Sunday, 10 July 2016

Hosmasa and Mikve Yisrael

Not long ago Mister Handmade in Israel and I spent the day in the nearby city of Holon. The city was founded on sand dunes six kilometres from Tel Aviv in 1935 (the name comes from the Hebrew word holon, meaning "(little) sand") and in the early months of the 1948 Arab–Israeli War was on the front line. Several historic landmarks have been preserved in Holon including the Derech Habitachon ("Security Road") paved during the Israeli War of Independence, water towers, The Pillbox guard post, and Hosmasa, a building used by the Haganah and our first port of call.
Hosmasa was built in 1934 in the International Style, also known as "Bauhaus", and served as a secret training base for Haganah members from Holon and the area. (The Haganah was a Jewish paramilitary organisation in the British Mandate of Palestine (1921–48), which became the core of the Israel Defence Forces (IDF)). Hosmasa was built over a well in a sandy and barren area, making it possible to have a training system hidden from the British, and was home to a guard and his family. Training was performed with weapons which were buried in the area and slicks (hiding places for weapons that were illegal during the British Mandate) in the well and the garden surrounding the building. Thousands of trainees came from Tel Aviv and central Israel to participate in the training of firearms, fortifications, radio, first aid, and courses in topography and more. During the War of Independence Hosmasa served as a station on the security road which connected Tel Aviv with the southern settlements and led to Jerusalem and the Negev. Convoys used it to transport supplies and equipment, food, weapons, ammunition and people to far off and besieged settlements.
Today the building houses a display on the Haganah in Holon before and during the War of Independence through photos, documents, objects and interactive presentations. A Davidka mortar, a homemade mortar used during the early stages of the war, above, which was first tested at Hosmasa, can be found in the garden, as well as slicks for hiding weapons and the Hosmasa well, dug deeper to become the neighbourhoods first source of water in the 1930’s and then also used as a slick.
The next place we visited was the restored buildings of the Mikve Yisrael Agricultural School. Mikve Yisrael was founded in 1870 by Charles Netter, one of the founders of the French organisation Alliance Israelite Universelle, a Paris-based international Jewish organisation. He had visited Palestine in 1868 and felt it was an imperative to train Jewish residents of the country how to work the land. The country’s Ottoman Turkish rulers allocated 750 acres to Netter’s project. Baron Edmond James de Rothschild also contributed to the upkeep of the school. Netter gave the agricultural school the name Mikve Yisrael, where mikve means hope, and over the years Mikve Yisrael played an important role in the development of agriculture in the country.
The day we visited we stopped by the Mikve Yisrael synagogue (in the 19th century it was obvious that a Jewish school must have a synagogue), descended deep underground to the cool arched halls of the stone carved wine cellar, visited the reconstructed mechanical workshop in which the Davidka, the first Israeli mortar, was invented in 1948, then walked through the botanical gardens founded by Mikve Yisrael's principal, Eliyahu Krauzer, in 1924. Krauzer had two main goals when creating the gardens. He needed a testing ground for trees from all over the world in an effort to learn which could be adapted in Israel, and also wanted it to be a learning experience for the pupils. Krauzer collected Lebanese cedars, conifers, eucalyptus, strawberries, legumes and spices from different nurseries in Israel and abroad. It was also under Krauzer's leadership that the language of instruction at Mikve Yisrael was changed to Hebrew, after years of education in French. 
The Mikve Yisrael synagogue's main entrance is located directly across from a beautiful garden and a boulevard of palm trees. The trees lead to what was, for many years, the school’s gate. In 1898, Theodor Herzl, the visionary behind modern Zionism and the re-institution of a Jewish homeland, passed through the gate when he visited Mikve, prior to what he hoped would be a fruitful meeting with the powerful German Kaiser Wilhelm II. Unfortunately the German monarch withdrew his initial offer of support for Jewish settlement in the land of Israel. It seems that he did not want to upset his allies, the Ottomans, or the Christians back home in Germany. There is a statue commemorating the meeting here between Herzl and Kaiser Wilhelm II, showing the Kaiser and his horse sliced into two pieces – symbolising how Herzl cut through bureaucracy and red tape to get a Jewish state. Unfortunately we forgot to look for it on the day we visited!
Over the years, Mikve Israel not only educated tens of thousands of children but it also contributed to the underground efforts to establish a Jewish homeland. Teachers and students of the school were active members of the Haganah, which conducted training in the school's wine cellar and storerooms. A slik, bullets and exploding bricks were discovered in the largest underground chamber during restoration. It was here that young men and women were sworn into the Haganah, and their Bible, a gun and a copy of the oath are on display. The room, where all kinds of ceremonies are held today, also features a secret exit that would allow Haganah soldiers to escape during a British raid. The roots growing through the walls of the wine cellar give these underground chambers an air of mystery, which goes with the story of the young people sworn into the ranks of the Haganah here in pre-State days.
In the mechanical workshop in the school grounds, an underground weapons factory was established. David Leibovitz, a teacher at the school, was instrumental in developing new weapons for the Haganah. Grenades were produced, with the letters USA added, so that the British would assume that they were manufactured overseas. Leibovitz's most famous and important creation was the Davidka, the homemade Jewish mortar. Named after its builder, only a few of these weapons were produced.
Though not that many of the founders original goals were achieved at Mikve Yisrael, the school continued to develop Jewish settlement in Palestine and took part in the most dramatic chapters of Israel’s history. It acted as a base for the Haganah and became a home for waves of new immigrant children, particularly those who ran away from Western Europe just before the start of the Holocaust. To this day, though Mikve Yisrael was originally established as a secular school, the school educates Orthodox and non-Orthodox boys and girls. There are over 1,500 students at Mikve Yisrael and it is considered excellent in its region.


Miss Val's Creations said...

Interesting place to visit. Usually the places around you are ancient. Holon is a baby compared to so many other places in Israel. :)

TexWisGirl said...

gosh, the synagogue is beautiful.

Anonymous said...

So much history here! That the desert is blooming as a rose (and agriculture) is I think one of the greatest miracles! Since I originally come from a small country like Holland, I understand that every square inch needs to be used. It still baffles me once in a while, that here in the USA are still vast spaces not being put to use!
Many thanks for sharing your trip with SEASONS! It brings also back to me how you in your country have to constantly guard your freedom. Have a happy week, and always great to come to your blog! Don't forget to copy my NEW URL!

CountryMouse said...

Interesting history lesson. What gorgeous buildings at the school.

handmade by amalia said...

יופי של תמונות. לא הייתי שם כבר שנים.

Sharon Wagner said...

Thanks for the insider tour. I wonder if I'll ever travel there...

abrianna said...

Thank you for the fabulous history lesson.

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