Aging grace

Ariel Sharon's childhood home, Kfar Malal has remained small and staunchly proud of its roots.

October 26, 2006 10:02
kfar malal 88 298

kfar malal 88 298. (photo credit: David Deustch)


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Today one could drive through Kfar Malal, as thousands of people do every day on their way to Hod Hasharon and Petah-Tikva, and not even know one had been through this historic place. Besides being the birthplace of Ariel Sharon (then Scheinerman), the 300 or so present inhabitants proudly celebrate it as the first "moshav ovdim" (worker's settlement) in the country - although officially Nahalal has that title. Highway 402 cuts the old moshav ovdim ("workers' settlement") in two and its building, in 1930, and improvement in 1994 to make it a high-speed motorway, has been a source of much chagrin for the residents. If the driver were to cast his eyes to the side of the busy road for a moment he might just catch a wooden sign with the word Kfar Malal carved on it in Hebrew. Otherwise, it's just a fast road to more important places. And yet, in the village itself there is a strong sense of history. Every old building and site has a blue plaque affixed to it with the record of what it once was - the first stable, the first school, the first Kupat Holim health clinic. Local historian, Dov Grudman, who, unlike many of the residents, was not born in Kfar Malal but settled there 25 years ago, hopes that eventually an official museum will be built to house memorabilia. The local committee, headed by businessman Arnon Brudner, has already agreed in principle to the creation of this museum in one of the historic buildings, perhaps the one where the secretariat of the moshav is located. IN 1912 a group of Second Aliya pioneers from Odessa purchased 4000 dunams of land between Kfar Saba and Petah Tikva and called their new home Ein-Chai, a name which is perpetuated in that same controversial highway which starts out in its early stretches as Rehov Ein-Chai. This "fountain of life" was arid in summer and muddy in winter and the local beduin who still roamed around on horseback had only grown things appropriate to the conditions. The pioneers decided to build their economy on dairy cows as they could feed them dry food and quench their thirst with water brought in barrels from nearby Kfar Saba. "They used to bring the barrels of water on the mule-drawn carriages and half of it would spill on the way, especially as the road was littered with stones," says Brudner in the 90th anniversary film of the place. "In the end the cows got the water intended for the running of the homes as well." They started out living in tents and built stables for their animals even before they built huts for themselves. The cows, which were brought from Damascus, were not the best milk-givers and eventually they brought Dutch cows from Lebanon whose descendents are still around even if the dairy industry long gave way to other types of farming. Digging for a well was clearly a top priority. "They dug it for two years - one man went down with a bucket and two pulled it up," says Grudman. "When they finally reached water it was muddy and brackish." Today the first well is kept as a historic site with its verbose blue plaque firmly affixed to commemorate the hardships of the first pioneers which also included the ubiquitous malaria, hunger and laboring in the burning sun for hours on end. It is said that 90 percent of the Second Aliya settlers returned to Russia in spite of the pogroms which had made them come to Eretz Yisrael in the first place. Here at Ein-Chai, they somehow survived the Great War and the Turkish/British confrontation (even though they were on the front line). But the Arab riots of 1921 were too much even for these hardy characters and Ein-Chai was abandoned, to be revived a year later with an injection of new settlers in the form of 19 men who had fought in the Jewish Brigade in WW I. By this time the name Ein-Chai was changed to Kfar Malal, after the initials of Hebrew writer and leader of the Hibat Tsion movement Moshe Leib Lilienblum who died two years before the settlement was born. It was hoped that the powers-that-be would take more of an interest in the struggling community. Almost everyone to whom one speaks today regrets that name change and think the settlement should have stayed Ein-Chai. THE SCHEINERMANS, Shmuel and Dvora, settled in Kfar Malal in 1925 and like all the pioneers, struggled to survive. In writings and speeches, their son Ariel Sharon spoke with affection of his childhood, the hardships of growing up there and of his parents trying to eke out a living from the inhospitable soil. In patching together recollections from old-timers, who were small children, born perhaps 15 to 20 years after the beginning of life in the settlement, one can get a sense of the hardships endured by their founder parents: There were practically no women as the conditions were too hard. Every morning the men would walk to Petah Tikva to work in the fields there to earn a living. In the afternoons they worked their own land as best they could with the limited water supply. And in the evening they guarded their huts against marauding beduin. On Fridays they walked again to Petah Tikva and brought back food supplies for the week and although they were not religious, like the majority of the Second Aliya pioneers, they would get together on Friday nights and share a drink and a review of the week's activities. Eventually more women joined the group, babies were born and raised in the harsh conditions. Today the women recall how the communal spirit was so strong among their mothers that they even nursed each others' babies. One old-timer recalls how the children used to run around barefoot on the hot sand and jump from cow pat to cow pat to avoid burning the soles of their feet. "On Fridays we all pitched in to bake bread together," he remembers, "The mules, which had worked hard all week, became our playthings at the weekend." In the late Twenties, with the advent of electricity, a real industrial revolution came to Kfar Malal. According to Grudman: "Roads were built, phones came in and we even had a few cars. The milk could be transported to Tel Aviv by road instead of on carts that would sink into the muddy pathways." The road, which they now dislike so much, was actually fought for by the authorities who wanted to build it elsewhere going from Kalkilya via Petah Tikva to Haifa. In 1994, when