Degania Alef was established in 1911 and is one of the first kibbutz. It was the site of a major battle in the War of Independence in 1948. The Gordon Museum of History and Nature is housed at the kibbutz.
The first Jewish socialists began to arrive from Russia in 1904 hoping to find work in the new agricultural settlements. They came to the Jewish Homeland with a mission. They wanted to change the Jewish people into a classless democratic society engaged in productive labour. There was much resistance to new Zionist who were not welcomed by the mainly religious Jews.
Unable to find work led them to establish their own collectives. Degania was the first such group and was founded in 1911 by ten men and two women.
At Degania was based on strict rules where decisions were made at communal meetings where all members had an equal vote. Women joined the men working in the fields. The children were raised in a children’s house and were looked after by everyone in turn. There was a communal dining room where everyone took there turn cooking. Despite harsh weather, disease, and conflicts with local Arabs and the Turkish rulers, Degania survived and other collectives followed its example.
On the day Israel declared independence, May 15th 1948, Syria invaded the new state. Three days later Syrian forces conquered the police station at Zemach and prepared to attack Degania. Operations Officer Yigael Yadin advised members not to open fire until the Syrians approached the perimeter fence.
Five tanks led the Syrian attack force of infantry and armoured vehicles. Degania’s defenders numbered 75 men and women. As the tanks approached the fence the defenders rushed towards them hurling Molotov cocktails. They succeeded in destroying three tanks; the others fled, exposing the infantry, whereupon the Syrian force withdrew to Tel Katzir and did not attack here again. One of the destroyed tanks was left as a memorial on the spot where the Syrian invasion was repelled.
Location: From Zemach junction head north on Highway 90 towards Tiberias, You will pass a British police station converted into an army base. At the next intersection turn left towards Degania. About 100 metres past the turn there is an old Syrian tank on the right.
The Gordon Museum
The oblong stones with holes displayed in the courtyard are assumed to be cultic objects, perhaps anchors dedicated by sailors after a dangerous voyage. Forty of them have been uncovered at archaeological digs, often in bronze-age temples in the Galilee and Lebanon. The large basalt stones along the sidewalk in front of the museum are from synagogues. One is decorated with an eagle (or other bird of prey). The eagle, also a symbol of Rome, often decorated synagogue entrances.
One wing of the museum documents local ancient history, the other natural history. A wing opening soon will display prehistoric artefacts.
The Historical Wing
A page in English describes the exhibits. The first exhibit displays finds from Tel Ubeidiya. This was discovered in the 1960’s when Kibbutz Afikim began preparing land for cultivation. The artefacts and human remains uncovered there are estimated to be 1.4 million years old, some of the earliest found outside Africa. It is thought that prehistoric man migrated from Africa northward along the Syrian-African rift and settled in the Jordan rift valley. Remains found at the site include hippopotamus, elephant, rhinoceros, and human skull fragments 12 millimetres thick (as opposed to 4 millimetres in modem man) belonging to Homo Erectus. Over 10,000 stone tools were found,
but there is no evidence that the inhabitants used fire.
The exhibit on the period of the Mishna and Talmud includes a reproduction of a mosaic with flanking lions. This is a copy of Hamat Gader’s synagogue floor. The mosaic with the candelabrum, lulav, ram’s horn and incense shovel is a copy of the synagogue floor at Hamat Tiberias.
Aaron David Gordon
The museum also has an exhibit on A.D. Gordon (1856-1922). Gordon immigrated from Russia at age forty-seven. Though he had been a desk clerk all his life, upon arriving in Israel he insisted on working as a manual labourer. Gordon believed that the redemption of mankind and of the Jew’s could come only through labour. By writing and by personal example he propagated the ideology of physical labour as essential to connect Jews to the Land of Israel, nature, and their fe11ow man. The following is an excerpt from his writings:
‘The Jewish people has been completely cut off from nature and imprisoned within city walls for two thousand years. They have been accustomed to every form of life, except to a life of labour…it will require the greatest effort of will for such people to become normal again….In Palestine we must do with our own hands all the things that make up the sum total of life. We must ourselves do all the work from the least strenuous, cleanest and most sophisticated, to the dirtiest and most difficult. In our own way we must feel what a worker feels and think what a worker thinks, then and only then shall we have a culture of our own for then we shall have a life of our own….Labour is our cure. Only by making labour for its own sake our national ideal shall we be able to cure ourselves of the plague that has affected us for many generations and mend the rent between ourselves and nature.
Gordon spent his last days at Degania, and the museum is named in his memory.
Natural History Museum
This is on the second floor of the main building. Most of the indigenous species of birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, fish and molluscs of the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River are on display, as well as a herbarium with most of Israel’s flora, a mineralogical exhibit, and a collection of soils and fossils. On the roof there is a small observatory and telescope.
Museum Location: From Highway 10, turn left, then left again at the orange sign to the Gordon Museum. Enter the gate and take the first right turn, drive about 50 meters, and turn left into the parking lot.