Harold Nathan Meyers, also known as Chaim Meyers (Weiss), was born in 1924 in Brooklyn, New York, to a religious Jewish family. While growing up, he was active in the Hashomer Haza’ir youth movement. When World War II broke out, he enlisted in a combat engineering unit in the US Army and saw action in the invasion of Normandy. At the end of the war, he received leave and flew from Germany to the Hashomer Haza’ir offices in London, seeking information about the disturbing rumors of death camps. The office in London referred him to the German town of Giessen, telling him to seek out the building that had been a synagogue. There, he was told, people were preparing to make aliyah with the assistance of soldiers from the Jewish Brigades Group. When Meyers arrived at the synagogue, he found a group of survivors from the Buchenwald concentration camp. Upon realizing that the group was setting out for the Land of Israel in a few days, he decided immediately to join it – going AWOL from the US Army.
The brigade’s trucks transported the group to a port in France, however, the group was delayed in Antwerp for four months, during which Meyers feared that the American military authorities would arrest him for desertion.
Upon arriving in Israel, the group was sent to Kibbutz Mesillot for training. Afterwards, Meyers joined one of the settlement groups that established 11 strategic outposts in the Negev immediately before Yom Kippur on October 6, 1946, strengthening the future Jewish state’s claim to include the Negev within its borders. Meyers’ group established Kibbutz Shoval at the site of Bir Zaballa. As the only member of his group who knew how to drive, Meyers was responsible for transporting water to the new settlement. After the State of Israel was established and the kibbutz received its first tractors, Meyers began to work as an electrician in the kibbutz garage.
In his youth, he had studied painting and he continued to do so in the young state, studying privately with respected Israeli artists, at the Institute of Plastic Arts in Bat Yam, and at the Kibbutzim College of Education.
In 1958, Meyers began to teach art himself, becoming the first painting instructor in the city of Beersheba. In 1972, he was among the founders of a workshop in Tel Aviv for artists affiliated with one of the national kibbutz movements and went on to teach there for many years.
Throughout his life, Meyers remained loyal to the kibbutz principles of communal life and modesty. He would give away his pictures as presents, not asking for any sort of compensation. For years, his studio was a shed that the kibbutz had put at his disposal. Originally used as the kibbutz’s clothing storeroom, it stood in the center of the kibbutz next to a row of similar structures that served as a dining room, shoemaker’s workshop, laundry, and residences for kibbutz members. As the years passed, modern buildings replaced all the other old sheds. Only Meyers’ studio remained unchanged.
As he continued to work, Meyers ran out of storage space for all his paintings. First, he found an old bus, towed it to the kibbutz, and turned it into a storeroom. However, the bus too filled up. Then Meyers received permission to store his paintings in the homes of friends who had died.
In 2008, after turning 84, Meyers began to encourage his children, Eva and Eldad, to collect all his paintings and create a single storage space for them, but they repeatedly put off doing so. Despairing that his works would be lost, Meyers decided to guarantee their preservation by donating them. This spurred his children to action.
Their first step was to learn about archives by touring and visiting sites throughout Israel. Their research led them to formulate a plan for an archive that would double as a gallery: a small room in which all of his paintings can be stored safely and viewed. Some can be seen on the walls and others can be viewed in a series of catalogues, making each and every work accessible to visitors.
Their next step was to collect and catalogue his many paintings. Meyers’ children gathered paintings from shelves, closets, and old portfolios. They accumulated some 3,400 paintings, which were photographed and arranged in 11 albums with 11 accompanying files.
Kibbutz Shoval contributed a space for the endeavor and thus Chaim’s Heritage Gallery came into being. It offers visitors the opportunity to peek into Meyers’ artistic world. It is not only a place to view his art, but also to purchase it. His children plan to open the gallery to visitors on weekends. It cannot accommodate large groups and instead will cater to families and small groups of art aficionados.
The gallery is located in the same building as a shop that carries clothing and accessories. On weekends, visitors can purchase meals at the kibbutz dining hall. A visit to Kibbutz Shoval also can include a hike in the spectacular Negev landscapes that surround it, their broad expanses extending into the horizons.
Chaim’s Heritage Gallery
Open by appointment on weekends.