This journey offers a distinct and unparalleled experience, deviating from the customary city tour by transforming your mobile phone into your guide. As one acclimates to a tour guide's distinctive style, rhythm, and routes, you will also adapt to this unique self-guided experience. Here, you are a participant and the storyteller, navigating and setting your own tempo based on your personal style.
Take a moment to familiarize yourself with this novel approach, and soon you'll find yourself immersed in a narrative rich with the complexities of real people's lives, their moments of joy and despair. As you journey, urban legends rise from the forgotten corners of history, imbuing hope and offering an understanding of where everything started. This isn't just a tour; it's an opportunity to animate the city with your own pace, style, and voice.
A stroll down the pedestrian zone of Baron Rothschild Street is akin to stepping back into the late 19th century. It mirrors the typical streetscape of any district town in the Russian Empire of that era, a reflection of its builders - the first settlers who arrived from Russia. These pioneers consisted of two groups from Kremenchuk and Kharkiv, 17 families in total, who purchased land in what was then Turkish Palestine to establish an agricultural settlement.
They appointed as their representative Zalman David Levontin, an Orsha native from a Hasidic family, admired for his fervent belief in the rebirth of the land of Israel. During geography lessons, Zalman David would wonder aloud, "If America's black slaves could establish their free state of Liberia in Africa, why couldn't we create our own nation in the land of our forefathers?"
Three days following the celebration of Purim, on March 9, 1882, Zalman David Levontin founded Vaad HaLutzey Yesod HaMaala (HeHalutz) in Jaffa - a council of pioneers devoted to bringing the idea of settlement to life. The name "Yasod haMaala" was borrowed from the Book of Ezra, a testament to returning from Babylonian exile.
In this way, the Purim of 1882 in Turkish Palestine, in the ancient city of Jaffa, marked a significant turning point, uniting the Land of the Patriarchs and the survivors of the terrible pogroms that had swept across Russia following the assassination of Alexander II, the Emperor, in 1881.
Levontin did not embark on his mission alone. Yahiel Pines, a native of Różan in the Grodno province, and Chaim Amzaleg, a Gibraltar-born collaborator, bolstered his efforts in Jaffa.
Pines hailed from Hasidic families and represented Sir Moses Montefiore's Fund, the eminent English philanthropist, in Palestine. Pines navigated a complex social landscape: the religious community harboured reservations about his Zionist sympathies, Zionists were uneasy about his orthodoxy, Sephardic Jews held his Ashkenazi roots against him, and his affinity for Sephardic Jews unsettled Ashkenazi. Nonetheless, Pines stayed true to his convictions, tirelessly working to establish settlements and transform Hebrew from a liturgical language into a speaking. Among his linguistic contributions were the words 'Compass', 'Tomato', and 'Clock' in the modern language.
Chaim Amzaleg, on the other hand, was the son of a prominent merchant from Morocco, a friend of Moses Montefiore, whose family had been established in Jerusalem since 1834. He was Jaffa's Deputy British Consul and Portugal's Honorary Consul in Jerusalem. Amzaleg's respect, material wealth, and flawless reputation proved invaluable in advocating for the interests of the pioneers to the Turkish authorities.
His nephew, Josef Navon, a Jerusalem banker, businessman, and railroad builder between Jaffa and Jerusalem, negotiated with Arab landowner Mustafa Abdullah Ali Dajan. Dajan was amenable to selling land 12 kilometres south of Jaffa, around the Ayun Kara spring - the biblical Ein Kara referenced in the Book of Judges. Pines proposed this location to Levontin after several months of fruitless searching. The purchase was conducted under Chaim Amzaleg's name to circumvent Turkish restrictions on foreign land sales. They bought nearly 3.3 thousand dunams (a Turkish unit equivalent to 10 acres) at 15 francs (5.5 rubles) per dunam, totalling about 400,000 dollars. Over half of this amount was contributed by Zvi Levontin HaCohen, Zalman David Levontin's uncle, the eldest among the settlers.
After their first night on the hill of their future settlement, the pioneers greeted the sunrise over the Jerusalem mountains, uttering the words from the book of Isaiah, "I am the first to Zion." Thus, the town was christened "First to Zion," or Rishon LeZion. However, due to a financial crisis and disagreements within the settlement council, Zalman David Levontin left the settlement that autumn and returned to Russia. He received formal acknowledgement from the settlers that they held no claims against him.
Joseph Feinberg, a Crimea native and Levontin's colleague who had received a European education and was fluent in European languages, was chosen by the settlers to travel to Paris and secure financial assistance from Baron Rothschild. The Baron agreed to allocate 25,000 francs to the settlers, stipulating that the settlement would be led by Samuel Hirsch, a German reformist Rabbi, philosopher of Jewish origin, and a direct protege of the Baron. Thus, a new chapter in the history of Rishon LeZion began.
