Recha Freier and Ada Sereni were pioneering women whose names are seldom recognized today. But they have much in common: both were born in the Diaspora and made Aliyah to Eretz Israel; both led long lives – Sereni died at age 92 and Freier lived to age 91; both were awarded the Israel Prize for their special contributions to society and to the State of Israel; and the main similarity – each woman was responsible for bringing thousands of immigrants to Israel – Freier through the Youth Aliyah organization and Sereni through the clandestine immigration from Italy to Eretz Israel during the British Mandate.
1892, Germany – 1984, Jerusalem
Recha Freier (née Schweitzer) was born and raised in Germany. She married Rabbi Dr. Moshe Issachar Freier. Even before Hitler's rise to power, Freier was attuned to the plight of young Jewish men in Germany who were fired from their jobs simply because they were Jews, in a society where violence against Jews was on the rise. In 1932, Recha Freier raised the idea to save children and youths by bringing them to Ereez Israel, where they would be received and trained on kibbutzim, thus laying the foundations for the Youth Aliyah organization.
Freier's revolutionary plan was initially resisted by Zionist leaders in Germany and Eretz Israel, who did not see a need to bring German youths to Eretz Israel at that point in time and who did not believe that the kibbutzim were capable of receiving and educating youths. Her attempts to raise support for the idea and to recruit partners in the endeavor encountered difficulties, as described in her book Let the Children Come (London, 1961). But eventually thousands of children and youths were rescued from Germany and other countries. In later years, tens of thousands of young people immigrated to Israel through Youth Aliyah.
In 1981, Recha Freier was awarded the Israel Prize for her special contribution to society and the State of Israel, thus receiving the recognition and honor she deserved. She also received an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
1905, Italy – 1997, Jerusalem
Sereni was born in Rome and married Zionist activist Enzo Sereni. The couple made Aliyah to Eretz Israel in 1927. They were among the founders of Kibbutz Givat Brenner and had three children. Ada and Enzo were dispatched abroad on numerous occasions. In 1944, Enzo parachuted behind enemy lines in Germany and Italy and all trace of him was lost. Ada returned to Italy to join the efforts to find him.
She was active in the Aliyah Bet clandestine immigration movement in Italy during the years before the establishment of the State of Israel and from 1947 served as head of the association. She was responsible for dispatching tens of thousands of immigrants on dozens of ships. Her fluent Italian and special relations with the heads of the Italian government and the national police opened many doors. She was called "the woman in black" and solved every problem related to clandestine immigration, purchasing for the Haganah and the IDF, as well as various sensitive issues.
In 1995, Ada Sereni was awarded the Israel Prize for her special contribution to society and the State of Israel.