the road was enlarged, several bad accidents took place. To add to the heartbreak, the avenue of veteran casuarinas (fir trees) was uprooted, an event which the old-timers still mourn. Says Grudman, "Nowadays they would have built a ring road which would have suited the Kfar much better. In some ways we've lost our rustic character and it's too dangerous for children from one side of the road to go and play with children on the other." His dream is for a tunnel to link the two sides of the village together - a Utopian vision which may, one day, come to fulfillment. Back in 1929, as the miracle of electricity began to take hold, a large dairy was built in Kfar Malal and the milk processed in situ which made the whole operation more efficient. Meanwhile the orange groves and other agricultural ventures were taking root. Kfar Malal became known for its watermelon. The chicken coops flourished. During the war it became impossible to export fruit, so once again they fell on economic hard times. Between 1945 and 1948 the situation improved slightly, but the moshav knew many dark days during the War of Independence when the young men joined the Palmach and half of them were killed, mainly at Latrun. After the war the soldiers came back, but left their fathers to carry on the farms and went to work outside. Balancing this, however, was the arrival of the "ma'apilim," the illegal immigrants smuggled ashore before 1948. After statehood the villagers slowly began to know comparative prosperity. The orange groves gradually phased out to be replaced by other crops - mango, avocado and eventually a thriving flower industry developed. BUT BY the beginning of the Eighties it became more difficult to make a living from agriculture. "In the last 25 years the moshav became almost completely residential," says Grudman, who works as a crop-spraying pilot when he is not busy collecting and recording anything to do with Kfar Malal. "Nowadays practically no one, not here and not in the world can subsist from agriculture alone." In fact only a few farms remain active: one in egg production, one raising livestock, and another one of the biggest producers of sweet potatoes in the Middle East. The answer for many of the landowners was to lease out their properties to small industries, garden furniture shops and ready-made food suppliers. Grudman points out that the kibbutzim moved into industry once the agricultural branches phased out, but this was not possible in a moshav ovdim of individual farmers. The renting out of property is in a somewhat gray area in terms of its legality so the residents just prefer not to dwell on the subject. Among institutions which rent premises in Kfar Malal are Beit Noam, a home for rehabilitating violent husbands and several homes for dysfunctional youth. However, the building of a large industrial park on moshav land - Park Azorim - promises to restore some stability to the struggling village. Forty dunams of land near the Geha Highway belonging to the moshav were bought privately and office buildings erected. "It won't be profitable for many years, and only half the income comes to us to pay off the loans of the building, but it will give us a future," says Grudman. "Eventually we will probably be swallowed up by the 'big' town next door - Hod Hasharon." Until then, the moshav prides itself on being very environment conscious and Grudman gives credit to Arnon Brudner, the Va'ad chairman. "He's very insistent that we keep the public areas looking good. Even the public shelter has been beautified with vines climbing around it. And we also have to take care of the flower beds running down the middle of the main road, much to our sorrow." Ask any of the Kfar Malal youngsters what they feel about their village and the answer is that it's full of old people. It's true - but they are people very conscious of their past, very proud of their achievements and very determined that the younger generation will know as much as possible about their roots. The Scheinerman family In 1925 Shmuel and Dvora (Vera) Scheinerman settled in Kfar Malal on arrival from Russia. From the beginning they were unlike the rest of the settlers and consequently apparently disliked. They were educated people - he was an agronomist and she had studied medicine though had never completed her qualification - and when the two children, Arik and the daughter Dita were growing up, the parents insisted they have music lessons and attend high school, unlike the rest of Kfar Malal's inhabitants. Stories abound of Arik as a young boy, working in the fields with his father from morning till night, and of Arik fighting with the other children. In one biography it is claimed he used to walk around with a stick to beat up any child who crossed his path. There is no doubt, however, that Arik retained a certain affection for his childhood home and when the 90-plus celebrations were held in 2005 he was the guest of honor. In a home movie made of the occasion, one sees Arik lumbering around the exhibition, looking at the artifacts surrounded by a human shield of body guards and local officials hovering sycophantically in the background. Back in 1933 after the Arlozerov murder, the Scheinermans were ostracized by their neighbors. According to Sarah Honig, writing in The Jerusalem Post in 2001, "Dvora and Shmuel refused to endorse the labor movement's anti-Revisionist calumny and participate in Bolshevic-style public revilement rallies, then the order of the day." Honig maintains that among other punishments, they were expelled from the local health fund clinic and the village synagogue. Several biographers refer to an incident when Dvora was forced to take the bleeding Arik in her mule-drawn cart to the Kupat Holim of Kfar Saba, two miles away, to receive medical attention for her son; my 80-year-old neighbor Yithak Gur who grew up in nearby Magdiel claims he saw this himself. Dov Grudman dismisses these claims as nonsense. "She had a friend who was a doctor in the Kfar Saba health fund while we only had a nurse," he maintains. "She wanted to make sure of getting proper treatment." After his father died young, some time in the Fifties, Mrs. Scheinerman carried on the farm alone and lived in extreme poverty. Arik came to visit her often as he rose to fame or, some would say, infamy. He always retained a soft spot for Kfar Malal and credited the old homestead with being an inspiration to him in his toughest moments.

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