“We Will Never Be Separated from our Heritage”

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Draining the Hula Valley
05 Mar 2008

Land of My Birth – In 5643 (1883), one year after the beginning of the First Aliyah, the Chovevei Tzion organization in Poland established what was at the time the northernmost settlement in the land – the Moshava “Yesud Hama’alah.” The scenery in the area appeared enchanted, as described by Mordechai Lubman, who visited the site in his capacity as a surveyor:

“A pleasant and glorious sight was revealed to us. The Sea of the Hula, known as ‘Mei Marom,’ appeared before us in all its beauty, as a polished mirror, shining from the last rays of the sun, quiet and peaceful. In front of it was a wide expanse of green grass, and the fields were burdened with the summer crops. We continued on our way, and we saw a village surrounded by gardens, with the flowers giving off the scent of Eden. ‘How wonderful this place is indeed,’ I called out in enthusiasm. ‘I have never seen such a beautiful place in the whole land!”‘

But when Mordechai Lubman heard about the distress of the inhabitants, his great joy was transformed into terrible sadness. The life in the settlement was very harsh, for many reasons: (1) Poor housing conditions: For the first two years, the Turkish Pasha refused to let them build permanent houses, and they were therefore forced to live in shacks and tents made of reeds. The only building which had existed before the people arrived was an old barn, where seven families lived, including men, women and children. (2) Sickness: There were swamps all around the Hula Lake, full of Anopheles mosquitoes. This served as a source of malaria, which led to the deaths of many of the pioneers. Many families lost almost all of their children to this sickness. (3) Poverty: The settlement had been established without any financial backing, and the small amount of money that the people had was quickly used up. (4) Security: The Bedouins from the surrounding area continuously harassed their new neighbors.

In view of the terrible conditions in the settlement, Lubman advised all those who could to leave the area. But in this he was greeted with strong opposition, as he was told by one of the pioneers:

“This will not be. I will never be separated from my heritage, no matter what happens to me! This is where I will dwell, for it is what I desire. I will leave my beloved wife, I will abandon my children, I will forget the entire universe, I will expel all lust for life from my heart, but I will never abandon my heritage. My love for this place is deeply rooted, and from one day to the next it fills my entire body more and more. Here I will live a life of misery, here I will suffer from hunger, and here I will find a grave because of hunger and want, unless G-d shows us mercy and sends us help from above.”

In spite of all the difficulties, the dedicated inhabitants succeeded in building and planting. They grew many different kinds of fruit trees: figs, olives, pomegranates, etrogs, and strawberries. The blooming fields showed that the settlers were able to take possession of the land of the Hula, as one of the inhabitants told the guest Lubman:

“Come and I will show you the garden which we planted with our own hands, which has become filled with fresh trees after only one year. We will easily be able to transform the entire area into a fruitful garden, because we can very easily bring water from the lake… to irrigate the entire settlement … The water is good, pure and clear… Look how the etrog tree struggles to prove that it will soon yield holy fruit…”

And those early pioneers indeed managed to transform the area into a flowering garden. The swamps were completely dried after Israel was established, and to this very day Yesud Hama’alah is highly praised for its choice orchards, especially the plums. It has been given the name “Queen of the plums.”

Source: Yaacov Lubman Chaviv, “Mordechai Lubman, the Man and His Deeds”. Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat BeShabbato please write to dan@zomet.org.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.