When we received the invitation to a family engagement party in Zichron Yaakov, I was thrilled despite the distant location. The picturesque town, located 35 kilometers south of Haifa, at the southern end of the Carmel Mountain range, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, is one of my favorite destinations here in Israel. It was one of the pioneer Jewish agricultural settlements of the First Aliyah. The town was founded in 1882 by immigrants from Romania. In 1883, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild became the patron of the settlement and renamed it after his father Yaakov. Many just call the town “Zichron,” which ironically causes the name of the person meant to be memorialized not to be remembered.
The restored city center of Zichron overflows with its rich history. I love listening to the chimes in the background as I walk along the “Midrachov,” a pedestrian mall on Rechov HaMe’yasdim (Founders Street), that houses cafes and boutique shops selling jewelry, antiques, locally-made crafts, and all sorts of quaint creations. Strolling down Derech HaYayin (“Path of the Wine”), I feel like I am literally in an outdoor museum. The landmark buildings are furnished with signs telling of their historical significance as well as photos of significant historical figures of the town. Our delicious dinner at Café Nili was served on tables covered with paper placemats that display newspaper clippings relating to the history of the town. The original Carmel-Mizrahi Winery continues to make wine in Zichron Yaakov.
There are several museums in the main area. The First Aliyah Museum, located in the building once used by Baron Rothschild’s officials, describes the conflicts, challenges, and dilemmas of the original settlers of Zichron Yaakov, using multi-media, including a series of films that accompany a family from the time they left Eastern Europe until their arrival in Israel. Beit Aaronsohn Museum-Nili tells of the underground Nili network, a spy ring that operated during World War I. It was started by Aaron Aaronsohn, an expert in the science of farming, who discovered “emmer,” believed to be “the mother of wheat.” Aaronsohn was the first car owner in Palestine and one of the first to own a bicycle. He was joined by his sister Sarah, his brother Alexander, and others. Nili is an acronym for “Netzach Yisrael Lo Y’shakeir” – The eternity of Israel will not deceive (I Shmuel 15:29). Among their goals, they aimed to support Jewish settlement in Israel during a time when there was much disease and starvation, and to establish a Jewish state in Israel. Eventually, the organization was exposed. Sarah Aaronsohn was captured by the Turks, and she tragically committed suicide after undergoing severe torture. She preferred to end her life rather than divulge classified information to the enemy.
Zichron resident Sharon (Hauser) Ainspan was kind enough to share with me some of the inner workings of the town. Zichron Yaakov is home to a very mixed population. There are old-timers who comprise the agricultural community. There are National Religious, chareidim, Teimanim (Yemenites), Sefardim, and a Chabad community that built a replica of 770 Eastern Parkway, Chabad headquarters in Crown Heights. Zichron has a high number of Anglos, which has increased significantly since the days of COVID. Many olim from California have chosen to live in Zichron, which is located on a mountain close to the sea, somewhat similar to their previous surroundings. Zichron seems to be the up-and-coming Ra’anana.
In addition to the diverse Jewish communities residing in Zichron, there is also an urban kibbutz located inside the town, called Kibbutz Beth El, not to be confused with the settlement of Beit El in the Binyamin region. The community is made up of German Protestants who moved to Zichron in the 1960s. The kibbutz members have permanent status here in Israel, and their children serve in the IDF in non-combat roles. They don’t watch television, and the women dress very modestly. They often fill the role of “Shabbos Goy” for their neighbors. They believe that G-d chose Israel to be the land of the Jewish People, and the Messiah will only come if all of the Jews are living here. Jews were very wary and distrustful of them at first and even tried to keep them out. A group of chareidim from B’nei Brak moved right next to the kibbutz in order to make sure that no missionary activity would take place. So was founded the chareidi neighborhood of Chazon Ish.
The kibbutz owns seven factories as well as other businesses which employ hundreds of Israelis. Their many fields provide the raw material for a home-style mehadrin bakery and a factory that produces jams and jellies. One can buy baked goods, jams and jellies, crackers, and linens in their factory store. The members of the Beth El group believe it is their responsibility to protect the Jews from terrorism. During the Gulf War, they took Jews into the shelters of their factories. They also invented the “CBRN” (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear) air-filtration system that can be used to combat poisonous gases in the event of a chemical attack. It can be operated by electricity, battery, or manually. Demand for their product spiked after 9/11. Part of their motivation to create this system is their belief that the War of Gog U’Magog, which will take place just prior to the coming of Mashiach, will involve chemical warfare.
The next time you come to visit Israel, I suggest that you put Zichron Yaakov on your itinerary. You won’t be disappointed. As the word “Zichron” suggests, your visit will certainly be memorable.