The 'ideological Taj Mahal' where the Kibbutz Movement began
In two weeks a national ceremony will be held to mark the centennial of the Kibbutz Movement, during which the site of Umm Juni, the birthplace of the movement, will be dedicated.
The last of the roof tiles have been put in place up on the reconstructed wooden building, the original of which had been one of the icons of Jewish pioneering in Palestine. After laboring in the scorching Jordan Valley sun, the team from the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites sat in the shade of a palm tree and compared their handiwork to a faded black and white picture of the original building.
In the photo, taken by Avraham Susskin, the members of the "Hadera commune" can be seen - on the steps, the roof and next to the wooden building they had built at Umm Juni. This was the very place where the idea of the kibbutz began, and this picture is the most salient visual symbol of those beginnings - Deganya. In two weeks a national ceremony will be held to mark the centennial of the Kibbutz Movement, during which the site of Umm Juni, the birthplace of the movement, will be dedicated.
The 3,000 dunams (750 acres ) east of the Jordan River's outlet from the Kinneret had been purchased by the Jewish National Fund and had been part of the holdings of a farm known as Chatzer Kinneret (Kinneret Courtyard ), west of the river.
Three farmers were the first to plow the land, in 1909. In those days there was no bridge over the river, and there was much work to be done. So the farmers stayed at Umm Juni all week and went back to Chatzer Kinneret only on weekends.
It was there the idea was struck to lease the land to a group of laborers. But in 1909, the farmers went on strike against the representatives of Baron Rothschild, who managed the farm, and the idea to transfer the land was almost shelved.
Eventually, though the land was given seven of the Galilee's best farmers, who worked it successfully for a year. After that, it was given to the Hadera Commune.
In 1912 the first permanent dwellings were built in what was to become Deganya - the first kibbutz.
"This place is as important as it has been neglected," said Omri Shalmon, deputy director general of the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, of the many years during which Umm Juni was all but forgotten.
"Umm Juni is a story of people, not of architecture," he said. "This is a modest structure where something huge began. It is not an impressive building, not the Taj Mahal. It's an ideological Taj Mahal."
The Deganya A kibbutz, the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, the JNF and the Jordan Valley Regional Council all got together to give the site the respect it deserves.
"For years at Deganya A we dreamed of the day when the place would become a heritage site," said Shai Shoshani, secretary of Deganya A.
"We asked ourselves how we can bring visitors to this bald hill and create an experience for them," Shalmon said.
They eventually decided that the wooden building in which the pioneer farmers lived and worked would be the centerpiece of the project.
The problem was that no trace of the original building had survived. So architect Roni Palmoni of Deganya began to research the subject, and with the help of a few photos, reconstruction began, remaining as true as possible to the original structure.
When the site is dedicated in two weeks, the scene in the historic photo will be recreated. Among those playing the role of pioneers will be President Shimon Peres. To his right will stand Yossi Vardi, chairman of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, whose grandfather, Yosef Bussel, was a member of
the original Hadera Commune that founded Deganya.
"In this place, the young people who dreamed up the idea of the kibbutz never imagined how significant their modest act would be," Vardi said.