Birds and the Founding  of Petach Tikva

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.

On horseback, 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.

old Petach Tikva

His stunned 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.…" Hesitantly, 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.*

Although history, 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:

"...With visionary eyes,
Joel Salomon said
"I will spend the night here,
On this very hill."

Alone on the hill,
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 returned
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."

view selection from Hebrew song

Between midnight and Dawn...

"Between midnight and dawn
Salomon suddenly sprouted
The wings of a bird..."



*Today Petah Tikvah is a thriving city with a population of 170,000. [back]

Sources: 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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