Daniel Harpaz, at more than 80 the oldest member of Kibbutz Yizrael, is the engine behind the renovation of a small wooden hut that served as the heart of the kibbutz in its first decade and a half of existence.
The unprepossessing building located in the center of the kibbutz, just 200 square meters large, was built in 1950, two years after the kibbutz was founded. It served as the dining hall for 15 years, and is now one of the only surviving kibbutz dining halls from the period, Harpaz said.
"This building had a central place in the life of the kibbutz," said Harpaz. "You have to understand that the dining room in every kibbutz was the center of life. In addition to eating there, everything else also took place there - holidays were celebrated there, kibbutz meetings and cultural events were held there and so on. The less food we had, the richer the activities that were held there. Beyond the local importance, this is one of the only [kibbutz] dining halls that were set up at the beginning of the state and that have succeeded in surviving to this day."
Omri Shalmon, the director general of the Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites, also said the building is important for the country at large.
"This is a building that symbolizes the beginning of the kibbutz," said Shalmon. "Its walls saw and heard many things at the start of the road."
The refurbished building will now serve as a site for cultural enrichment programs, workshops and cultural events, and will also house some of the kibbutz's historical artifacts.
And the former dining hall may be leading the preservation pack.
The preservation council, in cooperation with the Moreshet program run by the Prime Minister's Office, is drawing up a plan to save kibbutz buildings it deems important, said Shalmon.
"Not every building from the inception of every kibbutz needs to be preserved," he said. "Together with the kibbutz, we have to examine every case separately and see whether the building can get a new designation. I believe that the process whereby the children are going back to live on the kibbutzim and new members are coming in will lead to renovations of the dining rooms and other public buildings that have been neglected."
Shalmon said the Kibbutz Yizrael hut was representative of the kibbutz buildings of the era.
"The hut was simple because the kibbutz was poor," he said. "The concept was that first and foremost one invests in public buildings and in educational facilities for the children, and only after that did they think of housing and the needs of the adult members."
In Kibbutz Yizrael, the preservation group's assistance and an infusion of NIS 500,000 from the kibbutz enabled the floor of the hut to be reinforced, and new walls, electricity and air conditioning were installed - even as an effort was made to preserve the building in its original form.
"The hut will return to its original designation as a central place for social gatherings," said Harpaz.
But it nearly didn't get its second chance at life.
After a new dining hall was built in 1965, the simple hut went through several incarnations - electronics plant, office, general store, fertilizer storeroom - before it was abandoned and began to fall apart.
Then it took on yet another identity: a structure that kibbutz members wanted to demolish.
Harpaz began lobbying for the site's preservation 13 years ago, and was almost single-handedly responsible for the success.
"Harpaz, despite his age, did a large part of the work alone," a kibbutz member said. "I wish everyone had the energy and vitality that he has."
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