Northern lights

A lesser-known story of pioneering, bravery and tragedy in north Jerusalem gets some well-deserved attention.

Atarot residents bring produce as ‘first fruits’ to JNF’s Jerusalem offices. (photo credit: ATAROT HERTIAGE ARCHIVES)
Atarot residents bring produce as ‘first fruits’ to JNF’s Jerusalem offices.
This Sunday, March 11, a ceremony will be held on Mount Herzl marking 70 years since 16 Hagana fighters fell near Atarot in March 1948.
Hashisha Asar Street (The Sixteen), one of Pisgat Ze’ev’s first roads, commemorates them. The Atarot Convoy made its way back from Jerusalem to Atarot on the Fast of Esther in March 1948, when it was attacked, and 14 passengers were killed.
“The Sixteen and the Atarot Convoy are practically unknown chapters of the War of Independence,” says Dr. Yossi Spanier, who researches and lectures on Eretz Yisrael studies at Efrata College and Herzog College. For the past decade, he has been documenting the history of Atarot and historical Neveh Ya’acov, which set the northern boundaries of Jerusalem. Spanier, a resident of Pisgat Ze’ev, writes articles and books on the communities and gives tours in the area to raise awareness.
THE LANDS of Atarot were purchased for settlement in 1912. Initially called Kalandiya after the nearby Arab village, it was settled in 1913 by a group who prepared the rocky ground for agriculture.
Tree saplings were planted and the first houses were constructed. The group dispersed with the onset of World War I.
In 1919, at the beginning of the British Mandate, another group settled the area. The community grew to 47 families in 1947, who worked in agriculture, a quarry and running guest homes.
Hakfar Ha’ivri Neveh Ya’acov (the Jewish Village of Neveh Ya’acov) was founded in 1924 by the Mizrahi movement, and named for its leader, Rabbi Yitzhak Ya’acov Reines. Among its founders was writer Dov Brinker, whose daughter, Chana, married Zvi Tal, later to become a Supreme Court justice.
Chana met Zvi when he was a Hagana fighter in Neveh Ya’acov.
Rabbi Yitzhak Avigdor Orenstein, active in Mizrahi, was one of Neveh Ya’acov’s founders. He and his wife Mushka Liba had six children. In 1940 the Orensteins moved to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, where Rabbi Orenstein and his wife fell in its final battle in 1948.
“An aerial photo of Atarot from 1946 shows a similar plan to Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley,” notes Spanier. “Both were designed by renowned architect Richard Kaufmann in 1924.”
In addition to the challenging ter-rain, there was a water shortage, and water was bought from the Arabs until the village was connected to the water pipe from Jerusalem. Transporting produce was dangerous.
“Despite the difficulties, the pioneers had success with their produce, especially the dairy of Atarot,” says Spanier. “Together with the farmers of Kiryat Anavim, the Atarot farmers founded Tnuva-Jerusalem.”
Land was scarce, since the British founded a military airport in the 1920s. After 1967, Atarot Airport was Jerusalem’s airport until its closure in 2000 during the Second Intifada.
Shabtai Lozhinsky, one of Atarot’s founders, established a quarry. Killed in a car accident in Italy in 1947, a ship for illegal immigrants, originally called Suzannah, was renamed Shabtai Lozhinsky in his memory. The song “Shoshana, Shoshana” commemorates the ship.
During the riots of 1929 and 1936-1939, as well as the War of Independence, Atarot was attacked. Haim Golobetzky of Atarot was killed in an attack in 1936.
His wife Leah (née Kreinis), a central figure in Atarot, was born in Ukraine, and studied education in Poland.
She immigrated to Nahalal and married Haim in 1930.
“Their farm was quite impressive and they would host well-known people, including the British High Commissioner,” notes Spanier. “After Haim’s murder, Leah returned to teaching and writing, including Atarot’s anthem. She was a very devoted teacher taking care of her students’ needs.”
Neveh Ya’acov’s residents were teachers, clerks and artisans who had to learn farming, Spanier relates.
“Yohanan Boshovitz, a mathematics major, requested from his sister in Berlin journals in German to learn how to raise cows and chickens. Boshovitz corresponded with Rabbi Kook, the chief rabbi, about milking the cows on Shabbat. One of Neveh Ya’acov’s founding rules was not to hire non-Jews. Rabbi Kook’s reply wasn’t found, but eventually Arab women did milk the cows on Shabbat.”
