by Yael Adar
Ten men and two women came in 1910 to the land known at the time as Umm Juni.
These first settlers came from the nearby Moshava (colony/village) of Kinneret. Umm Juni was later renamed Degania the first communal settlement (kevutzah) in Eretz Yisrael. One of the settlers wrote to Arthur Ruppin (head of the Zionist Organization) to notify him of the decision to change the name of the settlement to Degania. The explanation given was that the name was meant to signify the five grains that were grown in the area. However, by some accounts, at the time – only three grains, wheat, barely and oats were actually grown by the settlers.
( First Shed Dwelling - Courtesy of the Degania Alef Archive
As they set about to create their new home, the settlers had the benefit of the lessons learned at Kinneret – where there was virtually no distinction between the area set aside for animals and farming implements and that designated for the human inhabitants. The settlers - made sure that at Umm Juni there would be a clear separation.
( First House - Courtesy of the Degania Alef Archive
Known as the "Mother of the Kevutzot" (collective settlements), Degania was established in 1909, six kilometers south of Tiberias, on land which was purchased by the Jewish National Fund, from the Arab village of Umm Juni. Its first settlers were immigrants of the Second Aliyah. The initial settlementwas disbursed after a year. In 1911, Russian immigrants from the Hadera Commune resettled it.
These days, the ideological differences that once separated kibbutzim and kevutzot are remnants of a bygone era. Since two of the four kibbutz movements merged into the Takam movement – both kibbutzim and kevutzot are typically referred to as kibbutzim, even though the settlements'roots may be different. You can therefore safely refer to Degania Alef as the firstkibbutz.
Today, you can visit the old courtyard at Degania, see its first building (see photos) as well as visit the small museum that chronicles life in Israel's first kibbutz. The museum is housed in
what was the first dining room. While the signs next to the exhibits are only in Hebrew – you can ask for a hard copy list (in English) that corresponds to the numbered exhibits. In 1920, pioneers
from the Third Aliyah established Degania Bet and in 1932, part of the land was usedto found kibbutz Afikim
You may recognize some of the following names, all of which are associated with Degania, Moshe Dayan (was born there, his parents later were among the first settlers of Moshav Nahalal), the National Poetess, Rahel, (Rahel Bluwstein), spent some time at Degania. Arthur Ruppin, A. D. Gordon, Otto Warburg and a number of other of the Labor Movement's first leaders are buried in the local cemetery.
During the 1936-1939 disturbances Degania Alef served as a base for the field companies (plugot sadeh), and later for the Haganah's strike force, the Palmach. During the War of Independence, Syrian tanks attacked the Jordan Valley where a difficult battle ensued. On May 20, 1948 the attack on Degania Alef began. At the time, there were about 70 members defending the settlement. One of the tanks advanced to the kibbutz, and was hit by a Molotov cocktail and abandoned. To this day, the tank still stands on the grounds of the kibbutz, as a memorial and symbol of the Syrians' defeat. When the attack on Degania Alef was completed, the opposing forces concentrated their forces on Degania Bet.
On the kibbutz you will also find Beit Gordon, a small nature museum, named after A. D. Gordon. This is not an elaborate museum, but if you are traveling with children – they may enjoy the exhibits of stuffed and preserved animals. There is also a movie, Fishers of the Galilee, about the native wildlife of the area.
Directions: Kibbutz Degania Alef is located near the southwest corner of Lake Kinneret (The Sea of Galilee) – just off Route # 90.
Degania Alef Museum & Courtyard
TEL 04/660-8410, 053-749102 – For guided tours
Web site: Degania Alef
Visiting Hours: Sunday – Thursday, 9:00 AM – 12:00 PM.
Entry fees: Free.
Beit Gordon: Visiting Hours: Sunday – Thursday 9:00 AM- 3:00 PM, Friday 9:00 AM- 12:00 PM
Entry fees apply.