Feldenkrais Left Home At 12?

Feldenkrais and many of his students like to talk about how he left Ukraine (a part of Russia at the time) to walk (yes, walk) to what was later to be called Israel. What many of his students may not realize when they repeat the story was how young Feldenkrais was at the time.

"I was twelve or thirteen years old when I left my parents house to go to Palestine. It was in 1918..."

Why did he leave? Apart from the fact that the British government had recently committed to helping create a homeland for Jews, as stated in the Balfour Declaration and Feldenkrais wanted to be a part of that; Feldenkrais also said that:

"I did not like to be at home because my parents had ideas. Anyone who knows my parents knows they were very decent clever people and thinks they were extraordinary Jews..I left them at the age of thirteen, and for years, did not have much to do with them. That was because they tried to make me what they thought I should be."*

So, Feldenkrais not only had strong ideas about himself at that age - many children (as we would call them today) do. But he was willing to act on them.

Just a bit of flavor to help you - perhaps - understand the man a bit better. Would you have had the courage to leave home at 12 and travel across the globe? To make yourself by your own hands?

To a large extent it is a meaningless question in today's world. Children today in the U.S., Europe and many other countries are legally required to be in school and are prohibited from nearly all kinds of formal paid employment. But in Moshe's time things were quite different. For example, in the U.S. in 1918 the Supreme Court struck down statutes limiting child labor! It was not until 1938 that Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act. It fixed minimum ages of 16 for work during school hours, and 14 for certain kinds of after school jobs. And in the world we live in today, a child leaving home at the age of 13 would be at risk for so many negative outcomes it boggles the mind.

Even so, to leave home at 13 and to make one's decisions about work, living arrangements, schooling and the like. It seems to have helped Feldenkrais further develop his strong and independent mindset.

Note: The quotes above are from a transcript from the San Francisco Feldenkrais Training, August 16, 1977. I do not have access to Mark Reese's biography of Feldenkrais but a description of the book asserts that Feldenkrais left home at 14, not 13. I do not know what accounts for the discrepancy.

Postscript. I do not write much about Moshe Feldenkrais and his early history. Part of the reason is what I see as the danger of "historicism." Human beings habitually create stories and narratives about events. Even when they do not realize that they are doing so. And people look to the past to find what they see as "causes." But it is always conjecture. Always. The important idea to remember is that one creates oneself not by looking backwards, but by moving forwards. As Milton Erickson liked to say, "At least when you fall down you are moving in the right direction."

1 Comment

  1. an important context to consider here is, that world war 1 was still going on at that time (with the russian revolution looming). the area where MF and his family lived was front-line territory with both german/austro-hungarian troops and russian army operating.

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