The house we stand near today was constructed in 1883 using funds from the same 25,000 franc allocation and was initially intended for the settlement's physician, Zvi Pusicelski, originally from the island of Corfu in Greece. Pusicelski served in this role for six years before leaving Rishon LeZion in 1899, subsequently moving to Jaffa and later to Cairo in Egypt, where he passed away in 1906. This building later served as a post office and a city council.
Samuel Hirsch was a director at the first agricultural school, Mikveh Israel, near Jaffa. Among its staff were members of Biluim, a youth pioneer organization founded by Israel Belkind in Kharkiv. These youthful pioneers believed that the ideal revival of Israel should stem from agricultural communes. However, Hirsch didn't subscribe to the ideas espoused by Biluim. He appointed a chief, Abdul Aziz, from the neighbouring village of Yazur (now known as Azur) and assigned the Biluim a meagre salary for long work hours. As a result, all members of this organization relocated to Rishon LeZion.
In January 1883, the Biluim were joined by Menashe Meerovich, a native of Nikolaev. An agronomist by profession, Meerovich's knowledge and experience proved invaluable in Rishon LeZion. He proposed the idea of breeding silkworm caterpillars and attempting to produce silk. Furthermore, he penned a manual on "creating settlements for the middle class for 1200 rubles."
Meerovich spearheaded grape cultivation and wine production, laying the first gardens and orchards in the city park. He lived to the ripe old age of 89, passing away in 1949 in his home in Rishon LeZion, having witnessed the creation of the Jewish state in 1948. He was affectionately referred to as "the last of the Biluim."
As we stand at the entrance to the city park, it seems apt to revisit a scandalous chapter in the history of Rishon LeZion – the story of the riot. The friction between the Biluim and Samuel Hirsch progressively escalated. Among those who opposed Rothschild's governance were Josef Feinberg, the recipient of Rothschild's 25,000 francs check, and Israel Belkind, the founder of the Biluim organization.
To deescalate the situation, Joshua Osovitsky, a man who escaped pogroms in Kyiv, cared for orphans in fords, and was generally regarded as one of the "insiders," was appointed to replace Hirsch. Welcomed with enthusiasm by the settlers in 1884, Osovitsky ironically found himself at the centre of a riot three years later in 1887.
Despite successfully establishing a financially independent layer of settlers, developing social services, and improving the economy, Osovitsky surrounded himself with informers and sycophants, imposing fines and strict rules. The situation spiralled out of control when Osovitsky discovered a complaint had been lodged against him. In response, he initiated a tumultuous scene in the complainant's house, Mikhail Galperin. He was the founder of the first trade union of workers in Rishon LeZion and the founder of the workers' party in Turkish Palestine.
Galperin's supporters gathered near the government house and demanded Osovitsky's departure from Rishon. In response, Osovitsky ordered Galperin's expulsion. Osovitsky managed to bring Turkish soldiers to his aid, but Samuel Hirsch, arriving from Mikveh Israel, prevented any bloodshed. The soldiers departed, the agitators were urged to leave, and Hirsch and Osovitsky retreated to Mikveh Israel. The rioters celebrated their victory.
Description: A month later, in April 1887, Baron Rothschild graced Palestine with his presence. First, he conferred with Hirsch and Osowicki at Mikveh Israel before visiting the sacred sites in Jerusalem and finally arriving in Rishon LeZion. Here on this avenue, the locals hosted a grand reception and with bated breath, they awaited the Baron's next move. Rothschild pledged to continue financial support and even promised to reassign Osovitsky to another settlement, but only under one condition. Yosef Feinberg must depart Rishon LeZion.
Rothschild pointedly told Feinberg, "You drew me into this matter. You bear the responsibility. Sell your plot and leave." Despite Feinberg's attempts to resist and challenge the Baron, he was isolated. Feeling the weight of public pressure, he penned in his diary, "I depart Rishon LeZion solely for its benefit," and subsequently relocated to Jaffa. His brother Boris returned to Russia. Another brother, Lelik, his wife (the sister of the Biluim founder, Belkind), and other Biluim members established a new settlement, Gadera, to the south.
Yosef Feinberg endeavoured to establish an olive oil production in Lod using the proceeds from his plot sale but unfortunately went bankrupt and worked as a cab driver in Jaffa. In 1902, twenty years after arriving in Palestine and establishing Rishon LeZion, he succumbed to serious illness in Jericho, by the Dead Sea, at the age of 47. Just a year before his death, Yosef Feinberg became a father to a daughter, Dora. We'll delve into her story later.
