Watt did you say?

The IEC illuminates Zionist history.

Hidden away in a wooded area between the coastal highway, the Nahal Hadera river and Route 65 lies a gem of Zionist history recently restored by the Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) and now open to the public. The site is known as Heftzibah. These days, a new complex at the entrance serves as the in-house training center for some 20,000 IEC personnel from all over the country. In the late 1890s, the Ukrainian-born Zionist early pioneer Yehoshua Hankin bought an enormous tract of land that included an ancient khan (inn) in the heart of the Hadera swamps. Most of the land was parceled up and sold to Jewish farmers, but Hankin kept one patch of mostly sand dunes between the swamp and sea close to the southern bank of Nahal Hadera. Together with his brother, Hankin decided to see whether they could successfully grow something on the sandy land and promptly planted orange groves. Their gamble paid off and the trees bore fruit, thus rewarding their belief in the land - and, of course, a great deal of hard labor. Eventually the whole Sharon plain was covered in citrus groves. Alas, the air is no longer filled with the heavy scent of citrus blossom, as most of the orchards have been replaced by residential neighborhoods, shopping malls and industrial complexes. Agronomist Aharon Eisenberg and Hankin founded the Agudat Neta'im (The Planters' Organization) whose bonds were sold to Zionists in Eastern Europe. As the funds grew, so did the Heftzibah farm managed by Hankin's brother. Part of the Heftzibah property was slightly hilly, and it was here that Hankin's wife, Olga, chose as the site for the family abode to be constructed. The hill afforded a glorious view across the sandy coastal strip and shimmering waters of the Mediterranean. At a later stage, a new neighborhood was built farther south, named Givat Olga. Olga's choice of place name was inspired by Isaiah's prophecy: "Nevermore shall you be called desolate but you shall be called Heftzibah (I delight in her)." A group of young pioneers learning to tame the swamps with an eye to earning their living from agriculture also found a home on the Hankin homestead. The group eventually became the founders of Kibbutz Heftzibah in the Jezreel Valley. One thing that comes through when visiting the Heftzibah site these days is the professionalism of those involved in its restoration - whether the main buildings, farmers' cottages, storerooms or the pump house. The enormous engines used to pump water up the banks of Nahal Hadera to irrigate the orchards are in spanking condition - these days they can be switched on by a mere flick of a finger. Some 30 years ago, the IEC built a coal-fueled power station on the dunes where the heavily polluted Nahal Hadera flowed into the sea. The company also purchased the Hankin estate on the other side of the coastal road and instigated the renovation work and building of the new educational center. A dedicated band of mechanics and history buffs from Kibbutz Ein Shemer are responsible for getting the pioneer-era pump engines back in order. The efforts of Ran Hedvati and his brigade of action men are quite awesome, and the historical photographs and reading material on the pump house wall make fascinating reading. Hedvati is well known for having a pair of greasy hands with a golden touch when it comes to restoring dilapidated machinery to former glory, whether for pumping water, turning soil, threshing wheat or mixing vats of dough. One of the most-visited of kibbutz pioneers museums is that of Hedvati's kibbutz, Ein Shemer, a short drive from the IEC Hadera site. Thanks to him, every piece of machinery is in tip-top working order like the water pumps at the Hankin hideaway. The Ein Shemer courtyard attracts hundreds of schoolchildren every year, who make dough and bake bread as did the Zionist pioneers of the beginning of the previous century, and learn of their struggle to build a cooperative based on agriculture, while battling debilitating sicknesses lurking in the swampy region and keeping Arab marauders at bay. The IEC's Heftzibah compound visitors' center offers guided tours of the complex that kick off with a film filling in the historical background and a meander down a street flanked by workers' cottages, one of which is now a museum of artifacts from the Hankin homestead period. Plans are afoot to turn the other renovated cottages into an arts and crafts center. The site covers a large area with views over the busy coastal highway, in the shadow of the three gigantic chimney stacks of the Hadera power station. One wide pathway in an open area was laid by Southern Lebanese Army soldiers who crossed into Israel during the IDF's withdrawal from their country. However, the brick pathway is somewhat humpy and disappears several times. The Ein Shemer Courtyard museum and recently opened IEC Heftzibah site preserve a patch of Israel's swampy history. If visiting Heftzibah is not electrifying enough for one day, it is possible to continue on to the Orot Rabin visitors' center and hear some tall stories about those huge chimney stacks that can be seen for miles along the coastline and from deep inside the West Bank.