About Rehovot

A brief history of Rehovot, Israel

[Gershom's note: this document has been edited somewhat: in particular transliterations of Hebrew have been made consistent with the ANSI standard and some notes have been added in square brackets.]

The city of Citrus, Culture and Science was reestablished in 1890 by immigrants who purchased the land to create a well organized democratic settlement. The first settlement in this area was destroyed in biblical times, when it was famous as the place where the prophet Ya`aqov (Jacob) stopped after leaving Be'er-Shev`a (Beersheba) to travel to Egypt.

Modern Rehovot is a growing, dynamic city of almost 100,000 people located 15 miles southeast of Tel-Aviv and 40 miles northwest of Jerusalem. About 20% of the city's residents were absorbed in the late 1980s and early 1990s from the former Soviet Union, Yemen and Ethiopia. The city's culture reflects the diversity of the over 80 nations represented by the population.

The home of three world renowned institutes, Rehovot is visited by students and professors from around the world. Best known and largest is the Weizmann Institute of Science, which was founded in 1934. Chaim Weizmann, the distinguished scientist and statesmen, became the president of the Institute as well as the first President of Israel. The Institute is devoted to research and teaching in the natural sciences. Jerusalem's Hebrew University uses Rehovot as the site for its new School of Humanities and School of Agriculture. The Development Study Center for intensive study of rural development is utilized by many third world countries as well as advanced nations for graduate studies and planning for socio-economic growth.

Rehovot has a science and information based Industrial Park, a municipal cultural center, two art galleries, a music conservatory as well as several world renowned musical groups. The modern city whose emblem depicts oranges, a book and a microscope is indeed the "City of Citrus, Culture and Science."

Rehovot: Then and now

Rehovot is a city situated on the southern coastal plain of Israel. It is identified with Doron, a Jewish settlement during the period of the Mishna and the Talmud (4th century). It was built on a site from the Roman and Byzantine period, and was given its name during the Arab period. [Arabic name: Duran]

In 1890 [Gershom: corresponding to the Hebrew year 5650, or tara"n; hence Tara"n Street in Rehovot], Aharon Eisenberg proposed to Yehoshua Hankin to establish a Jewish settlement here and to redeem the land of Doron. In the spring (7th Adar), a contract for the sale of the land was signed, and during Purim of that year celebrations were held beside the ancient well. The proposal of Israel Belkind to call the settlement "Rehovot" was accepted - basing the name on Genesis 26, v.22: "And he removed from thence and digged another well: and for that they strove not. And he called the name of it Rehovot: and he said: 'For now the Lord hath made room (in Hebrew: rehov) for us, and we shall be fruitful in the land'".

At this time, in Warsaw, the B'nei Moshe ("Sons of Moses") established a society called "Menuha v'Nahala''. Its purpose was to purchase land in Israel and to establish a settlement that would not be dependent upon the good will and, unfortunately, the tyranny of the philanthropists. Representatives of the society arrived and purchased from Yehoshua Hankin 6,000 dunams for the "Menuha v'Nahala" society. The remaining area was bought by various individuals.

The founders of the settlement wrote and signed a "Book of the Covenant" on the manner in which the land was to be distributed and on the planning of the settlement. They took possession of the land in the summer of 1890 (I5th Av). The individual landholders settled immediately, each on his lot, whilst most of the members of "Menuha v'Nahala" remained abroad until their vineyards gave fruit and livelihood was assured. Eliyahu Ze'ev Levin-Epstein was head of the society and its committee in the early years of the settlement. Aharon Eisenberg was responsible for the planning and Shlomo Goldin was the treasurer.

In the fall of 1891 (19th Kislev) the residents of the settlement held their first general meeting to lay the foundations for the public affairs of the community, which brought Rehovot fame as the best organized and most democratic settlement in Eretz Israel ("Palestine"). Rehovot was distinguished by its orderly life and by its spirit of brotherhood and family atmosphere. It was also kown for its hospitality. It became famous for friendliness towards the Hebrew worker, as throughout its early years, when the land had to be made fit for agriculture and the vineyards planted, thousands of Hebrew workers spent time in Rehovot.

It was at this time that the workers of Rehovot established a secret organization, "Ha'asarot", with the aim of improving the material situation and to serve as a nucleus for the future army.

The workers' center was the 'shalash' a wooden hut which was used as a kitchen, a synagogue, a [religious] school (heder), a society for visiting the sick (Bikur Holim) and free overnight lodgings (Leinat Tzedek).

The second wave of immigration, the "Aliya sheinit", brought many who later became the leading characters of the settlement. Their love and appreciation was expressed in their spoken words and in their writing. Rehovot was the first settlement to absorb immigrants from Yemen and to establish a dwelling quarter for them. Groups of workers of the third and fourth Aliya lived in the settlement, worked in the vineyards and in the citrus groves, and afterwards established Kibbutzim [collective settlements] and moshavim [agricultural cooperative settlements] in the vicinity. Members of the future collectives lived in the settlement before they settled on their own lots, and their descendants participated in the establishment of settlements throughout the land.

