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Kibbutz Degania Alef

Updated: Mar 2, 2020


The first kibbutz of the week will be Kibbutz Degania Alef, simply because it was the first kibbutz to be established and is known as the mother of all kibbutzim. Degania was officially established in 1910, although several of the founding members began activities associated with the kibbutz in the nearby Arab village of Umm Jounieh in 1909. Degania was the first Jewish agricultural settlement to be established under Ottoman rule, falling in the Acre Sanjak or province, which had the coastal city of Acre, colloquially known as Akko, as its capital. Degania was initially established as a "kvutza", a small group of like-minded people who decided to establish a small collective agricultural settlement. This later grew into the fully-fledged kibbutzim that we know today with agriculture, industry, tourism and many other commercial activities part of their daily existence. The word Alef was added to Degania after a second Kibbutz Degania, designated Degania Bet, was founded in 1920.

Back to Degania Alef which is nestled in the arc formed by the Jordan River as it flows in a westerly direction for a short distance after exiting Lake Kinneret at its southwestern tip, before turning southwards into the Jordan Valley. The land on which the kibbutz stands was the first tract of land to be purchased by the Jewish National Fund after its founding in 1901, with the transaction completed in 1904. The members of the new kibbutz were soon introduced to the dangers of life in Ottoman Palestine when one of the founders, Moshe Barsky was ambushed and killed by Arab marauders while returning from collecting medicine for fellow kibbutz founder Shmuel Dayan who was ill. Moshe Dayan (1915 - 1981), son of Shmuel, and the second baby to be born on Degania Alef was named after Barsky.

During the 1936-1939 Arab riots Degania Alef served as a base for the Haganah and later for the Palmach. During the War of Independence, the kibbutz was attacked by Syrian forces on 20 May 1948 starting with a half-hour long artillery barrage that destroyed most of the kibbutz infrastructure. During the ground attack that followed 70 heroic defenders held a much larger attacking force including tanks at bay. The first Syrian tank that managed to break through the defenses and enter the kibbutz was hit by a missile fired from one of four PIAT man-portable British manufactured anti-tank weapons the defenders had. Four other tanks and four armored cars were subsequently put out of action with a combination of PIAT missiles and molotov cocktail incendiary bombs. Without tank cover, the Syrian forces withdrew leaving behind a number of lightly damaged tanks and armored cars. These spoils of war were salvaged, repaired and put to good use by the Israeli forces. The first tank that was destroyed remained on the kibbutz where it still stands as a constant reminder of the heroic defense that stopped the Syrians from entering the Jordan Valley in 1948.

The kibbutz is no longer a traditional socialist kibbutz, having undergone privatization in 2007. Degania Alef is home to the Gordon House Museum, Beit Gordon, featuring a range of exhibits that highlight the fauna and flora of the Kinneret Valley where the kibbutz is situated. The museum was founded in 1935 by kibbutz member Ya’akov Palmoni who named it after A.D.Gordon, considered by many to be the father of practical Zionism as well as the Zionist labor movement. Gordon's letters and some personal effects are also on display in the museum. Famous residents include Moshe Dayan, A.D.Gordon, Joseph Trumpeldor, and Rachel Bluwstein, a leading Hebrew language poet. These four share the commonality of all being similarly honored by having their image on Israel’s postage stamps.

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