A pioneering animal rights activist and former leader in the Hashomer Hatzair movement died last week in Israel. Hilda Friedstein, 92, is credited with laying a strong foundation for animal rights groups in Israel and helping to spread the ideal of Zionism both at home and abroad.
After immigrating to pre-state Israel from South Africa in 1942, Friedstein and her husband became founding members of Kibbutz Shoval. “She and her husband were the last ones who got a house [on the Kibbutz] because their tent was always nice and neat with flowers – it was a home,” long-time friend and current chair of Israel’s SPCA Hilma Shmoshkovitz said.
Alongside her late husband Kalman, Friedstein traveled abroad as an emissary of Hashomer Hatzair to advocate for the State of Israel. The couple was also instrumental in making the Israel Tennis Center in Ramat Hasharon a reality, a project aimed at helping Israeli youth find both national pride and success.
Friedstein’s true passion, though, was animal welfare. A vegetarian since age nine, Friedstein was a pioneering voice in the animal rights movement and an early advocate for spaying and neutering programs as well as humane treatment of animals.
“Mainly her life became animals,” Shmoshkovitz noted, adding that Friedstein would often stop along the road to tend to dead cats or injured animals on her way home from her work. Shmoshkovitz recalls that once, when asked why she insisted on adopting elderly and unadoptable animals, Friedstein responded, “I take dogs that nobody wants.”
In 1970, after serving as a dedicated volunteer and outspoken advocate for many years, Friedstein assumed leadership of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Israel and held the role of Chair of the animal rights organization for the next 35 years. During that time, Friedstein was instrumental in establishing the first modern shelter for unwanted pets in Israel and was one of the first voices to speak out about the mistreatment of animals in the food industry.
A lifelong learner and advocate, even in her 90’s, Friedstein never stopped trying to do more and learn more about the animals she loved. “She was always trying to learn something about the animals,” Shmoshkovitz said of her friend and mentor.