Betty was a very lively personality. She was, among other things, the nurse at the summer camps and she dealt with my sunburn. She was the person-to-person connection for all of us.”

Yair said that his mother had a remarkable memory, “and even until just before she died she could remember the colour of the curtains in 1948”.

Dance “was her way of expressing how joyful she was about life” and she stopped dancing only when she was 94 or 95. “She loved to put on parties and shows. She was a fantastic actress, and should probably have been on Broadway.”

Mittelberg reconnected with the Doaris when he grew up and moved to Israel, and was one of many Australian immigrants who headed to her kibbutz this week to comfort the family. “She was both warm and inspiring. She was a pleasure to be with,” he said.

NATHAN JEFFAY