by Yael Adar
This stone building, which recently opened as a small museum lies in the Herzl Forest, more commonly referred to as the Hulda Forest (so named for the nearby kibbutz). One would think from its name, Herzl House, that this in fact was the house of one the great leaders of Zionism.
However, that is not the case. Theodore (Binyamin Ze’ev) Herzl never lived in the house that bears his name. In fact, he was never even here. Nevertheless, there is a connection. The Herzl House and surrounding forest are a great place to learn some history and enjoy a leisurely picnic
In 1905, the Anglo Palestine Bank purchased 2,000 dunam from the Saidun tribe in order to establish a Jewish settlement near the Jaffa-Jerusalem rail line. The Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael – JNF- KKL) redeemed the land from the bank and turned it over to the Eretz Israel Office, which was responsible for settlements. In 1909, an agricultural farm was established on the land. It was named Hulda. The building known today as Herzl House served as the residence for the manager of the farm and later for members of Hulda. New groups of pioneers who trained at Hulda would later go on to establish Ein Harod, Kfar Yehezkel, Ginegar and other settlements.
The surrounding land would soon be known as the Herzl Forest. A forest was planted here to commemorate Herzl, who died, in 1904. In fact, this was the first forest planted by the relatively new JNF-KKL, which was established in 1901. Most of us picture pine trees when we think of JNF-KKL forests. However, the truth is that the first trees that were planted were olive trees.
Establishing the Olive Tree Donation Society and soliciting donations from German Jews enabled the planting of these first trees. The olive trees did not fare well and were ultimately removed. Today the forest is comprised of a variety of trees: pines, china berry, cypress and pepper trees, casuarinas, sycamores, plums, tamarisks, carobs and dates.
During the 1929 disturbances, the farm was attacked by Arabs and destroyed. Although the fighting was fierce, during the battle the settlers continued to defend the settlement from within the Herzl House. Finally, a large contingent of British forces arrived on the scene and required the settlers to evacuate. During the evacuation, the British did not allow the settlers to take the body of Ephraim Chizik, the Haganah commander who was killed during the battle. A memorial sculpture commemorating Chizik (whose sister was killed defending Tel-Hai), made by Batia Lichansky is only a short walk from the Herzl House.
In 1931, the Gordonia group resettled Hulda.During the 1936-1939 disturbances, Hulda was once again attacked a number of times. In 1943, the British conducted a massive search of Hulda, for Haganah arms. By this time the settlement was at its present location, about mile/1.5 KM west of the original farm. During the War of Independence Hulda was the last stop for the convoys on the their way to Jerusalem (see the April 2000 issue).
Herzl House was renovated in 1996, but there were no exhibits. A new donation by John Sereny, of Toronto, Canada, made the current changes to the house possible. The official opening of Herzl House is scheduled for February 7, 2000. The museum, whose day-to-day operations is run by members of Kibbutz Hulda, features a small exhibit and a ten-minute film (as of this writing only in Hebrew) about the history of Hulda and the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael. A restaurant is planned for the premises, in the future.
Directions: From Route # 3 turn to Route # 411 (toward Rehovot). Entrance to the Herzl Forest will be on the right.
Herzl House – Sunday – Friday 8:30 AM – 4:00 PM, Saturday, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
Herzl Forest – all day
Entry fees: Free
Tip: You can combine a visit at the Herzl House with points of interest in Rehovot or Philistine Ekron
Learn more about Batia Lichansky.