Lost and found: Hadera’s pioneers

Thanks to the detective work of a Canadian oleh, Hadera was able to honor 120 of its earliest settlers at a Tu Bishvat ceremony.

Aidelvine's granddaughter_521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Aidelvine's granddaughter_521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
In an emotional Tu Bishvat event last Thursday to mark the 120th anniversary of Hadera’s founding, a large crowd gathered at the city’s cemetery and that of neighboring Zichron Ya’acov to honor 120 of Hadera’s first pioneers.
For Hadera residents, the Tu Bishvat ceremony was all the more meaningful for the simple reason that for decades the location of many of these graves was a mystery. Nobody, not even their descendants, knew where some of the city’s founding fathers and mothers were buried.
The idea of honoring the graves of Hadera’s first pioneers – many of whom left behind lives as successful businesspeople and industrialists in Czarist Russia to be farmers in Eretz Yisrael – came from Nina Rodin, curator of Hadera’s Khan Museum, and her team of volunteers.
That the graves of Hadera’s pioneers have been located is partly the result of dogged detective work by Hadera resident and Khan Museum volunteer Shmuel Shimshoni.
Motivated by the desire to honor those Jewish pioneers who laid the foundation of today’s thriving city, Shimshoni tracked down the final resting places of scores of Hadera’s first settlers, the location of whose grave-sites had remained a mystery for decades.
Shimshoni, now 79, made aliya from Montreal in 1950, and for most of his working life was employed by Israel Military Industries. When he was asked to take early retirement, Shimshoni’s professional life took an unexpected turn.
Offered work at the local Hevra Kadisha (religious burial society), he spent five and a half years toiling in Hadera’s cemetery, diligently performing age-old Jewish burial rituals and working in the office, organizing a records system that reached back to the very first days of the settlement.
“There were about 40 or 50 of Hadera’s founders whose burial places we didn’t know,” says Shimshoni. “I also found many unmarked graves.”
Among the graves Shimshoni managed to identify is the final resting place of one of Hadera’s very first residents, Ya’acov Israel Aidelvine.
Shimshoni says his investigations began 15 years ago, when he got a call from a man enquiring whether the Hevra Kadisha knew the location of Aidelvine’s grave. His descendants had been searching for the grave for decades.
In 1891, the 32-year-old Aidelvine made aliya from Russia, leaving behind a wife and children. He promised to send for them as soon as he had settled down.
He never did. In 1892, six months after his aliya, Aidelvine contracted malaria and died. He was buried in the settlement’s cemetery.
“Aidelvine was the first man buried in Hadera that we know of,” Shimshoni says. “Only one burial took place in the cemetery prior to his, but the exact plot is unknown.”
SOMETHING ABOUT the story intrigued Shimshoni. One of the founders of Hadera – and nobody knows where he’s buried? Determined to unravel the mystery of Hadera’s missing pioneer, the Canadian oleh turned detective.
The starting point of Shimshoni’s investigations were the very first days of the settlement of Hadera.
The northern settlement was founded in 1891 by a group of Jews from Latvia and Lithuania. A decade previously, Czarist Russia had enacted the May Laws, anti-Semitic decrees that led to terrible repressions against Jews in the Russian empire, and sparking a mass emigration of more than two million people. Most went to North America, but many decided to start a new life here in Eretz Yisrael. One of them was Ya’acov Israel Aidelvine.
Aidelvine and others commissioned Zionist activist Yehoshua Hankin to buy 30,000 dunams of land in Eretz Yisrael from Salim Khoury, a rich Maronite Christian from Haifa.
Maybe Khoury got a good deal, but the Jewish buyers had not made the wisest of transactions.
The land, known in Arabic as el-Khadra – “the green place” – was a swamp, its sole inhabitants swarms of malarial mosquitoes and a few water buffalo grazing in the reedy marshes.
When they arrived, the settlement’s new residents were unable to construct houses because Hankin hadn’t procured the appropriate building permits from the Ottoman authorities. For six years, families were forced to live in the only building in the area, an Ottoman era farmstead known as the Khan.
Housing was the least of the settlers’ problems, however. Hankin failed to follow through on his promise to drain the marshes in order to remove the mosquitoes. The result was a deadly malaria epidemic.
“Many families suffered from malaria,” says Shimshoni. “There was no hospital in Hadera, so people were taken to Zichron Ya’acov to be treated.”
