Settling at all costs

The Dubrovin Farm in the Hula Valley is both a symbol and a relic of pre-state pioneering in the face of immense physical hardship.

In the early 1900s, farmer Yoav Dubrovin and his family left Russia and headed for Turkish-controlled Palestine. The Dubrovins were Christian keepers of the Sabbath, known as Sobotniks, who eventually converted to Judaism in the Land of Israel. Dubrovin, who already had extensive knowledge of farming, decided to settle his family near the existing agricultural community of Yesud Hama'ala, founded in 1884 by the Yesud Hama'ala Association, which was formed by Polish immigrants from Mezeric and Brisk. Yesud Hama'ala (he began to go up), named after the biblical passage telling of Ezra's first steps on his way to Jerusalem when he led the Jews back from captivity in Babylon, was situated close to the mosquito-infested Hula swamp. Remains of an ancient synagogue attested to the fact that a Jewish community had existed in the area some 1,600 years earlier. Draining the seemingly uninhabitable Hula swamps almost got the better of the Eastern European halutzim (pioneers), who struggled just to survive. Not only were the Hula Valley settlers at risk of contracting diseases such as malaria and diphtheria, but they also faced not infrequent attacks from the local Arab population. At a point when morale was especially low, Baron Rothschild stepped in, providing eucalyptus trees - specifically for their capacity to absorb large amounts of water - to be planted in the region and help drain the valley. The struggling community soldiered on. In these harsh conditions, the Dubrovins established a successful farmstead. Eventually, Yoav moved most of his family to Rosh Pina, leaving his eldest son, Yitzhak, behind to manage the buildings, fruit orchards, and gardens. The patriarch of the Dubrovin family lived to be 104. In 1968, Yitzhak Dubrovin also moved out, bequeathing the family home and stone farm buildings to the Jewish National Fund, which had sold the land to his father so many decades before. In the mid-l980s, the Dubrovin estate became a museum about the life of the Hula Valley halutzim, with particular emphasis on the Dubrovin family and their Yesud Hama'ala neighbors. But over the years, the site became somewhat run down, prompting a recent overhaul. Now, the Dubrovin Farm is an extremely attractive place to visit, rest and contemplate the superhuman efforts of those who struggled to settle a hostile and barren region. The farm's renovation was funded by a number of government agencies, the Nature Reserve Authority, the Rothschild Fund and the Feher Family from France, allowing the revitalization of an important site that should be on the to-see list of all educational tours. Photographs and memorabilia from the early pioneer settlement are very powerful and well-arranged. A multimedia presentation entitled "100 Years of Settlement" is available in various languages. Meticulously landscaped gardens and attractive wooden benches placed in shady corners invite visitors to rest, even before they enter the buildings and courtyard. The newly-renovated well and water wheel comprise a fascinating display. Wall-mounted explanations inform visitors that the "Antillia" well (the word "antillia" is Greek and means "carrying up the water") is constructed of a circular line of hanging clay jars, which rotate on a shaft turned by animals walking in a circle. As the chain rotates, the vessels draw water. At the Dubrovin farm, metal vessels have replaced the original clay ones. Antillia wells were widely used in ancient times and are mentioned in Jewish, Greek and Roman sources. Remains of such wells can be found in many archaeological excavations. The Dubrovin well was dug by family members in the late nineteenth century. In l985, the JNF restored the chain-bucket system and the small pool that serves as a reservoir. "As in the Bible (Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob and Rachel, Moses and Zippora and many more) the great love stories all started at the well - from now on its up to you!" reads a sign. The Dubrovin Farm Yesud Hama'ala Museum opening hours: Mon-Thurs. 10 a.m.-4 p.m.; Friday and Holiday Eves 10 a.m.-2 p.m.; Saturday and Holidays 10 a.m.-4 p.m.