Neveh Ya’acov residents worked in agriculture, dairy farming, chicken coops and a quarry. Some traveled to Jerusalem to work. During the relatively peaceful years, until 1947, a school in the village accepted students from all over the country. A ceremony was held in 1947 for a vacation center for yeshiva students to enjoy the rural atmosphere and fresh air, but it never took off due to the War of Independence.
FOLLOWING REPEATED attacks on Jews headed to Atarot, the Hagana decided on Operation Shmuel to deter further attacks. A unit of Hagana fighters would attack an Arab vehicle on the road from Ramallah to Latrun. On March 4, 1948, some 19 fighters set out early in the morning from Atarot. Near what is now the Ofer Junction (near today’s Givat Ze’ev), they attacked a vehicle, which continued on its way. In the retreat, three fighters split off and the remaining 16 were ambushed in a valley where they were gunned down.
They were initially buried in Sanhedria, and then reinterred in the Mount Herzl Cemetery.
Their commander, Noam Grossman, born in Brooklyn in 1927, moved to Tel Aviv with his parents as a two-year-old. He studied at the Herzliya Gymnasia and was interested in research and writing, hoping to educate others through his pen. The book Noam was published by his parents after he fell.
Tamar Dagan, whose brother Asher Liptzin fell with the 16, is involved in commemoration, including naming the road in Pisgat Ze’ev, and the memorial on Sunday on Mount Herzl.
Atarot’s children and women were evacuated after Passover 1948. After Gush Etzion fell on 4 Iyar, Atarot’s defenders realized that reinforcements wouldn’t be coming. Demoralized by the fall of Gush Etzion, the fighters left to Neveh Ya’acov. Atarot was destroyed by the Jordanian Legion. The defenders of Atarot finally reached the defenders of Neveh Ya’acov with the final fighting on 5 to 8 Iyar. Five fighters were killed and about 40 injured. The commanders decided to vacate Neveh Ya’acov by foot, trekking with the defenders of Atarot to Mount Scopus. The Jordanians destroyed the houses and farms.
Ruthie Danon, a child in Atarot, lost her brother, Michael Strauss, in the final battle in Neveh Ya’acov. Danon wrote a book on Atarot’s history and founded the Atarot Heritage Association. In 2002, the Association, together with the Jerusalem municipality and the JNF, founded Gan Hagevura (Heroism Park) in Pisgat Ze’ev North (on Simha Holtzberg Street near building 26). Located on the grounds of the original Neveh Ya’acov, facing Beit Hanina, its long path displays panels with text and historical photos highlighting the daily lives and the heroism of the pioneers of Neveh Ya’acov and Atarot.
In total, 18 Atarot pioneers and defenders are buried together near the airport’s runway, surrounded by well-kept grounds. Leah Golobetzky’s words are at the entrance. Admission to the gravesite should be coordinated with the Israel Aircraft Industry plant adjacent to the graves.
Historical Neve Ya’akov’s residents dispersed to different towns in Israel. Atarot residents were among the founders of Bnei Atarot in 1948, also located near an airport (Ben-Gurion). Its founders included refugees from Nehalim in the Galilee and Be’erot Yitzhak in the Negev.
TODAY’S NEIGHBORHOOD of Neveh Ya’acov was founded in 1970 northeast of the original community.
At its entrance is a square called “Meginei Atarot v’Neveh Ya’acov” – defenders of Atarot and Neveh Ya’acov.
Dr. Yossi Spanier reflects on the difference between the well-known Gush Etzion, its beginnings and heroic and tragic end, as compared to the lack of awareness on the final months of Atarot and Neveh Ya’acov.
“A myriad of reasons contribute to this. The fall of Gush Etzion was a trauma, since there were hundreds of people killed and taken captive. The survivors and the children of Gush Etzion were on a mission to commemorate them. For 19 years until 1967, there were activities about Gush Etzion, people would go to lookouts to spot the area and villages were built elsewhere with similar names. After the Six Day War, the villages were rebuilt.
“In northern Jerusalem, it was different. The residents did not return there after 1967. In addition, there were more intellectuals among Gush Etzion’s original residents and they contributed to the commemoration.”
The memorial ceremony will be held on Sunday at 4 p.m. The plot is located about 200 meters from the main entrance to the Mount Herzl Cemetery, on the main path on the left side.