Nehalim, the wandering moshav

Today’s prosperous village took 10 years to root.

Moshav Nehalim (photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
Moshav Nehalim
(photo credit: MIRIAM KRESH)
 Turn off Highway 40, south of Petah Tikva, and drive up the pleasant, tree-lined roads of Moshav Nehalim. Charming older homes and brand-new houses stand by the road’s edge, each set well off the path and surrounded by thriving gardens.
At this time of year, the moshav’s fields look bare and brown, but with the rains, the gardens have woken to green life.
Here and there you glimpse a lawn with a merry-go-round and swings; in one walkway, yellow and red nasturtiums spill over the path, much like Monet’s house in Giverny.
Native wild herbs sway in undeveloped lots and along the roadside. Breathe deeply. The air in Nehalim is so fresh and fragrant that the gray highway seems far behind instead of only minutes away.
The roads are named after rivers that course through the Galilee: Yarden, Hermon, Dan, Snir. But in the moshav, the only water you see runs down drain ditches or stands in rain puddles that reflect the winter sky. The reason for the riverine names goes back to 1943.
TO LEARN about Nehalim’s history, Metro interviewed Adina Friedgut, the moshav’s informal historian who has written a book about its history (soon to be published, in Hebrew) and maintains a small museum on her land. Her parents were among the founders of the moshav. She herself was a toddler during Nehalim’s beginnings.
Friedgut tells the stories slowly, as if she’s retold them many times before. It sounds as if she heard them from her parents.
She pulls out old photographs and explains each in loving detail. Her mother, a Holocaust survivor and kindergarten teacher, wrote poems of Zionism and faith, and Friedgut reads a few aloud, her voice trembling with emotion.
Nehalim’s first members were young, religious Central Europeans from a branch of the religious-Zionist Bnei Akiva youth movement in Jerusalem. Many were refugees from the Nazis.
A handful of couples who were determined to establish an agricultural settlement in Israel asked the Jewish Agency for land. They were sent to Neveh Ya’acov, a village north of Jerusalem’s Old City that was founded on land purchased from the Arabs of neighboring Beit Hanina. (Today, Neveh Ya’acov is a thriving Jerusalem neighborhood with a large haredi population.) For reasons that are obscure today, group didn’t settle there.
In 1938, the Jewish Agency sent them for agricultural training to Menahemya in the Jordan Valley, south of Lake Kinneret.
“The land was a swampy wilderness, hard to clear and full of malarial mosquitoes,” says Friedgut. “They called the settlement Nehalim (streams) for the water that runs through the land. When they settled in, they found their Jewish neighbors, secular kibbutzim, unfriendly to the point of hostility. The kibbutzim didn’t agree to have religious neighbors; in addition, they coveted the land.”
The kibbutzim isolated Nehalim, refusing to allow its members use of the trucks that took goods back and forth from the area. They even refused to sell them flour, which obliged the religious settlers to send for flour from Tiberias. Nor would they buy bread produced in Nehalim.
In addition, Nehalim was excluded from the area’s guard organization and thus fended for itself when harassed by Arabs on horseback. Members built a primitive communal shelter out of wood.
Their alarm was a gong they beat to warn farmers in the fields to return home.
Conditions were hard. Families were housed in barracks, each living in one and a half rooms.
“There was no running water and, naturally, no electricity,” says Friedgut.
“They started working the land, drying the swamp. My father got malaria from the mosquitoes, and later, tuberculosis.
The women worked as cooks or house cleaners. They lived that way for four years, completely isolated, separate from neighboring settlements, and with no other religious contacts.”
However, Nehalim did have a synagogue and a Torah scroll. The Hapoel Hamizrahi organization found a small, compact scroll written by a scribe who had made it especially against the day when a settlement in the Galilee needed it. Friedgut, although a little girl at the time, still remembers the joyful celebration.
“People came from all over the North: hassidim from Safed with their fur hats, farmers from religious kibbutzim and yishuvim,” she says. “They closed their stores and came to dance the Torah scroll to its new home – in a metal shed.”
The moshav still cherishes that Torah scroll, although other, more stately ones occupy the wooden ark in its large, modern synagogue.
AFTER THE War of Independence, the Jewish Agency gave in to pressure from the secular kibbutzim in the Menahemya area and directed Nehalim to Wilhelma, an abandoned German Templer village in what’s now Bnei Atarot. The village was already overcrowded with war refugees, and in 1953 it was assigned the land where the moshav now stands, south of Petah Tikva.
Conditions were still hard.
“Each family received a house consisting of two rooms and a kitchenette, and 25 dunams [2.5 hectares] of land,” says Friedgut.
“We built cowsheds and began again,” she continues. “We accepted Holocaust refugees and religious families, including some from Neveh Ya’acov, which was abandoned in the War of Independence.
The moshav began to grow. There were then 50 to 60 families. The older ones had gone through malaria, TB and years of hard physical work in Menahemya.”
The community continued to expand.
Eventually the residents donated land to build the Bnei Akiva Nehalim yeshiva.
New, younger families moved in, buying property that the founders left. Today, most of the approximately 1,200 residents work outside the moshav, although a number of manufacturers operate on the grounds. Among them are two dairies; the innovative Hishtil plant nursery; Sukkot Nehalim; a factory making agricultural machinery, an irrigation manufacturer and a pita bakery.
Traditional farming does still go on; at the time of this writing, Nehalim was farming wheat and oranges. One family sells organic avocados. A small apiary offers natural honey. Some residents work as farmers while holding down outside jobs such as teaching.
The moshav’s community services include a modern clinic, a well-baby clinic, volunteer lending societies, environment- oriented events such as tree-planting on Tu Bishvat, and other events focused on ecology. Children are served with nurseries, kindergartens, a primary school and a yeshiva high school. Another school offers studies in science and technology. Afternoon Torah and cultural classes are available for children, and adults enjoy evening and Shabbat lectures.
It’s a friendly and tight-knit community.
Although the rural atmosphere and schools draw young families, there’s room and goodwill for older couples too. Metro talked to Prof. Eliezer Horowitz, 85, a physicist and professor at Tel Aviv University, and his wife, Ruth, 83.
“Our kids said we were too old to move to a moshav,” says Prof. Horowitz. “We were already in our 70s.”
Ruth chimes in : “They were worried we’d never fit in, wouldn’t make friends.”
Prof. Horowitz continues: “But Ruth wanted a garden, and we both liked this feeling of living in the country.”
Shortly after they moved in, their daughter in the United States had surgery, and Ruth flew there to visit.
“I thought I’d be alone all the time,” Prof. Horowitz says. “Was I mistaken! Every day, someone would come by to see how I was, and on Shabbat I had more invitations than I could accept. I’m very comfortable in the shul – in fact I lead the prayers most days. Ruth has friends among the ladies and we’re as busy as we want to be with community matters.”
Adds Ruth: “You can hardly walk down the road, but someone will hail you and invite you in for coffee.”