The founders of the settlements tried to maintain a good relationship with the surrounding Arab villages, and some of them, especially Moshe Smilansky, believed in the principle of mutual work as a means of co-existence. But in spite of this, quarrels broke out between the settlers and their neighbours. In the summer of 1891, Arabs from Zarnugah attacked the settlement because of an argument about grazing. The Satariah tribe attacked the settlement many times, claiming tenancy of the land. Their attacks were driven back, and in the end they accepted the settlement's right to exist. In 19l3 a bitter, bloody conflict occurred between the guards of the settlement and the village Zarnugah and, as a consequence, a year-long judicial division concluded with a "sulha", or "burying the hatchet", feast. During Passover, 1921, the defenders of the settlement repelled a mob of riotous Arabs returning from a celebration of Nebi Zalah in Ramle. In the anti-Jewish riots of 1921, 1929 and 1936 the orchards were damaged an d the workers and guards attacked.

Rehovot was distinguished for its cultural atmosphere. Many of its early settlers were scholars, a fact that contributed to the character and life of the settlment. The "rebellious young", among them Moshe Smilansky and Eliezer Margolin, together with the teacher Vilkomitz, raised the standard of education in the schools, which were at first one-room "Heders"; in the beginning they strove for spoken Hebrew and later even for the "Sephardi" pronunciation. [Gershom's note: modern Hebrew pronunciation is a simplified version of Sephardi pronunciation.] As the leaders of "Menuha v'Nahala" turned to the Baron Rothschild [Gershom: referred to at the time as "HaNadiv HaYadu`a", i.e. The Known Benefactor] with a request to send the Rehovot grapes to Rishon I'Tziyon for processing, the settlers established an independent winery which operated from 1921 to 1933. They also founded the "Carmel" Co. to market abroad the wines of the Baron's presses; this is still active today under the name "Carmel Mizrahi".

From the year 1908 the famous "Passover celebrations" drew large crowds from all over the country and even visitors from abroad. This continued until the First World War.

The settlement made a considerable contribution in the area of security and defense. Rehovot was the first settlement in Judea to hand over to "Hashomer" (The Guard) the responsibility of guarding the settlement. It was also one of the first centers for volunteers to join a Hebrew battalion during the First World War. Many settlers were members of the "Haganah" and others joined the "Etzel"[Irgun Tzvai Le'umi, or National Army Organization] and the "Lechi" [Lohamei Herut Israel, or Fighters for the Freedom of Israel, also known as the Stern Group after its first commander, Avraham Stern] paramilitary organizations. During these years a great quantity of arms and ammunition was obtained and hidden in arms caches, and handed to the commander of the "Giv`ati" brigade during the War of Independence. In the winery there was an industry for cartridges and explosives. Scientists from the "Sieff Institute" contributed towards the security effort in various areas, and at "Giv`at Hakibbutzim" there was an underground factory for the manufacture of bullets for Sten guns. [Gershom: this site, Makhon Ayalon or the Ayalon Institute, is presently a museum to the underground movements.]

During the War of Independence the people of Rehovot fought on all fronts, but chiefly in the ranks of the "Giv`ati" brigade. The headquarters of the brigade, the southern unit, was billeted in Rehovot. The settlement was shelled nine times from the air, ten people were killed and several were wounded. Houses were hit and the original Town Hall was destroyed. Seventy-five residents of Rehovot fell during the war. A cultural hall, "Yad la-Banim" and a statue in the Gan Hamaginim (Defenders' Park) were erected to their memory. After the establishment of the state, new streets were given the names of the fallen.

In the early years, Rehovot was a settlement of vineyards. In 1907 many of the vines were uprooted because of a crisis in the wine industry and replaced by almond trees. It was in 1904 that the first citrus orchard was planted, to be followed by many more. After the First World War, citrus became the main branch of Rehovot's economy. Near the railway station, mechanical packing facilities were built and Rehovot became a large center for packing and shipping citrus fruit to the ports. Research institutes that were established in the settlement investigated ways of cultivating and producing new products. All these activities contributed to Rehovot's reputation as the "Citrus City".

In 1932 the Agricultural Research Station was transferred to Rehovot; in 1942 the Faculty of Agriculture of the Hebrew University was established there, and in 1970 the school for the Science of Nutrition of the Hebrew University also came to be. In 1934 the Sieff Institute was built, and in 1949 it became the Weizmann Institute of Science. In 1963 the Settlement Study Center was established. In addition, the Institute for Biological Control of Pets and the Israeli Wine Institute are located in Rehovot. These research institutes gave Rehovot another name: "The City of Science".

The symbols of Rehovot are citrus fruit, a microscope and a book. To a certain extent, Rehovot became the borough of the book. Writers and poets who lived in the settlement described, in their works, the settlement and its people. These included Moshe Smilansky, David Shimoni, Yehoash, Nahum Guttmann, Binyamin Tammuz, S. Yizhar (pen name of Yizhar Smilansky) and many others. [Gershom: Shaul Yosef Agnon, 1966 Nobel Laureate for Literature, also lived in the city and passed away there in 1970. Even Rachel HaMeshoreret, i.e. the poetess Rachel (Blaustein) spent some time in Rehovot.] To these must be added the research works of the scientists who lived in the city.

Until the War of Independence, Rehovot was the central settlement of the south, through which passed the transport to the south and to the Negev, as well as to Jerusalem during the war.

Rehovot was in the past, and is today, a center for the marketing of agricultural products, a commercial center, a transport center and an administrative center serving the whole region. In addition, it is a sub-district with government offices, a court of law, a police station, the Kaplan hospital which is as well a medical university (making Rehovot the "University City"), the central offices of public institutions such as Kupat Holim Clalit (General Health Fund), Tnuva (the workers' cooperative for marketing and distributing farm produce) and others.

In 1950 Rehovot was declared a city, and today it has about 100,000 residents.

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