Pride and preservation

Kfar Saba is set to inaugurate the 'Path of the First Settlers,' a tourist walkway that will celebrate the city's history.

Kfar Saba building 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Kfar Saba building 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Throughout much of the 1950s, Boston journalist William Schofield had good reason to be unhappy. His beloved old city, rich in history, was embarking on a destructive rampage of "urban renewal" in which not only individual buildings but entire areas like Scollay Square and the West End were being slated for demolition - all to make way for a concrete, car-centered, characterless "New Boston." After years of concerted effort, Schofield, in 1958, finally persuaded the city of Boston to establish its now famous Freedom Trail, a four-kilometer red brick pedestrian walkway linking 16 historic sites from the period of the American Revolution. Starting on Boston Common and ending at the Bunker Hill Monument, the little red brick path has since guided perhaps millions of delighted tourists and exhausted Boston public schoolchildren past places like King's Chapel, the Old State House, Faneuil Hall and the Old North Church. The creation of the Freedom Trail during a period of massive and wrong-headed urban redevelopment not only led to a greater appreciation of Boston's neglected historical landmarks, but may also have saved some of them - like the Old Corner Bookstore and Paul Revere's house - from the wrecking ball. In the same spirit of pride and preservation, the city of Kfar Saba is about to inaugurate the "Path of the First Settlers," a tourist walkway that will celebrate the history of Kfar Saba by linking sites and landmarks from the city's early years. Created by the municipality in cooperation with the Archaeological Museum of Kfar Saba, the Path will link places that document the city's history from the initial purchase of 7,500 dunams of land from the Arab village of Saba and the establishment in 1898 of the initial "moshava." It will include such points of interest as the settlement's first well; Rehov Herzl - Kfar Saba's first street; the Khan - Kfar Saba's first public building; Feidler's Coffee House; the Shoemaker's Shack; and even the plot of land that accommodated around 1,000 Jews from Tel Aviv and Jaffa who were forcibly evacuated from their homes by the Ottomans during World War I. According to Archaeological Museum tour guide and spokesperson Sharona Liman, 39, the creation of the Path of the First Settlers comes not a moment too soon. "Kfar Saba is a First Aliya settlement, together with Rishon Lezion, Zichron Ya'acov and Rosh Pina. But those places became famous. They each have tourist sites and museums and walkways that go between the original houses of the old moshava. But in Kfar Saba, it was mostly forgotten. The moshava became a city in 1903, the years went by, the history was forgotten, and Kfar Saba became a place that was nothing to write home about. Nobody came here to visit like they came to tour Zichron and Rosh Pina. But the story of Kfar Saba also has to be told." The predictable result of so many years of historical amnesia has made the telling of that story acutely urgent. Liman says, "The need grew as some of the buildings that had historical significance started to disappear. The house of the Labor Party that was on Rehov Weizman was destroyed. There's a commercial building there now. On the first road in Kfar Saba where houses were built, Rehov Herzl, there's not one original house left. There were 12 houses that were built in 1912, and not one of them remains. The moshava was basically destroyed during World War I, because it was at the front lines in the fighting between the British and the Turks. Houses were built again in the 1920s and 30s. And last year, the last house of those built in the 1920s was also destroyed. It was the house of the Druyan family, a famous family of Kfar Saba. They actually wanted to donate their house for some kind of museum documenting the relations between Jewish and Arab Kfar Saba. It didn't work out, the museum was never created, and the family finally sold the house to a contractor. The place is now a construction site for an apartment building. So the entire street is now all apartment buildings, and you can't see any of the original buildings." Of all the sites that have survived and are slated to be part of the Path, perhaps none is as venerable or beloved as the building known as the Khan. "It's the very first public building," Liman says. "The original Khan was built in 1906. It was built out of wood. Because the whole moshava was destroyed during World War I, the Khan was rebuilt in the 1920s, and that's what we see today. The building has served as the house of the local committee, a school, a post office, Hagana headquarters, and a whole lot of other public functions through the years, until it became City Hall." Immediately next to the Khan is Kfar Saba's first well. Dug before WWI, the well was used until the 1940s. "They stopped using the well, covered it up so no one would fall in, and forgot where it was," Liman explains. "They were doing some kind of renovations in the 1990s and as the tractor was digging there, suddenly a hole opened in the ground. They rediscovered the well and decided to give it the respect it deserved." Liman adds that as the workers were cleaning the old well for display, they discovered a bit of "added value" in the form of a cache of Hagana weapons, hidden there sometime during the Mandate period. The Path of the First Settlers will open with a total of eight historical sites; two more are slated for inclusion in the near future. Other sites, such as the Amal, a 1930s-era movie theater that was almost demolished several years ago, will be added after being officially reviewed and declared historic landmarks. "When you walk along Rehov Weizman, if you just raise your eyes above the shop windows, you notice that a lot of Kfar Saba is Bauhaus," Liman says. "It's not the 'White City' of Tel Aviv, and it's not going to be a World Heritage site, but you suddenly realize that the whole section between Herzl and Yerushalayim Streets - the center of the moshava - has so many buildings from the 1930s. And none of them are legally listed for preservation. They will all have to go through the review process." Unlike Liman, who was born and raised in Kfar Saba, Archaeological Museum Director Yardena Wiesenberg, 42, smiles and admits she is not a native of the city. But her 18 years at the museum have made her passionate about preserving the city's history, a task she approaches with almost missionary zeal. Inspired by similar undertakings in Rishon Lezion and Zichron Ya'acov, she has struggled to bring the Path of the First Settlers into being, and has chased after most of the money in the project's current budget. Major sources of funding, she says, have included the Kfar Saba Municipality, the Education and Science, Culture and Sport ministries, and prominent Kfar Saba families. Thanks to the generosity of one family in particular, the Path will be named after their ancestor Mordechai Schreibman, one of the moshava's original settlers. Other revenue will come from nominal fees charged to visitors taking the guided tours. A woman of few words, Wiesenberg says simply, "Our work here is very important. Both here in Israel and all over the world, there is a war going on between the new and the old. It doesn't have to be war. The new and the old can live together, side by side." The Mordechai Schreibman Path of the First Settlers will be formally inaugurated at a festive celebration in Kfar Saba on June 22 at 6 p.m. Following a ceremony at the Khan - now Kfar Saba's City Hall - attended by Mayor Yehuda Ben-Hamo, MK Ze'ev Bielski and Brig-Gen. (res.) Moshe (Bogey) Ya'alon - the Galron municipal choir will perform and Wiesenberg will provide a historical narrative for the evening's events. Museum tour guides will then lead visitors on an informative tour of several of the original moshava houses, where members of the "Balbelu" Street Theater Troupe will depict scenes of daily life in the early days of Kfar Saba. Following the inaugural festivities, visitors will be able to reserve guided tours of the Path of the First Settlers through the Archaeological Museum at 35 Rehov Yerushalayim, Kfar Saba; (09) 764-0867; or at