The heroes of Hadera

A trip through the city's historical buildings fills you with appreciation for the sacrifices of its founders.

hadera beit feinberg 248 88 (photo credit: )
hadera beit feinberg 248 88
(photo credit: )
Once upon a time, the Ottomans ruled the Holy Land. Then the world entered an all-out war, and around 1917, the Ottomans lost control over what was to become Israel. But even though the Ottomans were no longer in the country, they left their imprint. One such imprint served the early Zionists well. In the mid-1800s, the Ottomans erected a large sandstone building that served a farmstead in what became Hadera. In 1891, a group of Zionist organizations from Eastern Europe bought that building and the surrounding lands. Hadera's first settlers lived in that sandstone building for six years before they were able to build permanent homes in the new city. It was shaped in a U, surrounding a large courtyard. Malaria was rampant, and the place became crowded. Once the settlers were able to move out, the khan (caravansary) served the public as an olive press, a hotel, a pharmacy and for storage. Yemenite olim moved in around 1912 until a neighborhood was built for them, and from 1925 to 1948, the British used it as a mounted police station. In the mid-1930s, the Jews of Hadera built their central synagogue in the inner courtyard of the caravansary. In addition to serving its traditional purpose, the residents hoped it could be used as a lookout against Arab attacks, since it was a tall building and was located on the highest part of the city. What wasn't wrecked in the construction was used as a beit midrash. In 1982, the Khan Museum of Hadera took over what remained of the original structures on what is designated as a national site. There are 11 rooms left from the original 26, and they house a museum that narrates the history of Hadera, along with the city's archives. Visitors to the museum can take a guided tour or grab a map and wander around. There is also a short introductory film. The walls between the caravansary's rooms have been broken down and one area links to the next. Displays of the city's history, along with artifacts and knickknacks from various periods, tell the story of Hadera and its inhabitants, from the draining of the swamps to nearly the present. One display offers a recreated bedroom with mannequins and a taped dialogue between them that typifies the debates early settlers often faced on whether to stay in the malaria-stricken town or move on. Another shows people working in the granary during the day and the couples who would sneak out there at night to get some alone time in the piles of hay. A "typical" Hadera street from '50s imitates a photo shop, a haberdashery display window and a post office. The museum also offers a peek into the transit camps and tin shacks that new olim crowded into upon arrival. In the courtyard, old farming and olive pressing equipment is displayed among the gardens and benches. Just down the road from the Khan Museum is a newly opened historic site, Beit Feinberg. The house was built in stages beginning in 1895 by Fannie and Yisrael "Lulik" Feinberg, who were among the founders of Hadera (and Rishon Lezion, Tel Aviv and Gedera). Over the years, the house fell to disrepair. But after painstaking restoration of everything from the original tiles and wood-burning oven to the paintings on the walls, it is now open to the public for tours and communal events. Beyond the Feinbergs' importance in Hadera's history, the family's son, Avshalom, became famous as a member of the Nili movement, killed in action. Born in 1889 in Gedera and raised in Hadera, Avshalom spent five years studying in Paris. Upon his return in 1909, he began to speak out against the country's Ottoman rulers. He became friends with Aaron Aaronsohn at work and joined him in establishing the underground Nili movement. During a 1916 intelligence-gathering mission on behalf of the British in Egypt, Avshalom was captured. He was able to get himself released, and he headed to Egypt via Rafah to renew his contacts in the spy world. In 1917, he and Yosef Lishansky were attacked by Beduin. While Lishansky made it out alive, Avshalom did not. His burial place remained unknown until 1967, when his body was found under a palm tree that had grown out of the dates he had in his pocket when he was killed. He was interred at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem in November 1967. The Feinberg family house has four large bedrooms and a few smaller ones; there is also a large dining room - now used to show films and to host cultural programs; the kitchen is entirely renovated now, except for the large red oven left over from the original inhabitants. There are plans to open a little cafe on Beit Feinberg's patio soon. Part of the original structure was destroyed in the pogroms of 1921, including the room Avshalom used as a private retreat. But what's left is rather impressive, especially considering the state of Hadera when it was built. The elaborate murals have been restored based on what was still visible on the walls and corroborations from witnesses who remembered the original house. As you pass through the rooms and look at the displays, note Avshalom's impeccable handwriting. It, like everything in Beit Feinberg, is written in Hebrew, so if your skills are a little rusty, make sure to arrange for an English tour.