By Hadassah Levy
The small picturesque city of Zichron Yaakov was one of the first Jewish settlements founded by modern pioneers. The town was first settled in 1882, but did not thrive at first. Only after it came under the patronage of Baron Edmond de Rothschild and the Carmel Winery was founded, did the town become economically sustainable.
A quaint town with stunning photo ops at every turn, Zichron Yaakov provides a peek into the lives of these early pioneers and their struggle for independence.
First Aliyah Museum
The First Aliyah Museum does an excellent job of telling the story of the settlement and early years of immigration to Ottoman-controlled Palestine. Housed in a historic building which was once the administrative center of Zichron, the museum makes extensive use of video and images to present the conflicts, failures and successes of the fledgling town. The exhibit is occasionally critical of the Baron and his methods and is honest about what worked and what didn’t.
The film shown at the beautiful gardens which surround the Baron’s tomb paint a much rosier picture of the Baron’s involvement in philanthropy in Palestine and in Zichron in particular than the museum does. Most fascinating are the biographical details which led the Baron to become involved in this work. According to the film, as the youngest son in the family, Edmund was not given formal training in any profession and he turned to philanthropy as a way to stay busy.
After watching the film, you’ll want to spend some time exploring the gardens which have different sections, from a formal rose garden to a wildlife park. Follow the trails and enjoy the surprises which await you around the bend.
Nili Museum – Beit Aaronsohn
Zichron Yaakov was home to the first Jewish underground which was dedicated to helping the British conquer Palestine from the Ottomans. The Aaronsohn family was heavily involved in this organization (called Nili) and most of its members met gruesome ends as a result. Their work lived on longer than they did, however, and ultimately led to the British conquest.
One of the family members lived in the family home for many years and made almost no changes to it, preferring to preserve it for historical purposes. In the Nili Museum, you can see the very bathroom where Sarah Aaronsohn shot herself, the bed in which she died and the entry into the home’s secret passageway. The preservation is so accurate that it is a bit grisly, so this museum is not recommended for small or sensitive children.
After many unsuccessful attempts to bring industry to Zichron Yaakov, Baron de Rothschild hit on the idea of a winery. Since grapes are a local product, the winery took off and became a huge success. The winery has been operating for 120 years and is fully modernized. A tour of the winery takes you through the modern parts as well as the historical vats and barrels. The tour focuses more on the wine-making process than the history of the business, but you will also learn about the centrality of the winery in the economy of the town.
Strolling through the town
Zichron Yaakov is a beautiful city with an old-style pedestrian mall at its center. Once you have seen all the historical sites, take advantage of the boutique shops and outdoor cafes to soak in the special atmosphere. You’ll come away refreshed and inspired by the town and the pioneers who risked their lives and their livelihoods to make the Zionist dream come true.
Photos by Deena Levenstein, Hadassah Levy & WikiCommons
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