FRIEDGUT MAINTAINS a small museum on her property, a memorial to her parents and the moshav’s early days.
Outside are old harrows and plows, remnants of her farm childhood. She knows exactly how each ancient instrument was handled, and to what purpose.
In front of a plastic outdoor shack there’s a display of ancient buckets and basins, a ridged metal washboard, a pair of balancing scales and other artifacts from farm life as it was 50 years ago.
Friedgut unlocks the door.
You first notice a mannequin dressed in an old-style dress and blue checked apron, casually seated at a little table where a clay water jug and tin coffee cup vie for room with a kerosene lamp.
Above hangs a shelf bearing simple Shabbat candlesticks and an old-fashioned radio. Another mannequin dressed in masculine work clothes leans against a beat-up wooden closet, obviously taking a break after a long day in the fields.
Under the bed, a small chamber pot peeks out. A table set against the wall bears a display of everyday objects that Friedgut’s parents used, from sickles to a metal cup that measures out a liter (for milk) and clothes irons whose lids open to admit hot coals.
She takes one of the sickles outside and demonstrates how to cut wheat on a patch of wild grass. As a child, she learned how to work in almost every field. Today, she gives Torah classes for women in her elegant, spacious home – on the same land.
“My grandchildren are already the fourth generation in Nehalim,” she says with satisfaction. “My parent’s dream has been fulfilled, of Torah v’avoda (religious observance and labor) in Israel. We hope that our children and grandchildren will stay here and continue the work.” 
Adina Friedgut takes families and school groups on a tour of the farm implements and the museum for a small fee. You can reach her at (03) 932-8657. Learn more at: