With my recent trip to the Kinneret region, I was able to experience a little bit of history (Sea of Galilee). Sugary, like fresh dates, it was a pleasant experience to consume.
Free admission and tours are provided by the Culture and Sport Ministry in conjunction with the Israeli Shabbat project, so the Council for Conservation of Heritage Sites in Israel organized a press tour to showcase some of the area’s attractions. On a Thursday, we set out for the north on a day trip with a packed itinerary that gave us a taste of several attractions that deserved more time.
At the beginning of our tour, Esther Shmueli-Stepman, dressed as a peasant, welcomed us to the Shmueli Courtyard in Sejerah (Moshava Ilaniya) in a stone building adorned with portraits of the family: “One ordinary day, while he was going about his everyday work, at the sound of the church bells in his village, Kurakin received the Divine message to leave his home and his religion and
In this fascinating account, we learn about the Subbotniks, or Sabbath observers, who settled in the agricultural communities of the Galilee over a century ago from Russia. After much effort, Kurakin and his entire Russian village eventually became Jewish. A member of the sixth generation of the family that, 121 years after its arrival, is still calling the houses around the courtyard home was sitting in the shade by a stone well when we were offered a wine tasting from the family winery run by Shmueli-brother. Stepman’s
A romantic evening on the Kinneret
We left the Shmueli Courtyard and headed to Kibbutz Kinneret, a more well-known destination. The journey began at the Tnuvat Kinneret Information and Gift Shop. The charming 600-square-meter shop offers a wide variety of local products, including all 10 types of dates grown in the region, silan (vegan honey from dates), honey from various trees (such as avocado and lychee), wines, spices from the Galilee, and even pre-made gift baskets. After trying them frozen, I found that I really enjoyed Halawi dates and the “super juicy Medjools.”
The time and effort required to produce dates was revealed to us. Dates require the pollen from male palm trees, which can only be transferred to female palm trees through human intervention. As elsewhere, the region’s pioneer agricultural heritage is plain to see here. Palm trees, which now characterize the landscape from the Kinneret to Beit She’an, the Jordan Valley, and the Arava, were reintroduced (at great risk) from places like Iraq, Egypt, and Iran in the 1930s, despite the fact that dates are one of the Seven Species mentioned in the Bible. Most of these covert activities were orchestrated by Ben-Zion Israeli, a Kibbutz Kinneret resident.
On our way to lunch at the Ohalo Manor Hotel in Kibbutz Kinneret, we passed rows of tall palm trees dripping with crimson dates. The (kosher) meal was delicious, and the view of the Kinneret was breathtaking. Kinneret is full and more beautiful than ever this year after years of drought. It’s easy to see why so many songs have been written about the Kinneret, including some of the most enduring works by Naomi Shemer and Rachel Bluwstein (also known as Rachel the Poetess) of the original Kibbutz Kinneret. After a filling meal, we climbed to the terrace for a breathtaking view of the Kinneret. Those lyrics by Rachel, set to music by Naomi Shemer, immediately came to mind: “Over there are the hills of Golan.”
Reach out and touch them.
Standing resolutely still, they issue a stop order.
Grandfather Hermon sleeps soundly in a beautiful secluded area.
The white mountaintop is the source of a refreshing breeze.
There, on the shore, is a palm tree with its top lopped off like a toddler who’s fallen into the Kinneret and is splashing around in the water.
Following the examples set by forerunners
We continued our trip back in time to a period when the waters were beautiful and inviting but the land and life were harsh, resisting the urge to slide down and splash in them like naughty toddlers.
The Kinneret Courtyard, established in 1908 as an agricultural training center, was our next destination. For Rachel, her time spent in this city represents some of the best memories she has. As an early student of agronomist Hana Meisel-Shohat, she helped pave the way for women in the field. What we found out was that Meisel-Shohat fought against the original plans to limit women to strictly domestic roles like cooking and instead founded an agricultural vocational training school for girls. A.D. Gordon, Berl Katznelson, and Zalman Shazar are just a few of the other pioneering figures in Zionist history who have visited Kinneret Courtyard. During World War One, the farm was abandoned in 1917.
Our trip to Israel was far too short, and we were only able to finish up in Gesher and Naharayim. In 1920, pioneers started making their way to the Jordan River’s banks. An extremely innovative plan for the time, construction of a hydroelectric power plant at the confluence of the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers began in 1927. Naharayim literally translates to “two rivers” in Hebrew.
Twelve of these plants were to be set up by Pinhas Rutenberg all along the Jordan River. Although the Naharayim plant was destroyed in the 1948 War of Independence, it had previously provided electricity to communities in what was then British Mandate Palestine and what is now Israel. A power plant that represented peace in Rutenberg is the subject of a sound and light show that was built around the site of the original plant’s ruins (and war).
Gesher’s story, which is similar to that of Kibbutz Nitzanim, made famous in Avi Nesher’s powerful new film Image of Victory, serves as a link to the past.
Two previous attempts at colonization had failed, but in 1939 a new group of men and women came to the area, settling in along the Jordan River and establishing a kibbutz society based on egalitarianism and hard work.
In a short film chronicling the kibbutz’s history, residents recall serving as the first line of defense in 1948, when Israel was under attack. The British had abandoned the nearby Tegart fort, which had served as a police station guarding the three bridges across the river, in April, before independence had been declared. A desperate race ensued as Kibbutzniks attempted to seize the fort that King Abdullah of Jordan intended to use as a launching pad for an assault on the Israeli mainland.
The video recounts the experiences of infants who were rushed to the main bunker and underground control room, where the wounded were also treated, because the kibbutz did not have time to evacuate the children.
One hundred twenty kibbutz members were up against over 3,000 heavily armed Arabs. Armed vehicles, artillery, and infantry were dispatched to the key location by the Jordanian Arab Legion and the Iraqi army.
After a brief respite during which the children and wounded could be evacuated, the remaining few members held out courageously. The Roman bridge was blown up, along with the train bridge built by the Ottomans and the British.
After the fierce fighting at Kibbutz Gesher, the survivors relocated it slightly to the west, on slightly higher terrain. The former kibbutz dining hall is now a theater at the historic site known as “Old Gesher,” and we enjoyed the film there before touring the command bunker-turned-inspiring museum. There are plenty of other places of interest in the area, but we simply didn’t have enough time to visit them all.
We passed by the cute little bar/restaurant Agadat Lechem (Tale of Bread) just before we left (kosher). Even though the original brick oven that the kibbutz members used wasn’t in use during our visit, we still got a good sense of the atmosphere of the place.
Keep in mind that many of the guided tours and activities, especially at this time of year, take place inside — many in cool, basalt stone buildings with air conditioning the early pioneers could not have imagined. This is true whether you’re visiting Israel for a Shabbat event or on a weekday.
What we saw, did, and ate was only a small sample of what’s available. Once I got back to my house, I couldn’t wait to get another helping.
The Israeli Council for the Conservation of Heritage Sites hosted the author. Read on for further information.
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