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Petah Tikvah

I started this series with the oldest kibbutz, Degania Alef, followed by the oldest moshav, Kfar Malal and this week's destination is not the oldest town city in Israel, but the first Jewish village to be established in almost 2,000 years. The motivational force behind the founding of Petah Tikvah was Hungarian born Haredi Rabbi Akiva Yosef Schlesinger (1838-1922), although the actual leader of the founding group was Rabbi Yoel Moshe Salomon. Rabbi Schlesinger was a contentious character who fell out of favour with his fellow Rabbis on all sides of the religious spectrum and while he was involved in raising funds for the purchase of the land on which Petah Tikvah now stands, he is not considered one of the founders.

Yoel Moshe Salomon saw the need for a new village as a result of having lost his parents in a cholera epidemic which struck Jerusalem. Salomon blamed the unsanitary conditions in the overcrowded Jewish quarter for their death and decided to fall in with Schlesinger and establish a new village away from Jerusalem. They initially attempted to buy a tract of land near Jericho but were thwarted by the Ottoman authorities who eventually agreed to the purchase of land some distance east of Jaffa. The catch was that most of the land was in the unhealthy Yarkon swamps and considered unsuitable for agriculture, although some of the land was arable. The purchase of the land was completed on Tu B'Av, considered a good omen, as this minor holiday is described in the Talmud as one of the happiest days of the year. Find out all about Tu B’Av on my Did you Know blog.

The purchase of the land was confirmed on 8 July 1878 with the first settlers putting down roots in the new agricultural colony shortly after Sukkot in early November 1878. Petah Tikvah became a permanent settlement in 1883 thanks to financial assistance from Baron Edmond de Rothschild, a benefit shared by Zichron Ya’akov and Rishon LeZion, both of which were established in 1882. Petah Tikvah is also known as Em Hamoshavot, the mother of the moshavim as it was the first settlement founded on the moshav principle of private ownership of land rather than on the kibbutz practice of collective land ownership. Rosh Pina in the Upper Galilee claims precedence over Petah Tikvah as it was established as a permanent settlement in 1882, but there is no disputing that Petah Tikvah is the mother of the moshavim.

The first properly constructed house in Petah Tikvah was built in 1887 by rabbi Aryeh Leib Frumkin who also planted the first tree in the new settlement. Frumkin became disillusioned with life in Palestine and moved to London after ongoing disputes with his fellow residents as well as several violent attacks by Arab marauders. He moved to London where he established a kosher wine shop which is still run by the family. Frumkin’s great-grandson is Rabbi Lord Jonathon Sacks, Commonwealth Chief Rabbi Emeritus. The second congress of Poalei Yehuda, the Jewish Workers in 1911 resulted in the establishment of the Judea Worker's Health Fund, which later evolved into Clalit Health Services which was established as the first Zionist health insurance fund in the country.

During the First World War, Petah Tikvah provided refuge for many Tel Aviv residents who had been banished from the city by the Ottman authorities for refusing to serve in the Turkish army. A few years later the town was not left unscathed during the 1921 Arab riots, which started in Jaffa and soon spread across Mandate Palestine including violent attacks on Petah Tikvah which left 4 dead. The underlying cause of the riots was the Arab demand for Britain to curtail Jewish immigration into Palestine. British Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill commissioned an investigation which resulted in the publication in 1922 of what became known as the Churchill White Paper. The White Paper acceded to Arab demands and called for Jewish immigration to be limited to the economic capacity of Palestine to absorb any new arrivals. This was contrary to Churchill's comments during his visit to Palestine in March 1921 when he said

“Moreover, it is manifestly right that the Jews, who are scattered all over the world, should have a national centre and a National Home where some of them may be reunited. And where else could that be but in this land of Palestine, with which for more than 3,000 years they have been intimately and profoundly associated? We think it will be good for the world, good for the Jews and good for the British Empire.”

While Petah Tikvah escaped largely unscathed during the 1929 Arab riots, the widespread 1936 Arab revolt had its beginnings near Petah Tikvah following the deaths of two Arab workers who were killed while sleeping in a hut close to Petah Tikvah. This killing was a revenge attack in response to the unprovoked murder of two Jewish drivers, Israel Khazan and Zvi Dannenberg, on the road between Nablus and Tulkarm. During Khazan’s funeral procession in Tel Aviv, emotional mourners beat up several Arab bystanders, setting off a wave of anti-Jewish riots which quickly developed into a fully-fledged anti-British revolt. The result was another round of British White Papers, suggesting everything from partition into two states to limiting Jewish immigration, despite the upsurge in refugees desperate to escape the Nazi murderers in Europe. The end of the 2nd World War and the famous 1947 United vote finally resulted in the re-establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine on 14 May 1948.

Petah Tikvah grew rapidly after independence with the merger of several surrounding moshavim and kibbutzim into the city which currently has a population of 250,000 people. The Petah Tikvah Independence Park includes a zoo at its northeastern edge as well as the Museum of Man and Nature. While the zoo originally had a large variety of animals including the larger members of the cat family such as lions, leopards and tigers, urban encroachment resulted in the zoo downgrading to house a variety of monkeys, birds and small mammals. The city boasts a well developed hi-tech park which is home to many multinational companies. From humble beginnings on 3,500 dunams, Petah Tikvah now encompasses a total of almost 36,000 dunams and is a vital cog in Israel’s economy.

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