While intrigues and disputes had their place, they were far from the primary preoccupations of the settlers. In 1885, settlement administrators, acting on behalf of Baron Rothschild, reached out to Hovevey Zion, an organization based in Russia. They requested six bright, promising youths who could be trained in agricultural practices and educate the first settlers. Michael Puhachevsky, one of the selected few who arrived, quickly settled into life in Rishon LeZion.
Following his agricultural studies in the country's northern regions, Puhachevsky took up the mantle from Meerovich and further advanced the cultivation of grapes. Later, he established the industrial cultivation of citrus fruits. His efforts transformed this park from gardens and orchards into a research-oriented agricultural laboratory boasting hundreds of plant varieties worldwide. The towering palm trees you see here are Washingtonia robusta, hailing from the far-off landscapes of Mexico, California, and Arizona.
Jacob Rothschild, Baron Rothschild's father, procured Chateau Lafite with its vineyards and winery near Bordeaux for a sum of 4.4 million francs on August 8, 1868. This purchase, which occurred 25 years before the 25 thousand francs grant to Joseph Feinberg, came about on the advice of Italian composer Rossini. Rossini proposed, "You should acquire this manor. We could find rest there and enjoy its wine." Rossini and Rothschild would pass away within three months of this transaction, with their deaths just one day apart.
The Château Lafite-Rothschild wineries fell into the hands of Jacob's son, Benjamin. Based on advice from the winery manager and using the results of Puhachevsky's studies, it was resolved to cultivate specific grape varieties suited for wine production in Rishon LeZion. These were the years when Grape phylloxera, an insect native to North America, devastated Europe. Rothschild's vintners transported varieties pre-emptively grafted in Kashmir to Rishon LeZion as a countermeasure. Thus, in 1889, the winery's history that you can see across the road began, and Rishon LeZion emerged as the site where a fresh chapter in history was set to unfold.
We are standing near the memorial plaque while the winery lies on the other side. The adjacent building, now hosting a quaint café, has its share of history. Baron Rothschild founded the winery in Rishon LeZion and one in Zichron Yakov, a settlement near Haifa. The latter was named in memory of his father, James (Yakov), the purchaser of Chateau Lafite.
The emblem representing these wineries was acquired from the small Efrat winery near Jerusalem, owned by the Teperberg family. As a side note, the Teperbergs continue to produce their brand of wine, which bears their family name. The emblem showcases a biblical narrative where, after forty years of wandering in the desert, the Israelites sent scouts to survey the challenges they might encounter before entering the Promised Land. Some returned with complaints about the difficulties, while others bore a gigantic bunch of grapes on their shoulders, symbolizing fertility and prosperity.
The wines of Rishon LeZion and Zichron Jacob gained international acclaim relatively quickly. Carmel wine stores were inaugurated in Warsaw 1896, followed by Odessa in 1898. Subsequently, stores sprung up in Berlin, Hamburg, London, and New York. The emblem's creation date, 1889, was superseded by the foundation year of Rishon LeZion, 1882. This alteration cemented a strong link between the destiny of the settlement, the enterprise, the resurrection of the Old Testament narrative, the fate of the country, and the Rothschilds' legacy.
Working at the winery was considered prestigious and lucrative. Even David Ben Gurion, the state's founder and its first Prime Minister, spent some time working here. The building that now houses the café used to serve as a dining room and then a wine shop. In 1957, the Rothschilds sold their shares, and in 2013, a controlling interest in the winery was bought by private investors for 130 million shekels.
This city park has witnessed a great deal. It has played host to illustrious figures, such as Baron Rothschild and the founder of the Zionist movement, Theodor Herzl. Herzl visited on October 27, 1898, having spent the previous day at Mikveh Israel and staying overnight in the Board building after meeting Haim Hazan, Baron Rothschild's manager. Hazan was Rothschild's final manager; upon the conclusion of Hazan's service, Rothschild transferred control to the local council.
During Hazan's tenure, several significant achievements were made: the world's first Hebrew-language kindergarten was established, the inaugural weather station in Turkish Palestine was built, the city club was formally instituted, a library was set up, and geranium and acacia bushes were planted as hedges.
In April 1915, Jamal Pasha visited Rishon LeZion, and he was so taken with the park that he ordered the extension of the dunes from Rishon LeZion to the sea, thus transforming Rishon into a "seaside city."
In 1921, under British rule, Rishon LeZion welcomed Winston Churchill. Standing here, amidst this palm-lined avenue, Churchill reportedly said, "It appears you've transformed the desert into a paradise." A couple of years later, on January 20, 1923, Albert Einstein visited Rishon LeZion.
Menashe Meerovich, the initial agronomist and last of the Biluim, whose residence is located on Rothschild Street, encapsulated the spirit of their endeavour with these words: "We ask for nothing more than for the hearts of Jews everywhere to be filled with love for the land of Israel and labour. Our national home depends on it."
