Tag Archives: JNF

Parc Adoulam Not Yet Open

Shulie Mishkin next to Roman milestone at Parc Adulam
Shulie Mishkin next to Roman milestone at Parc Adulam

We were on a tour related to the Bar Kochba revolt. On Route 38, southwest of Jerusalem, Shulie Mishkin asked the bus driver to stop by the side of the road. She wanted us to see three Roman milestones. Route 38 follows the route of an important two thousand year old commercial Roman road. She stressed the milestones were not in their original locations; they had been put in this spot so tourists would be able to find them easily.

 However, we didn’t see milestones. All we saw were two small skinny saplings and three holes in the ground. The milestones had been dug up since the last rainstorm.

Milestones are very heavy, being about three to five feet high and two feet across. Why would anyone go to the trouble of digging up three of them?

Someone with sharper eyes than mine pointed to a park across the road. ”Doesn’t it look like there are stones over there?” she asked.

Shulie agreed; it would be worth checking what was across the road. . She had the bus driver take us up the road and then talked some workers into opening a gate to let the bus enter..

Which is how our group from Pardes ended up visiting the new archeological park near Beit Shemesh—a park so new, it has not opened yet.

Parc du France Adoulam stretches for several kilometers, and the new archeological park is a small part of it. The three Roman milestones were just moved here two weeks ago, the man in charge explained. Now they stand proudly on the edge of the parking lot.

The park was still in the construction stage. Unconnected pipes lay on the ground, signs leaned against the buildings, construction trucks were parked in random places. Yet much of it is completed. Many artifacts are arranged in a display area, with explanatory signs in the standard three languages. Several stacks of white plastic chairs stood in the open pavilion on the other side of the parking lot. And a dedicatory grove had been planted, with stone monoliths among the young trees.

The display area behind the milestones attracted my attention. Some stone artifacts found in the area were installed to show how they had been used two thousand years ago. A long wooden beam ran through a heavy stone wheel which sat in a round stone base. In early winter, olives would

A beit bad--ancient olive press--that has been reconstructed from the original stones at Parc Adoulam in Israel
A beit bad–ancient olive press–that has been reconstructed from the original stones at Parc Adoulam in Israel

have been poured onto the base stone to be crushed for oil. As Mort Rosenblum explains in his book Olives, most of the oil is in the seeds of the olives, not in the fruits. That is why such heavy stones are used to crush them. The mashed olives would then be spread on woven mats and taken to the beit bad, the press which would squeeze all the oil out of the mash, just as it is at small presses today. I recognized the olive press at once. The long heavy beam on its fulcrum could have been attached that way only in order to exert heavy pressure on the crushed olives. As part of the reconstruction, the park management had even stacked some mats in the press.

As I walked around to snap a picture of it, I saw a different style olive press. This second one used a large wooden screw to press the oil out of the crushed olives.

The gat--ancient wine press--which was discovered built into the ground at the KKL/JNF Parc Adoulam
The gat–ancient wine press–which was discovered built into the ground at the KKL/JNF Parc Adoulam

A grape press is different. Grapes are so tender when ripe, the juice runs out if you simply put a few clusters of them in a pile. The four foot square stone gat or wine press, just beyond the olive presses, clearly reflects the difference between grapes and olives. Its sides are a few inches high, and in two places carved channels would have allowed the grape juice to run out of the pressing area into the deep stone pits on one end.

Shulie explained the role of milestones in the Roman Empire. But first she apologized to us for not knowing where the stones were. They had been moved from next to the road to the park only two weeks ago. Indeed, one of the milestones had several small pieces of wood holding it in place on its base as the cement finished drying.

Roads held the Roman Empire together, Shulie explained. The Romans built good roads wherever they went, roads being necessary for communication as well as for travel and commerce. With good roads, they could quickly move troops wherever they needed them. A good network of roads also requires signs to make sure travelers know exactly where they are and how far they have yet to travel.

Thus, milestones.

The stones are inscribed with the distance a specific spot in to the nearest city, as measured in Roman mil. A mil was 1,000 standard paces, 0.92 of today’s miles. This part of the inscription was in Greek, the lingua franca of the time. To make sure everyone who passed by understands who was responsible for the road, the name of the Caesar was inscribed in Latin. In addition to his name, the Caesar might be described in terms of one of his major accomplishments. The inscription on the milestone we saw at Parc Adoulam described the Caesar as “conqueror of the Arabs.”

