Inside the Forest That Gave Rise to Zionism in 1907

Herzl House and Hulda Forest in central Israel are important milestones in Israeli history. Unfortunately visitors are not allowed here

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The road to Herzl House, at the Hulda Forest.
The road to Herzl House, at the Hulda Forest.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad
Moshe Gilad

Before anything else, you must see the sunflowers. They’re not here for long and will disappear soon, but they’re wonderful right now. A giant field of them are in bloom at Tal Shahar, between Gedera and Latrun in central Israel.

From here, a five-minute drive brings you to Herzl House and Hulda Forest, where you will find two important milestones in Israeli history. These were the ideas, the sacrifices, the dreams. You can walk among them (some 2 kilometers) or drive. Then you can sit and ponder what’s left at the end of 100 years of hard work.

A green-marked path circles the forest. The main structure is Herzl House, built in 1909 – five years after the visionary Theodor Herzl’s death, and two years after the creation of the forest to commemorate his legacy. The pretty two-story stone building, designed by architect Joseph Barsky (who also designed the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium in Tel Aviv) stands in the center of a farm created to plant olive, almond, pine, acacia, cypress and carob trees. It is here that the Jewish National Fund forestation project began.

The Herzl House, built in 1909 – five years after the visionary Theodor Herzl’s death.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

This week, as in previous visits, Herzl House stood closed and locked. It’s hard to understand how such a pretty site isn’t regularly open to the public. The local Arabs attacked Hulda Farm in the 1929 riots in British Mandatory Palestine. Ephraim Chizik (aka Czyak) fell while defending the site. His sister Sarah had been killed nine years earlier at Tel Hai.

A train is seen through the sunflowers fields of the Hulda Forest.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

North of Herzl House, on Chizik’s grave, stands a stone monument created in 1937 by sculptor Batia Lishansky. Stretching from the monument is a pretty boulevard of tall palm trees. It is a kilometer long and at the end of it is Mitzpeh Tal, established in 2002 in memory of Tal Tzemach, a member of Kibbutz Hulda who was killed that same year while serving in the army. The place, which looks pretty from the outside, is closed to visitors due to the amounts of trash left behind.

North of Herzl House, on Chizik’s grave, stands a stone monument created in 1937 by sculptor Batia Lishansky.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

The Arab village of Hulda sat on a nearby hilltop. It was conquered and completely destroyed in April 1948 ahead of the War of Independence. Kibbutz Mishmar David was founded half a kilometer west, on the village’s lands.

The road to Herzl House seen from the air.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

At the edge of the olive grove stands a round pool of water, from which water flowed through the Shiloah line – a pipeline laid during the 1948 war along the Burma Road to supply water for Jerusalem, after the main pipeline to the city was cut off. The path surrounding the forest leads to a deep well. The sign may declare it to be 180 meters (590 feet) deep, which sounds intriguing, but the well is completely filled with debris.

At the edge of the olive grove stands a round pool of water, from which water flowed through the Shiloah line.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

So what do we have after a hundred years? Wonderful sunflowers, the closed Herzl House, an inspiring statue, an erased village, a pleasant picnic site, the shuttered Mitzpeh Tal and a clogged well.

Directions: Waze – “Hulda Forest.” No entry fee or prior arrangement required. Site is accessible. Cleanliness score is medium. Bus 434 from Jerusalem to Rehovot stops at Mishmar David.

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