Sweet and bitter memories

Binyamina is replete with local color, local wines, and tributes to local heroes.

binyamin art 88 (photo credit: )
binyamin art 88
(photo credit: )
Surrounded by citrus groves and vineyards, Binyamina is a quiet town of red-roofed bungalows tucked comfortably beneath tall trees and aromatic bushes. British soldiers serving on bases in the area planted many of the majestic eucalyptuses during the Mandate period. Trees planted generations ago for the purpose of protective cover and camouflage on either side of the main avenue leading toward Zichron Yaacov make the town's Pioneer's Way one of the most attractive roads in the region. In the heart of the country, Binyamina is located eight kilometers from the old Roman city of Caesarea and named after Baron Edmond de Rothschild, who was also known as Benjamin or Binyamin. The area around Binyamina offers a taste of the bittersweet history of both ancient and modern times, which is often forgotten. The Carmel mountain range looms on one side of Binyamina, and the Amir range and hills of Samaria are visible in the opposite direction. Renowned for its wine production, the Zichron Yaacov winery has flourished in recent years as the wine production industry took off among its neighbors in the Menashe valley below. Sophisticated family-owned wineries have been established in Binyamina, and their labels can be found on the shelves among the country's best wines. The new Binyamina train station and frequent services to Tel Aviv and Haifa has put the village - now a small town - on the commuters' map. Plots of land to build a home on are much sought after by Israelis looking to flee the cities for a place in the country, yet not too far from Tel Aviv. "Binyamina offers yuppies the opportunity to be countrified city slickers," says a local kiosk owner. "Many local people do not care for the rate of development in recent years. They preferred it when we were a sleepy backwater and poor cousin to Zichron," he adds. Half a mile to the north of Binyamina, on a range of low hills, stand the Shuni fortress (Etzel museum) and Jabotinsky Park. This site has been developed industriously over recent years, and a paved promenade runs alongside the main road. The promenade features two-meter high viewing platforms, where you can climb a ladder to a wooden perch that offers spectacular views of the area. Along the promenade, amusing and attractive metal figures depict the early settlers of the region. A compact semicircular Turkish fortress nestles among the lush lawns of Jabotinsky Park. From the ramparts, one looks down on what was once a Roman theater edged with Byzantine olive presses. The Shuni fortress was once Meyamas, a Roman spa with fresh water arriving via an aqueduct, remnants of which dot the area as far as Caesarea. Many chapters later in our history books, the site was occupied by Jews of Palestine having turned the fortress into the chief military training camp of the anti-British Etzel militia. Pretending to be yet another agricultural community in Palestine to pull wool over the prying eyes of British soldiers, it was at Shuni that the Irgun - under the leadership of Menachem Begin - planned their activities. These included attacks on British police stations and ammunition trains. It was at Shuni that plans were laid for the attack on the British headquarters in Jerusalem's King David Hotel and the l947 break-in to liberate 41 Jews held by the British in an Acre prison. The gravestones of nine Jews hanged by the British and the first Etzel chief, David Raziel, form a memorial to the heroic fighters.