After admiring the milestones we wandered around the park to see what else was there. Several picnic tables stood in a grove of trees closer to the entrance. It would be a lovely place to bring the family for an outing, to eat lunch in a shady place and learn about the production of wine and olive oil.

Several of us walked in the other direction, toward a plaza, with what looked like a fountain in the middle. As we approached, we saw it is not a fountain but a large colorful abstract painting on a round platform, elevated about two feet. In three spots, blue paint extended from the multi-colored central design to the edge. The shape of the central design looked vaguely familiar. And then it hit me. “It’s a map of France!” I said.

But I couldn’t figure out its orientation.

 “That’s north,” said a young man in our group, orienting us. pointing at one side of the map. And pointing to an island on the other side, he added, “and that’s Corsica.”

Of course. Parc du France, map of France.

The stone monoliths in the grove ringed the map, giving it a semblance to Stonehenge. There was a small hill in the middle, which blocked sight lines across the grove. I wondered if the hill had been built there to disrupt the likeness to Stonehenge and its accompanying aura of idol worship.

The monoliths held the dedication plaques. This is a Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (KKL, Jewish National Fund) park, and the KKL, like the Roman emperors, wants everyone to know who constructed it. The plaques were in only two languages: Hebrew and French. Although the monoliths were were all the same size, the size of the dedications varied, no doubt reflecting the size of donations.

I walked around, reading the inscriptions on the plaques. Although I did not recognize any of the names, I knew the feeling, the need to publicly recognize beloved parents and grandparents no longer among the living.

Plaque dedicated to the memory of French victims of terror
Plaque dedicated to the memory of French victims of terror

The plaque next to the path closest to the entry to the grove brought me up short. The language was stark. It was dedicated to “the Memory of THOSE WHO WERE MURDERED IN ACTS OF TERROR ON ROSH CHODESH KISLEV 5776 in PARIS.”

I stood there a moment reflecting. Other plaques had been dedicated to the memory of loved ones who died at the hands of the Nazis during the Shoah. But this plaque, memorializing people killed so recently had a sharper impact. It brought to mind the line in the Passover Hagadah, “In every generation, One rises up to destroy us.” The reminder seemed antithetical to the purpose of a lovely park, but in Israel, surrounded by countries that seek to destroy us, it is a fact we cannot forget.

On the Road to Jerusalem: Hulda

"Defense and Labor" memorial sculpture by Batya Lishansky at Hulda
“Defense and Labor” memorial sculpture by Batya Lishansky at Hulda

All tour guides study the same curriculum and take the same tests to get their license. They all understand and convey how the topography of the land influenced history. They all have a mastery of the history of the land that I envy. But each one also has a special interest or develops a specialty. It is these specialties that make them stand out from each other. Eitan Morell tells stories that make the past come alive. As he takes groups to different places he slowly builds his story of seemingly unrelated events until it all comes together. He makes a convoluted history seem like a straight line.

He called a recent tour “Tales from the Road.” All that those of us who signed up for the Orthodox Union (OU) sponsored tour knew was that we were going to be staying fairly close to Jerusalem. Most of us had been on one of Eitan’s tours before, and we knew it would be interesting.

Our first stop was Ya’ar Hulda, Hulda’s Forest, less than a half hour outside the city. It’s not too far from where Road One, the main highway from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, crosses Road 3, one of the main east-west roads in the country. We would also visit Mishmar David, Latrun, and the Har-El monument. All the names were familiar to me, but aside from visiting the Tank Corps museum and monument at Latrun, I had never been to any of them. They are so close together, they would be a nice day’s hike for a youth group learning about the rise of the state and the battle for Jerusalem. However, the OU tours cater to a distinctively older clientele, and we traveled from site to site by bus.

At Hulda, we entered a large walled courtyard. This, Eitan informed us, was once an agricultural school. Founded in 1908, on land bought from the Arab landowner, it was a place for Jews from Europe to learn agricultural methods before going out to settle the land. Started two years before the founding of the first kibbutz, Hulda served as a model for both kibbutzim and moshavim throughout the land.

World War I severely stressed the whole Middle East. Shipments of food and money to Israel stopped. A drought at the beginning of the war resulted in food shortages. The 1915 locust plague demolished all that year’s crops. People starved all over the country. Most of the people at Hulda left, but a few hardy pioneers remained.

