Sunday, July 20, 2008

Visit to Zichron Yaakov, July, 2008

After Howard read the book A Strange Death by Hillel Halkin last summer, he mentioned an interest in visiting Zichron Yaakov. The book, written in 2005, tells the story of the Nili spy ring, and especially of the Aaronsohn siblings. So on July 18th, together with Ira Kerem and 4 young adults (2 American volunteers and 2 Israelis (Hila and Ariel) all working at the Kefiada in Kiryat Malachi), we visited the town, which lies about 20 miles south of Haifa. It is now a lovely town for Israeli tourists though not on the main track for most foreign visitors. There is both a newer section where many of the 16,000+ inhabitants live and the reconstructed older part of town, with some streets closed to most traffic.

An original house turned into shops

Below is the promenade and also Ariel and Hila at a seating area (closed street)

realistic artwork on a bench Part of a set of local signs: Magen David Adom, Jeep Tours, Buffalo Hamburger (name of the restaurant and probably not the food) and the Cake House

A small section of the historical area that has not been redeveloped

pretty side street, which has been redeveloped

Ironically, the day after we visited, on July 20, the Jerusalem Post had a large article on Zichron in the weekend magazine.

The First Aliya Museum pays tribute to the town's early pioneers. It is housed in an impressive building that was originally Baron Edmund de Rothschild's administrative headquarters. In December of 1882 ba group of 100 Romanian pioneers, religious Jewish members of the Hovevei Zion movement, purchased a tract of land in the Carmel hills in a place called Zammarin . Many signs like the one on the left give the historical background before visitors watch the films.

The museum consists mainly of a series of video films that tell the story of an imaginary young family who came to the Zammarin from Romania. in 1882. They came to live in the Holy Land as to escape pogroms and rampant anti-Semitism. The films hold nothing back about their living conditions, as the immigrants had no agricultural experience, insufficient water and worked the rocky soil day after day with little to show for it. Adults and children died of malaria and suffered terrible eye diseases.

Signs like the one on the left that visitors read to learn the historical background before seeing films.

Models/pictures in the museum of what the land looked like when the Biluim arrived

Truly desperate, they applied to the well-known philanthropist Baron de Rothschild for help. The group was not able to make a living, so Baron Edmond Rothchild took over Zichron and 4 other settlements, with the members signing over the property to the baron and agreeing to work under his overseers .Not surprisingly, this condition met with great opposition and resulted in much bad feeling and demonstrations against de Rothschild's agents. Some "troublemakers" were expelled from Zichron, and others who refused to sign over their property were left to fend for themselves.

In 1891, the water tower below was built.

Rothchild renamed the town Zichron Yaakov in memory of his father. BARON EDMUND. Next to the museum is the synagogue he built, Ohel Ya'acov, named (as was the town) for his father, Jacob Rothschild. He intended it to be the most beautiful shul in the country, and even now, refurbished and repainted, with its attractive stained glass windows and blue ceiling with golden stars representing the sky, it is a very impressive monument.

Many claim that de Rothschild was unaware of the bad feelings his policies caused, and there is no doubt that his generosity made a tremendous impact on the life of the early Yishuv.

Following a number of economic failures, in 1885 Rothschild helped to establish the first winery in Israel, Carmel-Mizrachi Winery, together with a bottling factory. Today, the winery remains in action, and Ira went with the other 4 on a tour there. The huge wine cellars that were carved into the mountain over a century ago are still in use too.

While Zichron was one of the first communities settled in the 1880s, the museum also has maps telling of other areas settled in what now is Israel.

We were surprised to see Menahemia, where are friends Dalia and Pinchas live, listed as one of the first settlements.

Further along HaMeyasdim Street is Beit Aaronsohn, the site of another historic drama. The Aaronsohns were one of Zichron's founding families and central players in the Nili spy ring that aided the British in their fight against the Turks in WWI. When the ring was smashed, the Turks descended on the Aaronsohn home. Sara Aaronsohn was held captive and tortured, but she managed to get hold of a gun that was hidden in the bathroom and shot herself rather than give up any other Nili members. The Aaronsohn home, still very much as it was then, displays many photos, documents and memorabilia of the family and their espionage activities, and an audiovisual presentation narrates their story. Since the book that Howard read was about the Aaronsohns and Nili, Howard very much wanted to see this museum. We went there a bit after noon to be sure to have time to see the museum, but the guard refused to let us in, saying that we could only go on a scheduled tour and the last one had already entered. No begging on my part could get him to change his mind.

In 2005, the population of Zikhron Ya'akov was 16,100. Many residents continue to engage in agriculture, although upscale private homes have been built by families attracted to the scenic landscape.

While waiting for the other four to finish the winery tour, Howard got a snack at the local (kosher food) McDonalds....which is housed in one of the original houses in town.

It was unusual to see historical town pictures (of the Rothchilds and earlier settlers) on the walls of McDonalds.
Originally a Turkish jail from the early time of Zichron until 1918, the basement area pictured above is now a wine celler where wine is stored. It was closed when we were there, but you can see the narrow steps leading up to it.

We will go back to see the Ahronson house and museum. The town is definitely a worthwhile stop.

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