Visit Israeli historical places with ESRA

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By Steve Kramer

Steve Kramer

KFAR SABA, Israel — Michal and I recently took advantage of a day trip organized by ESRA, the English-speaking residents association. ESRA offers many social activities for Israelis who speak fluent English while also funding various charitable projects for all Israelis. Although not my usual hike with ESRA, this tour, well coordinated by Ruthie, was an enjoyable and educational trip with significantly less effort than a hike.

Our first stop was Rishon LeZion, a population of around 250,000, the fourth largest city in Israel, located about eight kilometers south of Tel Aviv. Adina, our excellent guide, told us that Rishon was founded on July 31, 1882 by just 10 Jewish immigrants from Russia. It is the second Jewish agricultural settlement established in Ottoman-controlled Palestine during a period of national awakening throughout the West.

First Synagogue of Rishon LeZion. Credit: Steve Kramer.

Rishon LeZion’s name is taken from a Hebrew Bible verse which means, “They are first in Zion, and I will give the messenger to Jerusalem.” So how come the second city of Israel is called the first (rishon) in Zion? The reason is that it was the first project with new immigrants in Palestine under the First Aliyah (1881-1903). Aliyah / Risewhich is a Zionist concept, is the ongoing nationalist “gathering” project that followed the mid-19th century immigration of religious Jews to Israel.

The flag of Israel was created and then first raised in Rishon LeZion as part of a celebration of the village’s 3rd anniversary in 1885. A year later, Haviv Elementary School was established as the first modern school in the country, with Hebrew as the language of instruction. (At the time, this was controversial; German or French was customary.) The school is adjacent to the city’s oldest synagogue, built despite opposition from the Ottoman government and financial difficulties.

Located directly across from the school and synagogue is the Rishon LeZion Museum. Its mission is to present and transmit the local history of the city as well as its contribution to the creation of the national symbols of Israel and the new Israeli cultural values: flag and anthem, Hebrew language and culture of Israeli origin. We like these small museums that have an educational film, a limited number of exhibits, are usually located in a historical site and give a sense of the place. The focus was on backer Baron Edmond de Rothschild and Naftali Herz Imber, who created the national anthem hatikvah (hope), as well as the farm on which the museum is located.

After leaving the city center we went to the very interesting Leaders Park within the city limits. This park is best known for the striking statues of some of Israel’s most important leaders, such as David Ben-Gurion, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Chaim Weizmann, Golda Meir and Theodor Herzl, including the “dream” of a Jewish state predates Israel’s independence. by half a century. The statues are giant busts of the rulers, surrounding a pool with a striking sculpture in the middle depicting the Menorah – the symbol of Israel. Nearby there are large plaques with details of each of the leaders and a separate area dedicated to the countries that voted for the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine. This vote led directly to Israel’s declaration of independence five and a half months later in May 1948.

For me, the most interesting part of the day was in Rehovot to visit the Ayalon Institute, which Michal and I had visited several times before, the first time on a trip sponsored by a synagogue in the early 1980s. Located just south of Rishon LeZion, the 140,000 strong city was founded in 1890 by a group of pioneers from Warsaw. Like almost all Jewish developments in Palestine, it was built on land that was purchased from its owners – often absentee owners in Beirut, Damascus or Cairo.

Tribute to Chaim Weizmann. Credit: Steve Kramer.

This city of science and technology is home to the Weizmann Institute, one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary fundamental research institutes in the natural and exact sciences. On its beautiful campus is the beautiful International-style home of the first President, Chaim Weizmann, with the Lincoln limousine gifted to President Weizmann by Henry Ford II. (There is also an excellent cafe/restaurant on campus.) Nearby is the Hebrew University Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment, which offers a variety of tracks for students and visiting scientists from around the world. worldwide, mostly developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. This institution has helped propel Israel to the rank of world leader in these fields.

The Fascinating and Amazing Story: Located in a kibbutz that was kibbutz only in name, the Ayalon Institute (its name is taken from a former tenant of the building) housed a top-secret underground munitions factory. It was built under a nearby bakery and laundromat that was part of the supposed kibbutz designed to fool the British in the 1940s, when Britain ruled over Jews and Arabs in Palestine while fighting the powers of the Axis. The noisy laundry equipment camouflaged the machines hidden below. The Jewish Palestinians – as they were called in contrast to the Arab Palestinians before Israel’s independence – from haganah used the secret munitions factory in the struggle for the independent state of Israel. The Haganah was the Zionist military organization representing the majority of Jews in Palestine from 1920 to 1948.

The Haganah took extreme measures to build and maintain this secret factory in the “kibbutz”, often using British trucks to transport the dismantled parts of the machines needed for the factory, parts that were imported into Palestine under the noses of the British. . Between 1945 and 1948, the Ayalon Institute produced over 2 million 9mm bullets. See note below.

The whole operation was top secret, employing only some of the “kibbutz” workers. Many schemes were employed to conceal the factory, which was never discovered despite British Army soldiers nearby. Of course the accompanying movie was interesting and informative. For more information, see https://www.touristisrael.com/institute-ayalon/16168/

Also, the film “Exodus” shows the Haganah using British Army vehicles and uniforms for the Jewish cause.

Our last stop before the return bus trip was in the center of Rehovot, where we saw some of the beautiful “millionaire” houses built by the early prosperous settlers and walked through the small but beautiful Rina Smilansky Biblical Garden. So ended a pleasant day of visiting some towns in central Israel. Ruthie and Adina did a great job and Michal and I will no doubt be joining more such tours in the future. Visitors planning a trip to Israel can inquire about tours like this from the ESRA.org.il website.
To note: “The Sten’s simplistic design allowed it to also be produced in stores around the world, as it had during World War II. Among the most prolific examples were those produced under the Palestinian Mandate in the late 1940s. These were produced in various kibbutzim – the collective Jewish communities that supplied weapons and equipment to the Haganah and other Jewish paramilitary groups. According to some accounts, the Jewish-made copies were of superior quality to the actual British-made versions.

Homemade Haganah Sten guns that used Ayalon bullets bore the letters USA, a ploy to confuse the British about their origin. The letters actually stood for “Unser shtikel arbeit“, our work in Yiddish.

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