Hill of heroes

There is many a good reason to pay a visit - and your respects - to Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley.

jib.awards.298.vote (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
One of the most reproduced aerial photographs taken in Israel is that of the agricultural community of Nahalal in the Jezreel Valley. The photograph depicts the Richard Kauffmann-designed pattern for moshavim established before l948, based on concentric circles. The center of the community is where the public buildings such as schools, administrative and cultural offices and shops could be found, and the farmers' homes with outhouses behind. The outer circle, consisting of fields and other farmland, surrounded the center and family homes - all very distinct from the air. It would be rare indeed to find a calendar or photography book of Israel from the Sixties or Seventies that did not include that particular photograph. On a hill overlooking the red-roofed homes, three-story high grain silo, fields and fishponds lies the cemetery of this community, one of the most famous in the Jezreel Valley. It is here that a present-day pioneer of space and Israeli hero was laid to rest among the agricultural pioneers of Nahalal, who battled malaria and other diseases while turning the ground into one of the country's most fertile areas. Col. Ilan Ramon, the Israeli astronaut killed in the Columbia shuttle disaster in February 2003, would have enjoyed a similar aerial view of Nahalal on many occasions when taking off and landing at the nearby Ramat David airfield where he was stationed during his aviation career. The airfield is named after Welsh statesman and former British prime minister, David Lloyd George, as is the nearby kibbutz of Ramat David. A famous son of the moshav is also buried in the cemetery on the hill. Although he left Nahalal to follow his military career, Gen. Moshe Dayan requested to be buried in the place of his birth "as all others," and not in a military cemetery or among the nation's leaders buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Because Dayan was buried as requested in a non-military cemetery, his grave is not tended by the IDF. Of the some 100 families living nowadays at Nahalal, only 30 families continue to make their livelihood from farming in some form. A far cry from the days when Dayan was a youth riding his horse through the moshav's fields and fishponds. Nahalal was founded in l921 by veteran Second Aliya pioneers, a few of whom had been founders of the first kibbutz Degania near Lake Kinneret. Founded as a workers' settlement (as opposed to a collective kibbutz), the dedicated Zionists drained the malaria-infested swamps that had beaten earlier attempts at settlement. In l925, Lord James Arthur Balfour visited Nahalal with his niece, Blanche Dugdale. She worked in the political department of the Jewish Agency's London offices, sitting beside Chaim Weizman. Photographs of their and other famous personalities' visits to the first moshav, as well as a host of memorabilia including agricultural and musical instruments used by the pioneers, can be viewed in a restaurant-cum-museum belonging to one of the families, Atzilit and Ofer Aviran. Atzilit's grandparents were among the settlement's founding members. A few years ago, the couple discovered a slick under a small lean-to in the farm courtyard. A slick is a small hiding place for weapons, stashed there away from the prying eyes of British Mandate police and used during the War of Independence. Nahalal is also famous for the Girls' Agricultural Training Farm, established by WIZO in l929. The school became a co-educational farming school of the Youth Aliya movement in the l940s and today caters to a large number of high school students, many are them from the former Soviet Union who have come to Israel without their parents under the Jewish Agency's Na'aleh program. In biblical times, Nahalal was a town in the territory of the tribe of Zebulun, the exact site of which is still under dispute. It was Ilan Ramon's widow and mother of his four children, Rona, who requested that her astronaut husband be buried at Nahalal. He rests in peace among some of the country's greatest as Israel Air Force planes encircle the valley and overfly the cemetery when taking off and landing daily at the airbase in the green and fertile valley below. Many a young pilot who never met Col. Ramon will in future be dipping their wings as they fly over Nahalal as a mark of respect to their fellow airman who achieved what many can but only dream of.