This venerable sycamore standing in the city park is a silent witness to the events that transpired during the first decade of Rishon LeZion's existence. To quietly assert independence from Baron Rothschild's officials, a small group of settlers established a covert public fund named "Keren Kaemet." This fund was earmarked for land purchases, with each member required to contribute monthly and enlist at least two new members.
Through their efforts, the settlers managed to amass approximately 3,000 francs. Unfortunately, after the demise of Yehuda Leiba Binstock, the fund's custodian, the money seemingly vanished. It had been stored in the Jaffa branch of the French Bank Crédit Lyonnais, but the funds disappeared with Binstock, a teacher, having no heirs.
Over time, another poignant loss was suffered – the ancient sycamore tree under which the fund's founders would secretly convene was cut down. This was the same tree offering respite to pioneers resting beneath its shade overnight, waking to a new dawn with the words "Rishon LeZion" on their lips. A monument was erected in its place, and this remaining sycamore, its "companion" in the park, recalls its story.
Interestingly, the initial idea of a land-purchasing fund would re-emerge differently. In 1901, the Fifth Zionist Congress established the "Keren Kaemet leIsrael" or the Jewish National Fund. This organization was involved in land purchases up until the formation of the State of Israel, and it continues to manage the country's land assets to this day.
Description: Constructed in 1898, the water tower is a monument to the community's early years. Adjacent to it was an open-air pool, which served as a reservoir. In the fledgling days of the settlement, water was channelled from here via open arches to nourish the gardens and, later, to irrigate the city park and research garden. Near this pool, a watering station for animals was established, ensuring the well-being of the community's livestock.
Another pool was designed as a closed system, catering to the needs of the settlers. But the question arises - where was the source of this vital water supply?
From day one, water scarcity posed a significant challenge to the inhabitants of Rishon LeZion. The Ayun Kara spring was swampy, and obtaining water from neighbouring villages was prohibitively expensive. Transportation of water from Mikveh Israel required security measures. Following unsuccessful attempts to dig a well, the cash-strapped settlers turned to Yosef Feinberg for aid. As we know, Baron Rothschild subsequently granted funds for the settlement's development and the construction of a well.
Drilling through rock required a specially crafted steel nozzle by Yitzhak Leib Toporovsky, the settlement's blacksmith. After six strenuous months of digging, on February 23, 1883, at a depth of 48 meters, a triumphant cry echoed - "We've found water!". This momentous discovery is immortalized in the city's coat of arms. A steam pump imported from Paris brought the precious water to the surface, breathing life into gardens, baths, the water tower, the town, and the winery. In use until 1977, this well is named in honour of Joseph Feinberg, whose complicated journey we've already discussed.
Let's return to Feinberg's daughter, Dora, born a year before his demise. Following Dora's birth, her widowed mother, Bertha Feinberg, relocated from Jaffa to Cairo. Dora returned to Jerusalem in 1923 and later married Aaron Bloch. They settled in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where they raised their three sons.
On June 27, 1976, Dora and her youngest son, Ilan, travelled to Paris to visit relatives before proceeding to New York for her grandson Daniel's wedding. However, their plane, carrying 260 passengers and crew members, was hijacked by Palestinian terrorists and rerouted to Uganda. In Entebbe, the terrorists freed non-Jewish passengers but held 83 Jewish passengers hostage in the airport building for a week.
One evening, Dora choked during a meal and was rushed to the hospital. While she was hospitalized, Israeli special forces executed a daring rescue operation, freeing all the hostages. All except Dora returned home; the process cost the life of its commander, Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of Benjamin Netanyahu. Meanwhile, Dora remained in the hospital where Ugandan dictator Idi Amin ordered her execution. Her remains were discovered in 1979, marking the tragic end of her life at 73.
Inaugurated in 1898, the People's House, informally known as the city club, was built on the initiative and at the expense of the settlers. It served as the community's epicentre, hosting concerts, performances, receptions, and meetings. The renowned Theodor Herzl was one of the first esteemed guests to perform for the residents, and his visit had such an impact that many children born in Rishon LeZion that year were named Herzl or Herzliya in his honour.
In the subsequent year, 1899, Baron Rothschild and his wife returned to Rishon LeZion. A commemorative plaque hung above the entrance for many years, marking this occasion. During this period, discussions about Adelaide, Baron Rothschild's wife, circulated in the city. The popular consensus was that her support was instrumental in the Baron's philanthropic endeavours and, as such, she was a key factor in Rothschild's sustained backing of the settlements. Recognizing that Rishon LeZion had solidly established itself, Rothschild, during this visit, decided to reduce his financial contribution and transferred administrative control to the local council.
The current municipal building and adjacent shopping centre are named in honour of Zalman David Levontin. Since the beginning of our journey, we have become familiar with his role in the history of Rishon LeZion. Levontin, who dreamt of a Jewish state as a schoolboy, played an instrumental role in founding the settlement council and procuring the land for Rishon LeZion. However, in the first year, he sold his land and returned to Russia.
An unwavering believer in self-sufficiency, Levontin held the conviction that the settlement should stand independently and be established and grown by affluent individuals. He staunchly defended the principles of Zionism based on private ownership and vehemently opposed any socialist or communist influences.
In 1897, Levontin was one of the first to align himself with the Zionist movement led by Theodor Herzl. He later assumed the role of Director of the Jewish Bank in London in 1901, and in 1903, he transitioned to manage the Anglo-Palestinian Company. This company financed the purchase of lands for the emerging Tel Aviv, the Herzliya district in Haifa, and lands in the Israel Valley. Over time, the Anglo-Palestinian Bank was rebranded as Bank Leumi, the National Bank of Israel.
Zalman David Levontin passed away in 1940 in Tel Aviv. Still, his final resting place is the Rishon LeZion cemetery, a testament to his enduring ties with the city he helped shape.
This site once housed the illustrious Cinema Naaman. The journey of cinematic culture in Rishon LeZion dates back to the early 20th century when silent films were screened in the courtyard of Yitzhak Leib Toporovsky, a blacksmith from Ekaterinoslav (now Dnepropetrovsk). Notably, Toporovsky enhanced the drill with a steel nozzle, enabling the rock breakthrough during the well's construction.
Toporovsky's son, Aaron, worked in the theatre as a mechanic. Tragically, a fire broke out at the entrance during a session, severely injuring Aaron. He was rushed to a hospital in Jerusalem but succumbed to his wounds. Cinema would not return to Rishon LeZion for another decade.
In 1927, a cinema was established here, taking the name Naaman in honour of Naaman Belkind, nephew of Israel Belkind, the founder of Biluim. During the First World War, Naaman was accused of espionage in favour of England by Turkish authorities and was executed in Damascus.
As the spectre of the Second World War loomed in 1938, a 19-year-old Aaron Roth, originally from Czechoslovakia, came to Rishon LeZion. With five years of experience working in a small family cinema in Mikulov, he opened the Tirza movie theatre in Rishon LeZion, led the Cinema Rishon, and later became the director of the historical Cinema Naaman. He further expanded his reach by opening cinemas in four additional cities.
Regrettably, today this site lies vacant. Roth, who turned 91 in 2010, saw the film industry transition from city cinemas to shopping centre theatres. Few remain who remember the beginnings of this cinematic journey.
Description: Nestled at the intersection of Carmel Street, named after the winery, and Max Nordau Street, honouring the renowned Viennese psychologist and colleague of Theodor Herzl, stands a house with a rich history. It was once home to Gershon Gurvich.
Born in Vilnius, Gershon pursued his studies in Warsaw before setting off for Turkish Palestine in 1885. He was among six talented young agronomists from Russia whom the representatives of Baron Rothschild had called for. However, unlike Puhachevskiy, Gurvich arrived in Rishon LeZion three years after entering Palestine, having spent his initial years studying agriculture in the country's north.
Gurvich quickly earned the settlers' respect and, alongside collaborating with Puhachevski, ascended to a managerial position in the winery. A fervent advocate for local history, he proposed the establishment of the Rishon LeZion Museum in 1936, aiming to narrate the city's rich past.
His grandson, Avshalom Leshem, a distinguished Israeli lawyer, brought this idea to fruition. Leshem was instrumental in creating the renowned Rishon LeZion Museum, a testament to the city's enduring legacy.
Originally, a grand two-story house was commissioned by the Belkind family and built by Asher Levin, a well-to-do farmer independent of Rothschild's support. However, financial difficulties halted Belkind's construction, and Levin purchased the property.
The house became home to Levin's children. The ground floor was converted into a clinic run by Levin's son, Gideon, while the upper floor was occupied by another son, Elisha, and his family.
Gideon had pursued his medical studies in Paris, where in the 1920s, he encountered Elena Rubinstein, a Russian ballerina. They welcomed a daughter, Zahavit. Zahavit later relocated to London because she married Alfred Sherman, Margaret Thatcher's secretary and speechwriter. In 1983, Alfred was knighted by the Queen of England, making Zahavit a Lady.
However, Zahavit was not merely known for her title. Her father, Gideon, had a reputation for treating soldiers free of charge, viewing it as his contribution to the nation's defence capabilities. Zahavit's uncle, Elisha, Gideon's brother, made a name for himself as the country's first importer of Wilis cars and the first car owner in Rishon LeZion.
Description: Today, this building serves as an educational and cultural centre, as a memorial for the residents of Rishon LeZion who sacrificed their lives for the freedom and independence of Israel. In the early years of the city's formation, this location housed the institutions of the board and the proteges of Baron Rothschild.
A silhouette art installation depicting a handful of individuals is visible on the second floor's balcony. This composition recreates the historic visit of Theodor Herzl to Rishon LeZion in 1898. Herzl's actual agenda in Turkey was a rendezvous with Wilhelm II, the German Emperor, who was then on a state visit to Palestine. Herzl sought an audience with the Kaiser, a pivotal figure in global politics, hoping to garner support for creating a Jewish state in its historical homeland. Their brief encounter occurred at the gates of Mikveh Israel, so fleeting that there was no opportunity to photograph the moment, resulting in the later creation of a photo montage.
After this event, Herzl stopped in Rishon LeZion for less than a day, following his prior stay in Mikveh, Israel. Despite significant disagreements with Rothschild and his allies, Herzl received a warm welcome at the city's governing house, complete with a performance by the city orchestra in his honour.
Following this, Herzl visited Asher Levin, a wealthy farmer who didn't require Baron Rothschild's assistance. Afterwards, he toured the city park and delivered a speech at the city club. He spent the night in the house of the board before proceeding to Ness Ziona and Rehovot the next morning.
Occupying this spot once was a single-story house purchased in 1887 by Samuel Cohen. Hailing from Moldova, Cohen pursued a career as a winemaker. A violin player, he often treated locals to performances of folk melodies, leading to his affectionate nickname, "Stempenyu", after the wandering Klezmer violinist from Sholem Aleichem's eponymous story. Famously, Samuel lent a folksy tune to a poem crafted in Rishon LeZion, which eventually evolved into the national anthem of Israel. Naftali Hertz Imber penned this poem in a house that now lies within the boundaries of the Museum.
This house, a testament to the rich tapestry of history, was erected by Abraham Zeev Gordon. A Vilnius native, Gordon relocated to Rishon LeZion, bought a piece of land, and embarked on a journey as a winemaker. His family resided on the second floor, while the ground floor was rented out to various intriguing tenants. Do you recall the rebellion of Joseph Feinberg and Israel Belkind? Following their reinstatement to the settlement, Lelik Feinberg, Joseph's brother, and his wife, Fania Belkind, Israel's sister, rented a room. In an ambitious venture, Holtzman, Gordon's son-in-law, utilized the house's yard for ostrich farming, lured by the high value of their feathers in Europe. Had World War I not intervened, Holtzman's business might have flourished. In the 1930s, Holtzman bought significant land south of Jerusalem, now known as Gush Etzion. A hotel now stands in the non-existent Toporovsky's house that used to be a box office. An entrepreneurial couple, the Londons, christened their boarding house simply "London Pension". Aaron London, a Jaffa coachman, tied the knot with Rosa from Rishon LeZion and bought a stagecoach, which board members used to travel to Beirut and Baghdad. Aaron was granted the right to open a hotel in exchange for his service. Later, this house was sold to Zusammer, a watchmaker, who ran his shop from the first floor. In the years leading up to the Israeli War of Independence, Zusammer clandestinely repaired guns for members of the Jewish armed resistance.
This is the world's first functional school where teaching was conducted entirely in Hebrew. Established in 1886, it was named after Dov Haviv Lobman, who served both as a teacher and principal. The Lobman family lineage can be traced back to the venerable Jewish sage Rabenu Tam, who resided in 12th-century France. Almost all the males in the family pursued a path towards becoming rabbis. Born and raised in Russia and steeped in traditional religious education, Dov was captivated by the ideas of enlightenment and Zionism. Without informing his family, he moved first to Moscow, then Paris, and finally to Turkish Palestine in 1885 alongside his brother. A staunch advocate for using Hebrew as a vocabulary, Dov ensured that all teaching at the school, including exact sciences and literature, was conducted in Hebrew.
We now find ourselves within the bounds of the prestigious Rishon LeZion Museum. This site is home to numerous historic houses, each bearing witness to the important events that shaped the formation of the settlement, including the conception of Israel's state flag and anthem.
Prominently standing to the right of the entrance is a majestic two-story building. Built-in 1911 by Menachem Mendel Abramovich and his son Mordechai, it carries a rich tapestry of personal and communal history.
Menachem Mendel, a deserter of the Russian army since the tender age of 11, found solace and shelter in a nurturing foster family. Later, he took his wife Esther Abramovich's name and came to Jerusalem to make a livelihood by grinding flour. However, their dreams were short-lived, as an unfortunate incident involving a leaky roof caused their stored grain to sprout prematurely due to heavy rains, leading to a catastrophic financial loss.
In their most trying times, they found refuge in Rishon LeZion as peasants, where they were granted a plot of land and a humble abode. Over the years, they paid back their debt and regained their financial freedom. Tragedy struck again in 1902 when their son Yakov was tragically murdered in Jaffa, and their youngest daughter succumbed in infancy.
