I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel
And will rebuild them as they were at first.
Jeremiah 33:7 As a tour guide, I love taking my tourists to see American and German colonies at Tel Aviv – beautiful American and European houses of the XIX Century in the middle of the bustling modern Tel Aviv.
We also often travel to a former German village of Wilhelma, to enjoy a great meal with a glass of a perfect local wine at the old German farm house.
On a way to the Tiberias Lake it is worthwhile to make a short detour to visit Ilaniya, also known by its old name Sejera – a place where Russian Old Orthodox families, collectively converted to Judaism, built the first prospering agricultural colony at Galilee. Who have been and all these people who were the first to settle the Holy Land?
An American Story
Pastor George Adams from the State of Maine took this idea even far further. He and his 157 followers piled their wooden homes on a board of “Nellie Chapin” three-mast ship and undertook a long journey to Palestine. Here, in September 1866, at the suburbs of Jaffa, they reassembled their houses to start a new and exemplary life of the Holy Land Redeemers. It will take almost twenty years, until the first Jewish Zionist settlers will come to Palestine to start building their villages here.
The First American House
But as it turned out, the zeal alone was not enough. The work was too hard for the farmers from cool and fertile Maine. Malaria, the raids of Bedouins and fast deteriorating leadership of George Adams, contributed to the complete collapse of the moral and the very wish to stay at this unfriendly land. Just after two years, the leftovers of the American settlers left their homes behind on the way back to the US. The houses were sold to the new owners, the Germans. And today the houses built in the USA in mid XIX Century still stand as a reminder of this fascinating story, in the middle of the modern Tel Aviv.
American Colony in Tel Aviv
The Germans are coming
In 1868, two Germans, Pastor Hoffman and a businessman Hardegg led their followers to build a colony at the slopes of Mount Carmel in Haifa. Few years before, yet in Germany, they organized a religious movement calling for the resettlement of the Holy Land. They called it “the Templers”, as they believed that each person, if he is a believer, is a real Temple of Lord. While Hardegg further stayed in Haifa, Christoph Hoffmann left the first colony behind and continued building German villages countrywide.
The Germans were highly successful farmers and not less successful entrepreneurs. And they knew their Bible by heart. “The country flowing milk and honey” declared the Bible, and so they brought milking cows and domesticated beers into the country which was a wilderness at that time, with a total population in a range of only 200 thousand people.
German Liqueur Factory at Sarona Tel Aviv
The Templers proceeded with draining the malaria swamps and planted the Orange trees. The famous Israeli brand of “Jaffa Oranges” was cultivated by the German settlers who also gave this tasty orange its present name. They also were the first to plant the vineyards and to produce the famous “Holy Land Wines” which they successfully exported to Europe.
They also built and operated first in the Middle East steam-powered oil presses and flour mills. They opened the European-style first hotels and started the house-building industry, manufacturing everything from the bricks to metal constructions.
When the first Jewish settlers started coming to Palestine in mass, they met here the Templers, who did everything to help them surviving in this unfriendly land. Step by step, the Jews picked up the knowledge and the skills of the German settlers and started building their own prospering villages and towns all over the Holy Land.
The story of German success in Palestine had a very sad end. During the WWII, when many settlers of the second and third generations turned hostile towards the British rule in the country, and many even became outward Nazis, the British crushed the settlers and turned the German colonies into the Ghettos and concentration camps. They went even further, and by the end of the war, deported all the Germans from the country, leaving their colonies devastated and full of ghosts of the past happiness and prosperity.
But the young Israeli state has never forgotten the help and assistance generously given by the Templers to the Jewish pioneers. In 1955 Israel paid a compensation for all the German property confiscated by the British. All the Templers colonies were thoroughly restored, and there is even a name pluck at each house, commemorating the memory of their previous owners!
German Church at Alonei Aba
The Old Russian Orthodox' turn Jewish
Just a bit later in XIX Century, a strange wave of events evolved in the Tsarist Russia. Dozens of the Russian Farmers families, followers of an Old Russian Orthodox Church, turned to Judaism. Not only that this was forbidden in Russia, it actually meant that those people would become the outcasts of the lowest and actually criminal value. But nothing could stop them. One after another they sailed to Jaffa, converted to Judaism and proceeded building the first agricultural farms and settlements at the fertile North of the country.
Here they joined the first and unskilled Jewish agricultural workers in their villages and also started building their own farms, which became exemplary for their unprecedented success. The Russians were hard working and tremendously skilled. No hardship would stop their newly acquired Jewish Zionist zeal.
One of those settlements was Sejera, were the Russian farmers managed to apply their vast agricultural knowledge and to teach their Jewish neighbors and young people coming from everywhere to learn from the Russians how to work the land.
It was Sejera, were young David Grin (in the future – Ben Gurion) came in 1908 to take his first lessons in agriculture from the Russians. But moreover, these Russians fast became a hard core of the Jewish pioneers, joining and often leading all their activities, and later made a great contribution in building a Jewish State.
The Americans, the Germans, the Russians – all those people spent huge efforts to fertilize this land with their sweet and blood, to help turning it into what it is today – a prospering State of Israel. And Israel carefully preserves the memory of those people, their names and their homes, to pass it to the future generations with love and thankfulness.
All these places are great to visit. Join as at the www.wiz.holiday to see them with your own eyes