In the late 1870s
a number of religious Jews from Jerusalem, including Joel Moses Salomon,
Joshua Stampfer, David Gutmann and Zerah Barnett, decided to "return
to the land" and become farmers. When they were unable to purchase
land near Jericho, they began to look farther afield. One possible location,
along the Yarkon River, northeast of modern-day Tel Aviv, came to their
attention. Before purchasing the property, they decided to check it out
and get the "expert" opinion of a renowned physician of the
day, Dr. Mazriki of Jaffa.
they rode along the Yarkon River to the site. The land was low-lying and
swampy. All along the way, the doctor observed the surroundings with a
watchful eye and an attentive ear. Before long, he declared: "I have
been on the lookout all this time. My eyes have scanned the horizon, looking
for birds in flight. I have not seen even one. Behold, there are seeds
here, worms and many kinds of insects, things that birds like to eat
yet there are no birds. Birds, who are attentive to their natural senses,
fear for their lives here. This is a place that devours its inhabitants."
With this he turned toward home.
companions were at a loss for words. Gutmann's eyes filled with tears.
Salomon was the first regain his composure, saying merely, "But maybe
Stampfer whispered, "We could still try.
they decided not to give in to doubt and continued with the plans. The
land was purchased and Petah Tikvah (Gateway of Hope, after Hosea 2:17)
was established in 1878, the first town of independent farmers to be founded
by Zionist pioneers. Although the founders succeeded in recruiting additional
settlers, Dr. Mazriki was, apparently, correct to be concerned. The first
crops failed and malaria soon hit.
In 1882, Petah
Tikvah's population of 66 had to be evacuated to a nearby Arab village. The
town was resettled the following year and soon the Baron Edmond de Rothschild
provided financial assistance for draining the swamps, which was a vital step
towards Petah Tikvah's eventual success.*
in the short run, proved Dr. Mazriki correct, the Israeli folk-memory
would have it differently. In a popular song, (words by Yoram Taharlev),
Joel Moses Salomon becomes the undisputed hero:
Joel Salomon said
"I will spend the night here,
On this very hill."
Alone on the
Between midnight and dawn
Salomon suddenly sprouted
The wings of a bird.
No one knows
to where he flew,
Perhaps 'twas only
a dream or legend
But when morning
over the hilltops
the cursed valley was filled
with chirping birds.
There are those
who still say
that along the Yarkon River
the birds sing a song to
Joel Moses Salomon."
Petah Tikvah is a thriving city with a population of 170,000.
Encyclopedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter Publishing House, 1972),
volume 13, p. 366ff.
Taharlev, Yoram and Mordecai Naor, "Shiru Habitu Ur'u:
The Stories Behind The Songs" (Hebrew), (Tel Aviv: The Ministry
of Defense, 1992), pp. 50-52.
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