Driven by the memory of his lost children, Menachem Mendel built this house to symbolise resilience and hope. It was primarily designed to provide shelter to the impoverished workers of the city. After Menachem Mendel's demise, the building was repurposed as a clinic to offer medical services to those unable to afford regular treatment.
The journey of the city's museum begins here, with this symbol of strength and empathy. Established in 1982, the museum stands as a testament to the enduring spirit of the city and its residents, weaving together their shared past with their collective aspirations.
The museum halls act as vaults of information, preserving documents that trace the early days of the settlement's history. The main exhibition area represents Each founder's family with dedicated displays. Authentic artefacts like desks from the first school and notebooks of its earliest students provide a tangible connection to the past.
The architectural displays distinctly reflect the influence of German settlers from the Templer colonies in the Holy Land. Gottlieb Schumacher, an immigrant from the German colony in Haifa, is remembered for his distinctive design of the winery building. They brought German engineering expertise, as evidenced in the exhibits showcasing the construction of arched brick vaults in private residences.
Further into the museum, an extensive agricultural exhibit provides insights into the evolution of cultivation practices in the region. Curated from research conducted in the settlement park's research centre, it narrates the story of the settlement's symbiotic relationship with the land.
Constructed in 1883, this house was originally envisioned to serve dual purposes as a post office and a medical practice. Today, it is a tribute to the settlement's artisan heritage, housing a wide-ranging exhibition of local crafts.
One celebrated artisan featured prominently in the exhibition is Toporovsky, a blacksmith whose innovation significantly shaped local farming practices. He is fondly remembered as the first to introduce the iron plough in Turkish Palestine, ushering in the region's new era of agriculture.
The exhibition's finale has a unique twist – a fully functional pharmacy once a part of the settlement. Interestingly, access to this pharmacy was, and still is, opening onto the bustling central street from the other side, offering a slice of the settlement's vibrant life then and now.
Title: "The Shalit Legacy: Founding Footprints"
Built in 1883, this house bears the legacy of Eliezer Elhanan Shalit. He was born into a Lithuanian Orthodox Jewish family with an orthodox view of sciences and liberalism, which were considered heresy and Zionism a utopian dream. They firmly believed in the sanctity of the Torah, prayer, and work. Orphaned at the tender age of 13, Shalit was obliged to trust only himself.
Upon moving to Poltava, he embarked on a career as a travelling salesman and married Sarah Ahronovich. Her family disapproved of Shalit, who was seen as a man influenced by Enlightenment ideas. This led the young couple to relocate to Jaffa.
Shalit was an active participant in Vaad Haluzei Yasod haMaala, along with Levontin and Feinberg, and was instrumental in establishing Rishon LeZion. He cultivated grapes, olives, and almonds. For 40 years, this very house was the family home.
Eliezer and Sarah were blessed with ten children. Five were born in Poltava, and all received their education at Haviv school in Rishon LeZion, the first Hebrew-speaking school. The children led diverse lives. The eldest son became a doctor in Paris. Another son initiated a Jewish settler movement in Australia. One daughter married an American Jew, while another chose to stay in Rishon LeZion, where she bred silkworm caterpillars. The youngest of their brood, Leia, who spoke six languages and translated works of medieval poets into Hebrew, founded the Reali School in Haifa. Tragically, one daughter died in infancy, marking the first death in Rishon LeZion. The eldest son described this tragic event as "the first sacrifice on the altar of my parents' ideals."
There are a barn and a stable next to the Shalit house. They are restored and indicate what the household of the first settlers looked like. In the yard stands a cart, which is loudly called a stagecoach. It is an ordinary camp wagon of that time. Gordon's wagon likely looked like that, too (the one on which the board members went to Beirut to receive the concession to manage the hotel).
This house, one of Rishon LeZion's inaugural three, was financed by Schraga Feibel Heisman, a prosperous merchant from Mykolaiv. Heisman played a significant role in the settlement's creation alongside Levontin, Feinberg, and Shalit. After the rebellion against Baron Rothschild's deputies and the subsequent expulsion of Feinberg, Heisman sold his house and conspicuously vacated Rishon LeZion. According to the local legend, he relocated to Jerusalem and aligned himself with the Neturei Karta, a radical Orthodox Jewish movement opposed to the state of Israel.
Interestingly, the basement of this house sheltered Naftali Hertz Imber for several months. Imber, who hailed from Złoczew near Lviv, penned the poem Hatikvah, which later became the foundation for Israel's national anthem. He was originally Composed in Romania, but only here in this basement that he added a few more verses. Despite Theodor Herzl initially rejecting it as the Zionist movement's anthem, it gained prominence during the heated 1903 World Jewish Congress debate about the feasibility of establishing a state in Uganda. Hatikvah was sung in unison by those opposing the project:
"As long as within our hearts The Jewish soul sings, As long as forward to the East To Zion, looks the eye – Our hope is not yet lost, It is two thousand years old, To be a free people in our land The land of Zion and Jerusalem."
