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by Yael Adar
Today it is called Ilaniya, but back in when it was established in 1902, it was called Sejera. This was the first Jewish settlement in the Lower Galilee, the first place guarded by Ha'Shomer and the place, which served as the second stop in the Holy Land, for the Sobotniks. It was also in Sejera that David Green (known to most by his Hebrew last name, Ben Gurion) spent 18 months working as a farm laborer. Ben Gurion later became Israel's first Prime Minister. Ilaniya offers visitors an opportunity to take a self-guided tour of one of the oldest villages (known as a Moshava) in Israel. The Council for the Preservation of Buildings and Historic Sites is conducting ongoing work aimed at both preserving this Gem, while turning it into a full- fledged tourist attraction.
During the Talmud and Mishnah eras there was a Jewish city in the hills surrounding Sejera. Much later, the Arab village of Shejera was built on the ruins of the ancient city, which perhaps explains the name Sejera, given by the Jewish settlers to the first settlement in the Lower Galilee. After the War of Independence, its name was changed to Ilaniya. Today, roughly 100 families live in Ilaniya, which functions as a Moshav – though only a few of them are still active in agriculture.
Sejera's homes were built on either side of the settlement's main street. The front yard served for growing crops, while the back yard was reserved for stables cow sheds. Behind the stables a defensive perimeter wall was erected. The area behind the stone wall was designated for chicken coops.
The 13-stop trail in Ilaniya includes the original Ha'Shomer Ranch (which today is a military base). The ranch is not open to individuals, only to groups, by prior arrangement. As you walk along the route, some of the interesting places you will encounter include a cave that served as a Mikveh (ritual bath). For a time this cave was tuned into living quarters by Alexander Zeid – one of Ha'Shomer's wathchman. There is also a burial cave with a Menorah (from about the first-second century AD), an Oil Press Cave, a cemetery, a lookout point and the Sejera Spring. You'll also be able to see the home of farmer Rogachevsky, for whom David Ben Gurion worked.
Sejera (as well as other settlements in the Lower Galilee) were established using a unique system of land tenancy. Loans were given to the settlers, for basic living expenses, to enable them to buy tools and animals; this was supposed to be enough to carry them through, to the first harvest. Only once they had proven their financial independence, were the settlers given rights to their respective plots of land.
Sejera's first settlers were comprised of people from Safed, immigrants of the first Aliyah, a group of immigrants from Kurdistan as well as eight families of Sobotniks, Christians who converted to Judaism.
Thirty-seven Sobotnik families came to Israel in those days. Most of them were from wealthy families, children of Orthodox Provoslavic priests. They came from the Astrakhan region of Russia. At first they settled in Hadera – and later moved on to Sejera. The Sobotniks (unlike most of their immigrant counterparts) were very good farmers. From Sejera, they disbursed to the various settlements, to teach other settlers good agricultural practices. Even the Dubrovin family, perhaps the most well known of the Sobotniks – spent time in Sejera, before settling in the upper Galilee.
Sejera also has another claim to fame. While Degania Alef is recognized as the first collective settlement, it was actually at Sejera, that Manya Shohcat (wife of Israel Shochat) created the first collective – which only functioned for a year. The Shochats were both members in Ha'Shomer, in fact they were among its founders.
For those who enjoy a bit of walking and history, Ilaniya is a great choice – in a rural environment. As you enter Ilaniya, look for the sign to the Visitor Center (a left turn) – where you can stop off and watch a movie (that is really geared more for kids) as well as pick up your map for the self-guided tour. At the entrance to the settlement there is even a kosher restaurant, which is supposed to be good.
Directions: Ilaniya (Sejera) is located just off Route # 65, a kilometer and half before the Golani Junctiion.
Visiting Hours: Sunday-Thursday 8:30 AM – 1:00 PM, Friday and Saturday (groups only, by prior arrangement).
Groups may arrange for guided tours by calling the above listed number. It is also possible to arrange for tours on Friday, or Saturday.
Entry fees (self guided tour): Free
Entry fees (guided tour for groups up to 40 people): 400 NIS weekdays, 480 Friday & Saturday.