70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel
The first moshav, founded by Hungarians
By Sivan Erush - 2018-03-22
Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll
My city is located at the center of the country, close to Tel-Aviv; it is a safe base for my decade-long Israeli life. If I believed in coincidences, I could say that we landed here only because of an administrative mix-up, but I prefer to think that it was good fortune that has guided us to this settlement founded by the Hungarian ultra-Orthodox 140 years ago; to the place that was dreamt up perhaps still back home in Hungary, among others, by a young Jewish man, Jehosua Stampfer, born in Komárno and raised in Szombathely.
Stampfer, born to an orthodox family, was only 15 years old when the Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 was agreed upon and the Hungarians gained national independence again. Two years later, this success inspired the young Stampfer, who dreamt of a new, independent Jewish homeland in the land of his ancestors, in line with the spirit of his era, even before Theodor Herzl. Our hero was exhausted, his clothing and shoes were tattered after a seven-month-long walk from Szombathely via Serbia and the Balkan Peninsula, arriving in Thessaloniki, where he would sail to Sidon; here he continued on foot to Sefad and then to Jerusalem. Here he joined some of the ultra-Orthodox young men of Hungarian origin who were making a living from agricultural work, beyond the walls of Jerusalem. First they tried to buy an area outside the Old City near Jerusalem, but the Ottoman leadership at the end of the 19th century did little to support the Jewish acquisition of land.
Lastly, they bought a small land of only 3.2 square kilometers along the Jarkon River with some good luck and with the powerful financial support of the wealthy David Meir Gutmann, also of Hungarian origin, who had liquidated his assets in Zalaegerszeg in 1875 and emigrated to Palestine. They could do this because the area, then a swamp with reed growing in it was in the hands of Christian Arabs, and nobody really wanted to have it. Perhaps only our chalucas [pioneers], our heroic dreamers with the ability to create a vision beyond what’s real, Moshe Shmuel Raab, Elazar and his son, Jehuda Rab, Yoel Moshe Salomon, Akiva Joszef Shlezinger, Barnett Zerach, David Meir Gutmann, could believe that there would once be a thriving city here.
The pioneers founded the first moshav [settlement of a cooperative agricultural community] of the country, the village of Petach Tikva (the gate of hope) in 1878. The name of the settlement stems from a quote from the Tanach: “ve’et-emek achor le-PetachTikva” – “we came from the depths of the moorland to the gate of hope” (Hosea 2/17). The first settlers worked on draining the marshes and establishing agriculture; their groups were decimated by malaria and by regular attacks from the surrounding Arab settlements. By 1880 the Jewish settlement became vacant for a short time, because, apparently, in the nearby Yehud there were better conditions for settling down, but ultimately, after the swamp drainage was over, Petach Tikva has grown again.
Some of the founders moved to Jerusalem or other newly established Jewish settlements, but Elazar Rab's sons returned to Em haMoshavot, the “Mother of the Settlements,” to Petach Tikva, to further its progress.
Young Jehuda Rab was the first one to preserve and defend Petach Tikva from the invading Arabs, and his name is also connected to the first well that was dug. Today, this well is preserved in the city center, on Founders Square (top of the page).
According to the historians, Jehuda Rab was the first one to start plowing the lands of Petach Tikva, first with a primitive plow pulled by thin, local oxen. Later, David Regner, a Hungarian-born agronomist, had bought plows from Hungary and stronger oxen from Syria for more efficient production. The yield was very good, and the farm of Jehuda Rab developed successfully. As a community-minded man, he did not keep his knowledge to himself; the development of the neighborhood was of great concern to him: the farmers of Petach Tikva, Rishon LeZion, and Ness Ziona, were taught by him in person and in articles and books.
In 1883, from the donation of Baron Rothschild, the Jewish community bought new land near Petach Tikva, and a small Lithuanian group joined the initial Hungarian colony; Although the cooperation was not always conflict-free, the village was constantly expanding, both territorially and in population. At the entrance of the city, an ornate gate was erected in memory of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, which is still visible today.
Petach Tikva is also grateful to David Meir Gutman, who was a real nation-builder, as the chairman of Hovevei Zion [Lovers of Zion: refers to a variety of organizations which began in 1881 in response to the Anti-Jewish pogroms in the Russian Empire] in Yafo and Eretz, he participated in the founding of several settlements, but eventually settled in Petach Tikva. For years, he was the chairman of the township and began building the first houses of the Petach Tikva and the nearby Yehud. At a time of economic crisis the town went bankrupt, and Gutman sold his Jerusalem stores and sacrificed his fortune to save Petach Tikva from the collapse. Sadly, he was impoverished for the last years of his life. He died in Yafo in 1894 at the age of 67, and was buried in Jerusalem. A street is named after him in the center of Petach Tikva today, and there is a memorial in his honor.
The founder, Jehosua Stampfer, had been chairman of the town for many years, he was often being sent to ask for donations from various international Jewish organizations and wealthy supporters. He was committed to building the country, but he was extremely conservative, which entailed campaigning against women's voting rights. He had mixed feelings about the second aliyah wave of the European Jews coming to Palestine in the early 1900s. He was delighted with the new influx of immigrants into the country and was trying to help integrate newcomers, but he also worried about their secular views and feared they could negatively influence the settlers and their children. Petach Tikva became the center of the olim [newcomer] workers at the beginning of the 20th century, where Hapoel Hatzcair [“the young worker” -the later and present-day Israeli Labor Party - Mifleget HaAvoda] and the now-extinct Ahdut HaAvoda party were formed. Nevertheless, the city has not lost its religion yet, and a third of the more than a quarter of a million people is religious, and there are 300 synagogues and two famous yeshivot [Jewish Torah schools] in the city.
In 1931, at the time of the British Mandate, almost seven thousand people lived in the settlement and there were already 1688 houses. The neighborhood was famous for its citrus orchards. In 1937, Petak Tikva rose to the rank of a city; his first mayor was Shlomo Stampfer, son of the founder, Jehosua Stampfer. Seventy years ago, more than 20,000 people lived in the city when the State of Israel was being established, and many smaller settlements in the area were amalgamated into the city over the years.
The tiny Petach Tikva founded by Hungarians, originally a size of only 3.2 square kilometer, has grown to 35,868 square kilometers; its population is almost 260,000; it is the third largest city in the central part of the country. I think the founding fathers would be justly proud to see their dream come true.
Petach Tikva back then (1920) and today
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