Helpern (Halperin), Michael
HELPERN (Halperin), MICHAEL
HELPERN (Halperin ), MICHAEL (Mikhl ; 1860–1919), socialist Zionist in Russia and pioneer in Ereẓ Israel. Born in Vilna, Helpern received a large legacy from his wealthy father and decided to devote it to the welfare of the Jews. He joined the Ḥovevei Zion after the pogroms in southern Russia (1881) and visited Ereẓ Israel in 1885. He traveled the length and breadth of the country on foot, and upon his return to Russia (1886) he suggested that the Ḥovevei Zion use his financial resources to establish an industrial enterprise in Ereẓ Israel. The suggestion was rejected, but Helpern accepted Judah Leib Pinsker's idea that he donate a large sum of money to purchase the lands of Yesud ha-Ma'alah. In 1886 he returned to Ereẓ Israel and settled in Rishon le-Zion, where he supported the workers' struggle against Baron Edmond de Rothschild's management, which resulted in the resignation of the chief official, Y. Osovitzky. After a visit to Russia at the end of 1890, he made a substantial contribution toward the purchase of land near Wadi Hanin in order to found a workers' settlement, Nes Ẓiyyonah.
In Russia he promoted Labor Zionism among Jewish youth. His major preoccupation, however, was the plan to organize a Jewish military force to conquer Ereẓ Israel and establish a Jewish government there. After the *Kishinev pogrom (1903), he played an important role in organizing Jewish self-defense in Russia. He collected money, gathered arms, and organized and headed fighting groups in Vilna and other towns. Helpern returned to Ereẓ Israel at the end of 1905, fought for the rights of Jewish labor in Jewish villages, and joined the small group founded by Joseph *Trumpeldor to establish a collective settlement. From his return until his death, he was a laborer and defense guard in various localities. He was wounded by Arabs one night when on guard duty in Tel Aviv.
Helpern continued to deliver speeches, devise plans, and compose memoranda to the Zionist movement on the political redemption of Ereẓ Israel by military means. Although he was admired by young people in Russia for his romantic idealism, he became increasingly alienated from the pioneers who had to face the struggles of existence in Ereẓ Israel at the beginning of the Second Aliyah period, so that in his last years he was almost completely isolated. He wrote several unpublished poems and plays in Yiddish on the theme of the destiny of the Jews. Givat Mikhael, a moshav near Nes Ẓiyyonah, is named after him. His colorful personality was the subject of a musical play "Days of Gold" by Shlomo Shva, presented by the Haifa Municipal Theater in 1965.
His son yermiyahu (Irma; 1901–1962), seaman and *Betar leader, was born in Smolensk, Russia, and was taken to Ereẓ Israel in 1913. In the late 1920s he joined Betar and became head of its school for instructors, leading it as a defense unit in Tel Aviv during the Arab riots in 1929. He later became a member of the world leadership (shilton) of Betar, organizing self-defense courses throughout Europe that trained thousands of Betar members. In 1934 he organized and headed Betar's naval training school at Civitavecchia, Italy. After the establishment of the State of Israel Helpern founded the marine museum in Eilat. He wrote pamphlets on military training, short stories, and several books: Avi Michael Helpern ("My Father Michael Helpern," 1964); Via Dolorosa (Heb., 1960); Teḥiyyat Ha-Yamma'ut ha-Ivrit ("The Jewish Maritime Revival," 1961).
S. Tchernowitz, Im Shaḥar (1935), 86, 358, 424–5; B. Ḥabas (ed.), Sefer ha-Aliyyah ha-Sheniyyah (1947), index; M. Smilansky, Mishpaḥat ha-Adamah, 2 (19542), 57–60; Dinur, Haganah, 1 pt. 1 (1954), 194–7; 1 pt. 2 (1956), 812–3; M. Singer, Be-Reshit ha-Ẓiyyonut ha-Soẓyalistit (n.d.), 198–222; Y. Helpern, Avi Michael Helpern (1964); Tidhar, 6 (1955), 2572–74; Dinur Haganah, 2 (1963), index.