We had driven through a forest to get there, which is not unusual in the environs of Jerusalem. Today the Jerusalem forest forms a broad ring around the city, but in the early 20th century, no forest existed anywhere in the country. Israel’s forests are man-made, every tree planted by hand on land bought by the Jewish National Fund (JNF-KKL) with money contributed by Jews all over the world. Scattered through those forests are trees I paid for as a child by collecting dimes from all the grown-ups I knew.

The JNF had planted its first forest of olive trees here, but because of the drought and other unsuitable conditions, most of those trees had died. Following the war, Hulda reestablished itself and by 1929 it was a thriving agricultural settlement. However, the dusty courtyard where we stood was at that time still surrounded by dusty hills.

Nothing happens in isolation. In Jerusalem, the ongoing dispute for power and influence between the Nashashibi and Husseini families was about to spill over and affect the rest of the country. At that time the Nashashibi family held political power—Rajib Nashashibi was mayor of Jerusalem. Haj Amin al Husseini was the mufti, the Muslim religious leader. He knew the way to gain power was to gather the people to him. The best way to do draw them together was to preach violence against the Jews, whose population had been steadily increasing. Husseini was a superb orator, and he knew how to use his skill. On Friday August 23, at services in Al Aksa mosque he promised that anyone who killed a Jew would go straight to paradise on his own death. He then continued, falsely claiming that the Jews planned to burn down Al Aksa, whipping the crowd into a frenzy. At the end of the service, the worshipers streamed out of the mosque, down from the Temple Mount, and out the Damascus Gate into the new city. They destroyed the neighborhoods of Nissim Bek and Eshel Avraham. As they approached the walls of Mea Shearim, Aaron Fishler pulled out his rifle and shot several times into the air. The unarmed mob dispersed.

The rioting spread from Jerusalem. Over the next few days, Arab mobs killed 67 Jews in Hevron, leaving mutilated corpses in looted houses. In Tsfat, the Arabs murdered 20 Jews, wounded 40, and looted and burned 200 houses. As a result of the rioting and looting, people fled from the Jewish neighborhoods of Jaffa, Haifa, Acco (Acre), Nablus, and Gaza, never to return.

The residents of Hulda, a small settlement surrounded by Arab villages, realized they were in danger and appealed to the Haganah for help. The Haganah sent twenty fighters, led by Efraim Chisick. Some of these men could stay only one day.

Beit Herzl, where defenders of Hulda took shelter from Arab attack in 1929. The trees would have been about waist high then, little more than bushes.
Beit Herzl, where defenders of Hulda took shelter from Arab attack in 1929. The trees would have been about waist high then, little more than bushes.

When the Arabs attacked on September 4, the people at Hulda quickly realized the wall around their courtyard would not hold for long. One by one they crawled across the courtyard to the stone house, which was protected by an additional wall. Efraim covered them and would be the last to go. With no one to cover his retreat, he was killed by the Arabs only a few yards from the house. The 13 remaining Haganah fighters and the 24 residents of Hulda continued to defend themselves through the afternoon into the night.

Somehow word of the attack was relayed to the British army, who came and dispersed the Arabs. The soldiers said they had been sent only to rescue people; they refused to take Efraim’s body with them. He was left lying on the ground between the courtyard and the empty house.

A week later, the British allowed Efraim’s brother and sister to go to Hulda for a short time. Without shovels or other tools, they dug a grave with their hands and buried him just outside the courtyard.

Two years later the Chisick family built a memorial at the site of Efraim’s grave. The sculptor, Batya Lishansky, wanted to carve it from one large block of stone, but the stone was too large to move, and had to be cut in half horizontally. Nonetheless, it is impressive—over 12 feet high, and about 5 feet wide. It is called “Defense and Labor,” and depicts three people. The man at the top has his left arm outstretched, like a wing protecting the two people below. He has never been definitively identified, but is believed to be Benny Munter, one of the people who died nine years earlier defending Tel Hai in the north. The other man is Efraim Chisick and the third person is his sister, Sarah Chisick, who also died defending Tel Hai.

The agricultural school was abandoned for two years. When it was reopened, it thrived as a farm and a center of reforestation. But it was abandoned in 1937, when Kibbutz Hulda was founded nearby, on a hill better situated for agriculture.

Its location remained strategic. During the 1948 Arab siege of Jerusalem, the kibbutz served as the point from which convoys carrying food left to try to break the blockade of the city.

But that’s another story. One for another day.