Hidden away in a wooded area, the main coastal road on one side, Nachal Hadera and Route 65 on the other, lies a gem of Zionist history recently restored by the Israel Electric Company and now open to the general public.
The site is known as Heftzibah and, apart from the renovation of yesteryear Zionism, a new complex at the entrance is now the in-house training center for the 20,000 IEC personnel from all over the country.
To switch a little light on the historical background to Heftzibah we need to go back to the late 1890’s when Yehoshua Hankin bought an enormous tract of land, which included an ancient khan – in the heart of the Hadera swamps.
Although the land was broken up into parcels and sold off to Jewish farmers, Hankin did keep one piece for himself – most of his patch being sand dunes running from the swamp to the sea close to the southern bank of Nachal Hadera, or so I read on one of the familiar blue and white signs to be found at historical sites throughout the country in these modern times.
Hankin and his brother decided to see whether they could successfully grow something on the sandy land and promptly planted orange groves.
Their gamble paid off and the trees bore fruit thus rewarding their belief in the land and, of course, necessitating a great deal of hard labor.
Eventually the whole Sharon plain – central Israel – was covered in citrus groves. Alas, in present times there are no longer days when the air is filled with the heavy scent of citrus blossom as most of the orchards have been replaced by residential neighborhoods, shopping malls or industrial complexes and in some areas, all three together.
Agronomist Aharon Eisenberg and Hankin founded the Agudat Neta’im (The Planter’s Organization) – bonds for which were sold to Zionists in Eastern Europe – and as the funds grew so did the Heftzibah farm managed by Hankin’s brother. Part of the Heftzibah property was hilly and it was there that Hankin’s wife Olga chose the site for the Hankin family abode to be constructed.
The hill afforded a glorious view across the sandy coastal strip and straight out across the shimmering waters of the Mediterranean.
At a later stage and further south a new neighborhood was built, and named Givat Olga.
A group of young pioneers seeking to learn how to tackle taming the swamps and with an eye to earning their living from agriculture also found a home on the Hankin homestead. That group of youth on the move eventually became the founders of Kibbutz Heftzibah in the Jezreel Valley. They not only took the knowledge they had picked up at the Hankins but also Olga’s choice of place name inspired by Isaiah’s prophecy:
“Nevermore shall you be called desolate but you shall be called Heftzibah (I delight in her).”
Visiting the Hadera Heftzibah site these days is a blast from the past in the present. One thing that really comes through powerfully is the professionalism of those involved in the restoration of the buildings, whether the main buildings, farmers’ cottages, storerooms or the pump house.
The enormous engines used to pump water up the banks of the Nachal Hadera river to irrigate the orchards are in sparkling condition – these days switched on by a mere flick of a finger.
The Israel Electric Company built a coal-fuelled power station on the dunes where the then heavily polluted Nachal Hadera had flowed into the sea some 30 years ago. The company also purchased the Hankin estate on the other side of the main coastal road and instigated the renovation work and building of the new educational center.
A dedicated band of mechanics and history buffs from Kibbutz Ein Shemer is responsible for getting the pioneer era pump engines back into full swing. The efforts of Ran Hedvati and his brigade of action men are awesome and the historical photographs and reading material on the pump house wall makes fascinating reading to boot.
Hedvati is well known for having a pair of greasy hands with a golden touch when it comes to restoring to former glory dilapidated machinery whether it be for pumping water, turning soil, threshing wheat or mixing vats of dough.
One of the most visited of kibbutz pioneers museums is that of Hedvati’s kibbutz Ein Shemer, a short drive from the IEC Hadera site. Thanks to him, every piece of machinery is in tip-top working order like the water pumps at the Hankin hideaway.
Apart from tourists, the Ein Shemer courtyard is visited by hundreds of schoolchildren every year who come to make dough and bake, and break bread as did the Zionist pioneers at the beginning of the 1900’s. They also learn of their struggle to build a co-operative based on agriculture whilst battling debilitating sickness lurking in the swampy region and whilst keeping Arab marauders at bay.
The Israel Electric Company’s Heftzibah compound visitors’ center offers guided tours of the complex. They kick off with a film filling in the historical background, a meander down the street with workers’ cottages on either side, one of which is now a museum full of artifacts from the Hankin homestead period while the other renovated cottages are planned to become an arts and crafts center.
The site covers a large area with views over the busy coastal road but in the shadow of the site are the gigantic chimneys of the Hadera power station, nowadays known as Orot Rabin.
A wide pathway in an open area is the work of Southern Lebanese army soldiers who crossed to Israel during the withdrawal of the IDF from their country. These “Sadalniks” had been employed at Hadera during the development of the site and a large sign tells us so.
The brick pathway is somewhat lumpy, bumpy and humpy. It seems to disappear and reappear again and again – for quite a distance and looks like a great invitation for skateboarders with excess energy looking for new challenges!
The Ein Shemer courtyard museum and the recently opened Israel Electric Corporation Heftzibah site preserve yet another patch of Israel’s swampy history, and in the case of the IEC Hankin compound, pure 100 watt Zionism.
If visiting Heftzibah in not electrifying enough for one day, it is possible to continue on to the Orot Rabin visitors’ center and hear some very tall stories about those huge chimney stacks one can see for miles and miles up and down the coastline and even from deep inside the West Bank.