Sunday, October 26, 2014

First modern Jewish agricultural settlements in history of the Land of Israel

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                  

Jews have been living in Safed (Tzephat) , which is in the upper Galilee, for centuries.  It was mentioned by Josephus as the fortified village of Sepph.  Again, it was mentioned in the Talmud as one of the places where beacons were lit to mark the New Year being it's on top of a mountain with the height of 2,720 feet with the same altitude as Jerusalem, whose Mt. Zion is 2,816 feet high. The Zohar was written in the 2nd century, and Safed's soul included mysticism.   The Crusaders built a fortress there in 1140, and then it became Templar property in 1168.  Baybars destroyed it in 1266.  In Mameluke times, it was an administrative center and Jews already lived there in the 11th century. By the 16th century, it became a most important center of rabbinical and kabbalistic activity.  Rabbi Isaac Luria and his pupils lived here.  So did Rabbi Joseph Caro.

In 1837 there was a great earthquake and people of today have dug out homes from then and have refurbished them and live there.  In 1840 there were only 400 Jews. The Ottoman Empire didn't collapse till the end of WWI in 1917 when Germany lost the war.   By 1948 there were 12,000 Arabs and 1,800 Jews in Safed.  Even so, the Arabs fled after fighting started in 1948. Dov Silverman recorded many stories about that in his book, "Legends of Safed" copyright 1984.  One I love is "The Katushas and the 7 sons of Hannah.  Being that the Lebanese border was only 14 kilometers (8.6992 miles) away, Russian katusha rockets flew towards the city but always fell short.  The story was that Hanna and her 7 sons (who all died in the hands of the Greeks-part of the Maccabee revolt) were buried where katushas pass over and slowed down the rockets so that they fell in the wadi harmlessly.  .  
  Here I am with scarf, apartment building, red Fiat from Italy and my own German Shepherd, Blintz.

I moved there in 1981 to teach English at the junior high on Eleazar Street. By 1990 there were 16,400 population in the city.  It was known for its air and its mysticism as Tsfat, the mystical city.  This was a summer resort and had an art colony.  I was at home with my hobby of oil painting.  It had fir trees which reminded my of my Pacific Coast home town of Portland, Oregon.
Looking back in its history, I see that Rosh Pinnah is also in the Upper Galilee and was the first Palestinian Jewish agricultural settlement, founded in 1878 by a number of families of the Old Yishuv of Safed. (first Jewish settlers, original ones). Some of them had come from 1492's Spanish Inquisition.   They couldn't cope with the malaria, crop failures and the Arab attacks and finally abandoned the building they had put up and went back to Safed.  It was re founded in 1882 by the new Jewish immigrants called Bilu immigrants who mostly were Romanian Jews.  The Bilu were the first modern Zionist pioneering movement.  There had been a wave of Russian pogroms going on who left in reaction this.  There were several branches of bilu and had 525 members, but only a few dozen eventually went to Palestine.  The 1st group of 15 men and women reached Jaffa in the summer of 1882 and the others later that year.  This was the nucleus of the 1st Aliyah, so they endured many hardships.  Some had settled on the land in various colonies like in Rosh Pinnah.  Others had gone to Jerusalem to master handicrafts.  The came with visions of social reform.  Some settled in Gedera in 1884, helped by Jehiel Michael Pines.
Rosh Pinnah received help from  Baron Edmond de Rothschild who helped financially by paying workers even though they were failing in many agricultural experiments and a had population that had stagnated.  It had become a center for the scattered Jewish settlements in the Upper Galilee and absorbed new immigrants after the Israel War of Independence in 1948.  In 1990 it had a population of 1,590.  Today there are 2,800 people living there.

Needless to say, it was not easy bucking swamps that held mosquitoes and caused malaria.  The pioneers had to plant eucalyptus trees so soak up the water.  Arab attacks didn't help matters, either.  We don't realize all they endured while trying to re-establish Jewish life in Israel.

James Mitchener did, and wrote "The Source".  I loved the chapter of the Saintly Men of Safed, about how in 1600s rabbis lived in Safed and worked.  I wrote a play around it and we in Safed put on plays of which this was one.

Dov wrote on page 15 that "on Yom Kippur 1973, the souls of the people of Safed appeared before the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to be judged.  We stood as one before G-d, and we stood as one against our enemies.  On both occasions we proclaimed, "Hear oh Israel, The Lord Our G-d is One."  We must have been heard, as Israel survived that terrible war. Imagine, the Syrian forces were only 12 miles from the city. The casualties were coming into Safed's hospital in a steady stream.  Dov and a friend noticed that little kids kept busy throwing dirt under the cars on the way to the hospital and they asked them why there were doing that.  They explained that there was a hole in the road and they were trying to keep it level so the hurt soldiers on the way to the hospital wouldn't bounce in their cars.  Our souls are good!  

Resource:  The Settlers by Meyer Levin
The New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia Peta Tikva
Letters From Israel by Nadene Goldfoot

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