Israel's Good Name

University Trip: “Moshavot” of the Mercaz

In Central Israel, Israel on May 28, 2017 at 10:42 AM

Several weeks ago, after visiting the desert city of Qumran near where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found, I joined a Bar Ilan University Archaeology trip to a handful of cities near the campus. We set out to visit remains of the “Moshavot” (early settlements) from the First and Second Aliyahs, when Jews began to immigrate to the Holy Land en masse. Our first stop of these settlements in the Mercaz (or centre of the country) was Rishon L’Tzion, a city founded with the financial help of Baron de Rothschild, in 1882 – today Israel’s fourth-largest city. Parking at the old Carmel Winery building of fantastic red brickwork, we continued on foot though the city park until we reached the old well where we stopped to speak about Rishon’s history.

Rishon’s Old Well

As the lecturer talked, I popped off to explore the peripheral – the middle of the main street, Rothschild, where stalls were set up to create a quaint market of sorts, and the Village Well museum. But there was little time for museums, and before I knew it we were walking along Rothschild examining the original elements of the settlement from the late 1800s. First the community hall, then two old houses and then an interesting element of shutter design: little heads that protrude from the exterior wall to fasten wooden shutters. Ever since this tour, I’ve taken notice to these same shutter clasps in other places (such as the Ottoman mansion in Nitzan, built in 1917) but with different faces each time.

Anthropomorphic shutter clasp

Walking eastward we passed the city’s archives, a cute replica of a street vendor’s booth selling refreshments, the Rishon L’Tzion Museum and at the end of the street, the Great Synagogue with its stained glass windows. Turning right, heading south, we passed a very interesting building marked “Hotel & Pension ‘London'” and the country’s first Hebrew school. Pausing just briefly here and there, we then examined a standard-looking apartment building with a clever aspect hidden in plain sight. On the metal bars of each apartment’s sliding door/window are music notes, which, read correctly as from a music sheet, sound out a segment of Israel’s anthem “HaTikva”.

”HaTikva” apartment building

From there we continued onwards passing Baron Rothschild’s old administrative centre, an old house awaiting preservation and then back to the red-brick Carmel Winery where our black minibus picked us up. We were done with Rishon and had our eyes set on the next “Moshava” city, Ness Ziona. Just south of Rishon L’Tzion, Ness Ziona was founded in 1883 by a single man by the name of Reuven Lehrer and his dream to start a new settlement on land that he had purchased from a German Templer. He founded a homestead along a small stream, a tributary of Nachal Soreq, and advertised for people to join him. One of those who accepted his request was the ancestor of our local guide, On Boxer, and it was in Nachalat Reuven that On told us the history of early Ness Ziona. One thing that I found particularly interesting was the fact that due to the development of beekeeping, Ness Ziona became the country’s leader in honey production at the time.

Nachalat Reuven well and installations

Leaving the fenced Nachalat Reuven and its mulberry trees, On took us to other sites of interest just a few minutes walk away – the Co-operative House, Rueven Lehrer’s house and the site where the first modern Jewish flag was raised in 1891. And then, because the clock was ever ticking and we had much more to see, we thanked and bid farewell to our local guide and boarded our minibus for the next site, Rehovot. Founded in 1890, Rehovot is home to the Weizmann Institute of Science which I had the pleasure of exploring back in 2014. As we were pressed for time, we did not stop in Rehovot, but rather the lecturer told us something about the city’s past as we drove down on one the streets parallel to Herzl, the main drag. With that we zipped over to the final destination of this Friday tour of early “moshavot”, Mazkeret Batya. Founded in 1883 on land purchased by Baron Rothschild, the settlement was renamed to Mazkeret Batya (translated to Batya Memorial) to honour the deceased mother of the Baron.

Moshava Museum

We drove up the cobbled street and disembarked outside the Moshava Museum, where we were to begin our tour of the quaint town. The museum is housed in one of the first buildings constructed in the settlement, with interesting accessories outside including a bright red British phonebooth, rickety metal dovecote and a what looks to be a cypress tree that has since become a roosting site for a great number of cattle egret. Inside the museum we met our local guide Yonina, and it was there that began to inform us all that we needed to know about the early settlement and life back then. From the museum we went across the street and visited various houses and workshops built by the early settlers. Highlights included an exhibition of French ceramic roof tiles, interesting wall insulation and the healthy growth of wild fennel outside an old cowshed.

Great Synagogue of Mazkeret Batya

We ended our tour outside the Great Synagogue with a story about the early Jewish settlers and their interactions with their Arab neighbours, with the revelation that notorious Hamas terrorist Mohammed Deif is a descendant of those same Arab neighbours. With that cheery tale we thanked Yonina and awaited our minibus to take us back to BIU.

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