Over 40 percent of Hadera’s inhabitants perished from malaria during the settlement’s first three decades. Yet despite these terrible conditions, the founders refused to abandon their land.
“The settlers of Hadera dug graves with their own hands for their next of kin, for their friends and neighbors – but they did not desert their settlement,” wrote Dr. Hillel Yaffe, Zichron’s physician, in 1894. “[It was] courage on the verge of insanity!”
Aidelvine was one of the first pioneers to have his dreamed-for new life in Eretz Yisrael cruelly cut short by malaria.
When news of their father’s death reached Aidelvine’s two sons in Russia, they decided to try to fulfill his dream of a farm in Hadera. Not long after their arrival, however, they too contracted malaria and died.
Seventeen years after Aidelvine’s death, his youngest child, Rachel, also decided to come to Eretz Yisrael. By then the swamp had been drained. Rachel survived, and raised a family.
How did Aidelvine’s grave become lost?
AN ELABORATE monument had been erected there, which his daughter Rachel tended. However, when Rachel and her family were forced to flee to Egypt during World War I, the monument was stolen and the exact spot where Aidelvine lay was lost.
Rachel’s daughter, Sarah Even-Zahav, explained the story in a letter she wrote to Shimshoni.
“During WWI, my father was sought by the Turks,” wrote Even-Zahav. “He was on their list as a member of Nili [the Jewish spy ring established in Zichron Ya’acov to assist the British against the Turks] and was obliged to flee to Egypt in order to save his life.”
On their return to Hadera, the family requested permission to erect another monument. After checking its records, the Hevra Kadisha refused.
“The Hevra Kadisha couldn’t find the grave because errors had been made in recording Aidelvine’s name,” explains Shimshoni.
For decades, the family continued searching for Aidelvine’s grave. Then Shimshoni got on the case.
“I had to do a lot of detective work to find out what happened,” he says. “I’m proud to say I was involved in finding Aidelvine’s grave. For many years, the Hevra Kadisha could not find it.”
In a feat of deduction that Sherlock Holmes would surely have been proud of, Shimshoni figured out that a grave recorded as belonging to an “Aidelman” was actually a misspelling and should have read ‘Aidelvine.’
Back in 1892, a scribe recorded Aidelvine’s burial in Yiddish using a quill pen and ink, and in later years, another scribe transcribed the sequence of the three letters vav, yud, yud as a single Hebrew mem. With that mem, Aidelvine was written out of history.
While Aidelvine is buried in the Hadera cemetery, many of Hadera’s first pioneers were laid to rest in neighboring Zichron Ya’acov.
“The moshava of Hadera had the exclusive distinction of being the only settlement in Eretz Yisrael which had cemeteries in three separate communities – Hadera, Zichron Ya’acov and Jaffa,” says Shimshoni. “Many people who succumbed to malaria were treated in Zichron or Jaffa, and buried there because of problems transporting the bodies back to Hadera.”
Over time, the names of those buried in Zichron and Jaffa became lost. Shimshoni made it his mission to find the missing pioneers and restore their graves.
“I spent weeks wandering around the cemetery in Zichron,” says Shimshoni. “Eventually I found 103 graves belonging to Hadera’s earliest settlers.”
In emotional ceremonies at Hadera and Zichron Ya’acov, local residents, including Mayor Hayim Avitan, honored 120 of Hadera’s founding fathers and mothers – one for every year since the city’s founding – by fixing marble plaques to their gravestones.
The plaques depict Hadera’s coat of arms, at the center of which is a eucalyptus tree – a poignant symbol of the difficult years of drying out the swamps and the fight against malaria.
Baron Edmond de Rothschild funded the planting of the trees in 1895, and they quickly became a symbol of the city – all the more fitting as Hadera was founded on Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees.
“This gesture was done as an everlasting show of honor to those who though they suffered the scourge of malaria that so relentlessly took its toll – in many cases wiping out nearly entire families – never gave up but stayed on the develop the city of Hadera,” says Shimshoni.
To read more about Shmuel Shimshoni’s efforts to locate the graves of Hadera’s pioneers, visit his website at www.freewebs.com/shimsar/

For more about Hadera’s history, visit the Khan museum at Rehov Hagiborim 74, Hadera. The museum is open Sun.-Thur. 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Sun., Tue. 4 to 6 p.m., Fri. 9 to 12 noon. For more details visit www.khan-hadera.org.il or call (04) 632-4562.