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(photo credit: Lydia Aisenberg)
For a small country, Israel has an amazing number of historic sites and museums. But then, the entire country is a museum and open history book in itself. There hardly seems to be a place, certainly in the central and northern parts of the country, where there isn't a sign at the roadside pointing to some historical site from any time period ranging from the Biblical to recent history.
Even in the far less populated South, there's no dearth of historical and natural, almost out-of-this-world sites to be visited in areas like Mitzpe Ramon, the Dead Sea and what remains of the coral reefs in Eilat.
From Metulla in the North to Eilat, few countries can boast such diverse historical, religious and political narratives as one can find on offer in geographically pint-sized Israel.
Some years ago, an overseas visitor commented after a trip through the Galilee that northern Israel seemed to him to be one huge park and picnic ground!
Great effort has been invested over the last couple of decades to erect the distinctive heritage signs pointing out places of interest, as well as to mark buildings with blue informational plaques that let folks know the structures are now under the ever-watchful eye of the Council of Restoration and Preservation of Historic Sites in Israel.
Founded over 20 years ago, the council maintains a long list's worth of sites and monuments and, working industriously alongside other organizations and special interest groups, has successfully restored important sites throughout the country dedicated to protecting Israel's rich heritage.
Advocating awareness of the importance of Israel's cultural heritage is high on the council's to-do list, and it is also an active participant in local and urban planning processes, providing technical aid and expertise.
Under the motto "Our future, inspired by our past," the council identifies, restores, conserves and protects major heritage buildings and sites associated with Israel's rebirth, beginning in 1860, the time the first settlement outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City was established.
There are no fewer than 250 sites on the council's restoration wish list. Those sites are spread throughout the country.
Amongst the 50 sites restored to date are the British-built and administered Illegal Immigration Camp at Atlit near Haifa and "Kibbutz Hill" - also known as the Ayalon Institute in Rehovot - a secret underground munitions factory where Jews in Palestine manufactured arms, not only under the ground but also under the very noses of the British Mandatory Forces marching around topside.
Many of the country's hundreds of museums are situated in kibbutzim and naturally deal with each kibbutz's own niche in modern Jewish history. One would assume that kibbutz museums would be pretty much the same - a few old farming tools, khaki kovaei tembel [work hats] and work clothes, tin kitchen utensils and faded brown-and-white tattered photographs depicting dedicated pioneers hacking away at rocks or soil, or planting forests in pre-state days. All of this, of course, as they fended off Arab marauders intent on encouraging them to return from whence they had come.
Forget the stereotypes of people and places. True, many of the kibbutz museums, like Ein Shemer's Old Courtyard, record their own in-house and kibbutz movement's contribution toward building a state for the Jews, and proudly display blue heritage plaques, but other kibbutz museums are devoted to archaeology, nature, art and Jewish history, and the general settlement of this part of the world throughout history.
House of Anchors, located at Kibbutz Ein Gev on the shores of the Kinneret, focuses on fishing. The museum was only recently established by a veteran fisherman and kibbutz member who has cast his net wide to include exhibits on the fishing industry in the Sea of Galilee from antiquity through the present day.
Kibbutz Givat Haim Ihud, near Hadera, maintains Beit Theresienstadt in memory of the Jews who perished in the Theresienstadt ghetto in what was at the time Czechoslovakia; and Kibbutz Lohami Hagetaot near Nahariya boasts not only a large Holocaust museum and educational center for adults, but is also the home of Yad Layeled, a Holocaust museum designed especially for young children.
One can find an exhibition and audiovisual presentation in a compact cave museum at Kibbutz Mishmar Haemek, near Yokneam. Known as the Palmah Cave, the underground cavern was used as a training site for special Palmah units. Until tree disease felled a forest surrounding the cave, finding the former headquarters of the Palmah was almost impossible - nowadays signposts point the way.
Kibbutz Nahsholim, on the Mediterranean shore between Caesarea and Haifa, boasts a glassworks museum in a building that neighbors the kibbutz motel complex.
Constructed in 1891, the factory was intended to manufacture bottles for the nearby wine industry in Zichron Ya'acov, part of Baron Edmond de Rothschild's general plans for the area.
The factory, however, was none too successful - local sand proved to be adequate to be put in a bottle, but not to be used to make glass for one. The efforts of the malaria-suffering settler workers are immortalized at Nahsholim, which is also a museum for marine archaeology and the Tel Dor excavations.
The sands of time that have passed through Israel's hourglass have been lovingly recorded, drawn and photographed, and artifacts are now exhibited in many museums for posterity and the perusal of the Israeli and tourist public at large.
Information - in English - on many of the country's museums can be obtained at: www.ilmuseums.com