The orchard

A small museum in Rehovot offers a look at the history of what once was a major industry in Israel – the growing and exporting of citrus fruit.

By SYBIL EHRLICH
October 13, 2011 22:23
3 minute read.
Early ripening oroblancos, ‘pomelit' in Hebrew

The Orchard 311. (photo credit: Amy Spiro )

 
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Tucked away on the outskirts of Rehovot, close to the Weizmann Institute of Science, is a museum that presents the history of the country’s citrus industry.

The moshava of Rehovot was established in 1890, and 14 years later the first citrus orchard was planted there by Zalman Minkov.

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The orchard was known for employing only “Hebrew labor” at a time when such a thing was unusual. Some of the most famous members of the Second Aliya worked there, later going on to greater things: Yosef Haim Brenner, A.D. Gordon, the poet Rahel and many others.

The orchard continued production until the 1960s when modern technology made it uneconomical. The land was sold, leaving the site derelict.

In the 1970s the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites began restoration of the Minkov Orchard and conversion of the original buildings into a museum of the history of citrus orchards in the Land of Israel.

The impressive entrance gate, which had become severely damaged by the ravages of time, was restored to its original condition.

On the left side of the gate is a sebil (drinking fountain) used by human passersby, and on the right is a water trough for their animals.

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A barn that once housed livestock is today used as a conference hall, where a sound-and-light show (with commentary in Hebrew or English) presents the history of citrus orchards in Israel from the early 20th century to the present day. Outside the barn is a forge used by the blacksmith who worked with the horses, and the tools can still be seen.

Minkov dug a well 22 meters deep and six meters in diameter, with a motor and pump, that is still there in its own building.

An aqueduct brought the water – used for irrigation of the trees – to the reservoir at the top of a hill, and it soon became a popular swimming pool for the children of Rehovot.

The fruit was sorted, individually wrapped in paper and packed into wooden crates at the packing house.

When the crates were full, they were sealed by a carpenter and transported on camels to the Rehovot railway station. Today the building houses life-size dummies dressed in 1920s costumes, “sorting” and “packing” very real-looking plaster oranges.

The new orchard was planted in 1998. Various types of citrus fruits are grown here, including pomelit (apparently known as oroblanco in English, according to the sign), white grapefruit and blood orange. When I visited in early September, there wasn’t much fruit on the trees, as most citrus fruits ripen in winter, although I did see several almost-ripe oroblancos.

Two derelict trolleys, one of them on a length of narrow- gauge railway track, can be seen. In the glory days of the orchard, the fruit was collected and piled onto these flatbed wagons to facilitate transport to the packing house. The trolleys were pushed by manpower, and there were small turntables to allow the loaded trucks to be pushed round 90-degree corners.

A “reconstruction” – not an exact replica of the original railway – is being built at the workshop in Kibbutz Ein Shemer. Carmit Rapoport, the museum’s director, hopes it will be ready for installation in the Minkov Museum orchard within six months. The little train will be pulled by a locomotive on a 200-meter track, giving rides to children.

There won’t be any turntables, though, for obvious safety reasons.

Rapoport apologizes that the museum is not very “English-friendly,” as the explanations on the buildings and exhibits are only in Hebrew, but a photocopied description in English is available.

Guiding for groups of 25 or more, with advance booking, is available in English or Hebrew.

The Minkov Museum, Nahmani Street, Rehovot.

(08) 946-9197.

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