The house's second floor narrates the creation of the Israeli flag. In 1885, Rishon LeZion celebrated its third anniversary with grandeur, including a procession led by Osovitsky, a much-admired teacher, astride a white donkey. This Messianic image was completed with the brandishing of a flag. This symbol was conceived by Israel Belkind, who, with Fania Meerovich, crafted a flag modelled after a traditional talit with a Magen David at its centre. Today, this flag is preserved in the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem.
At the inaugural Zionist Congress in Basel in 1897, David Wolfson suggested this flag to Theodor Herzl, who initially resisted, preferring his own design. However, eventually, Herzl relented, and Belkind's design was adopted, becoming a lasting symbol of the state of Israel.
The Founders Square features the magnificent Great Synagogue, whose construction commenced in 1885. The principal patron for the building was Zvi Levontin, uncle of Zalman Levontin, who contributed substantially to the purchase of Rishon LeZion's land. David Papermaster, a renowned engineer and architect who crafted the striking city council building in Jaffa, designed this building's blueprint.
However, the construction process did not proceed unhindered. Baron Rothschild's officers intervened, and the synagogue, originally planned to embody the Hasidic style, was built in the widely adopted Ashkenazi style instead. The construction spanned four years, concluding in 1889 with the arrival of Baron Rothschild. Over time, minor changes were made to the facade, including an elevation inscribed with the establishment year in Hebrew on the Jewish calendar.
The synagogue's cellars initially served as storage for agricultural tools. This unusual use occurred because the building was presented as a barn for agricultural machinery to the Turkish authorities, who had prohibited the construction of a new synagogue.
As time passed, the basement underwent another transformation. It became a kindergarten and not just any kindergarten. It became the first to provide education entirely in Hebrew, marking a new chapter in the building's rich history.
The settlement's bell was once the town crier, announcing pivotal moments to its residents. Whether heralding the start or end of a workday, declaring the arrival of an esteemed guest, or raising the alarm for fires or thefts, the bell was a vital communicator.
However, as the advent of telegraph and telephone technology rendered the bell obsolete, it was hoisted to the apex of the city founders' monument. There, it held its quiet vigil until it mysteriously vanished. When the Rishon LeZion Museum was established in 1982, a new bell took its place, ringing in a new era.
The tale of the original bell took a dramatic turn in 2004. It was discovered that a group of boys had stealthily squirrelled it away, burying it in a yard out of shame and fear of punishment. Years later, burdened by an unquiet conscience, they enlisted a trusted intermediary to return the bell to its rightful owners - the people of Rishon LeZion. In this surprising twist, the once-lost bell found redemption and reclaimed its place in the city's historical narrative.
This quaint kiosk, along with a petite display in the adjoining building, offers a window into the bygone days of the settlement. Back then, their proprietors hawked fizzy drinks and welcomed passersby into their humble barbershops, inviting a slice of everyday life in Rishon LeZion.
Constructed in 1900, this house carries the distinctive imprints of its original owners, Yaakov and Batya Kaner. Originally hailing from Bucharest, the Kaners made their way to Turkish Palestine in 1881, spending six years in Beirut before setting up a home in Rishon LeZion, where they pursued viticulture.
Unlike other residences in Rishon LeZion, the Kaner house boasts a unique architectural feature — a balcony that encircles the property, setting it apart from its neighbours. The Kaners, having no children to inherit their home, left it to the municipality of Rishon LeZion. Over the years, the house has served diverse roles, including as the emergency department and a base for the Haganah during the War of Independence.
Our journey culminates at a modest house nestled among towering eucalyptus trees at the intersection of Rothschild and Mogilever streets. This structure, the initial government house, was erected in 1883 specifically for the emissaries of Baron Rothschild. In its time, this house epitomized the immense and nearly unbounded authority wielded by the Baron's officials. They controlled the distribution of resources and held the power to dictate the course of life in the settlement. Their attitudes influenced everything from personal relationships to overall well-being and the Baron's money transfers.
Notably, the renowned revolt occurred before this building, culminating in Osovitsky fleeing to Mikveh Israel. Eventually, his role was filled by successive officials like Lyon, Haim, Bloch, and Hazan, who delicately balanced the Baron's financial power with the selfless idealism of Rishon LeZion's settlers.
This locale witnessed the interplay between Jews of Western and Eastern Europe, the discourse between the followers of Hasidism and the supporters of the Enlightenment movement (Haskalah). In essence, it served as the nexus for a diverse community united by a singular belief in the rejuvenation of Israel on Israeli soil. Here lies the origin of the modern State of Israel.