Kfar Giladi - past and present

Rich in Zionist history, the ever-changing kibbutz has much to offer visitors over Hanukka

kfar giladi 8 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
kfar giladi 8 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In 1915, a handful of visionary pioneers made the perilous journey to an isolated spot on the Naftali Hills overlooking the marshy wilderness of the Hula Valley. There they established themselves as a kvutzah and eventually blossomed into a full-fledged kibbutz. Their initial efforts to scrape a living from the rock-strewn, barren land under an unsympathetic Turkish rule while under the ever-present threat of Beduin marauders led these first settlers to the breaking point. They lived communally in a two-story rough stone building with some protection from members of the Guild of Watchmen (HaShomer), whose safeguarding web had spread to this far northern point. But eventually, conditions forced them to abandon the settlement for six months in 1920. HaShomer had been weakened by Turkish intervention, and eventually it was wiped out post-1918 by the new British Mandate, which banned the carrying of arms. But in 1920, the Haganah was formed, and their daring and illegal methods of procuring arms in order to facilitate an efficient method of self-defense for the Yishuv led some of the determined members of Kfar Giladi into a life of concealment and duplicity. Four men were entrusted with constructing the first arms cache. This was done in secret, under the cover of night, while the other members slumbered. A married man was thrown out of his home by his wife, who suspected he was having an affair - that he never denied it points to the matter of the arms cache's greater importance! Throughout the years that followed, the cache remained stocked and secret. With the outbreak of World War II, there was a growing urgency to amass more arms and a second cache was commissioned for construction in Kfar Giladi - again top secret, and its location was known only to a few. Even those who helped with the construction were led there in the middle of the night, blindfolded and via roundabout ways. One kibbutz member was charged with cleaning and maintaining the weapons, and he carried out his responsibilities for more than 35 years - through the War of Independence when the arms were in constant use - and afterwards. After the establishment of the state of Israel and an official army (Israel Defense Forces), there was no more call for the hidden and secret store - but the orders of secrecy had been so stringent that the secret remained guarded. However, weapons in the original cache were eventually deemed "official" and handed over. Meanwhile, Haganah members drifted into old age and passed away, taking the secret of the larger, "unofficial" cache with them to the grave. Only one member remained, the last guardian, faithfully maintaining the arms and guarding his secret. Nobody in his family ever questioned his late night sorties. The weapons became obsolete and in 1975, he decided it was time to confess and handed the key to the kibbutz secretary. The story of the cache remained a private matter for another quarter of a century before it was publicized - today, the hiding place can be visited and the poignant history of the Shomer movement is on view in Beit HaShomer. Kfar Giladi, like the majority of kibbutzim, is presently enveloped by changes in the kibbutz system prompted by the demands of a changing modern society. Over the years, the seasons have gradually turned the pages of the kibbutz's history - in the first chapters, fields were cleared and apples, avocados and other fruit trees were planted, softening the backdrop of the rock-strewn hillside. Fish ponds were dug and stocked with carp and other freshwater fish. Hen coops provided marketable produce of eggs; cow and goat herds produced milk, and in addition to farmed produce a profitable quarry was developed on the adjacent hillside. As local tourism developed in the 1960s, a small hotel was constructed and became a popular venue. But as time passed and clients grew more demanding, what was once considered "luxurious" became outdated. Kibbutz children were given the advantages of good higher education, they carried out their army service with distinction and many went on to higher studies which resulted in them leaving the kibbutz to find employment in their field. Gradually, kibbutz membership shrank instead of expanding, and a changing reality had to be faced. In 2004, Kfar Giladi began to revolutionize its structure. The old kibbutz system was filed away while economic and social changes were implemented. Today, 275 members remain, and new means of increasing income and upgrading living conditions are in motion. Forty plots have been designated for improved housing in an aim to attract those now-adult children back to the community. In addition, an area containing a further 82 plots has been set aside for a community village that will be sold to the general public. The chicken coop area has been transformed into a picturesque walkway with interesting small boutiques replacing the coops. One such is Gallery 12, filled with appealing works of art produced by local women artists from surrounding kibbutzim and moshavim. They found the perfect outlet for their produce here and their aim is to show - and market - the products of their talents. One finds an inspiring collection of paintings, ceramics, glass and wrought-iron pieces, jewelry and other handmade gifts. Kfar Giladi ceramicist Safra Porat can be visited in her workshop where she displays and sells her attractive pieces. "Razi's Flavors," an upmarket and well-stocked delicatessen, is favored by many of the local gourmet cooks. Follow the path and it winds towards a large two-story stone building. Built in 1922 and for many decades a cattle shed, it has been painstakingly transformed into a stylish restaurant maintaining the atmosphere of the past. The diverse menu features a variety of excellent Golan produce, including both wines and meat. Savor the Upper Galilee over the Hanukka holiday, for a family happening is planned along the Chicken Coop Walk with goodies to taste, art to view, children's stories to be heard and surroundings to be enjoyed by the whole family. A special taste of the Upper Galilee and its produce, with a visit to important relics and reminders of our past, await you in the picturesque surroundings of Kfar Giladi.