Pesach - Heritage Outings

Beit Hannah Senesh


This was a place that we had wanted to visit for quite a while, and finally braved the Chol HaMoed traffic to do it!


Poet and paratrooper Hannah Senesh's story is one of true dedication to Israel and the Jewish people. She was only 23 years old when she was captured and killed by the Nazis after being sent on a mission to help Hungarian Jews during WWII. A museum in her honor is located at Kibbutz Sdot Yam, the kibbutz Hannah Senesh belonged to.

At the museum there is an audiovisual display presenting Hanna Senesh’s life story, mission, and death. In the hall there is also a modest exhibition of the photos and life story of the other six paratroopers who were killed on that mission, as well as a monument brought from the Budapest cemetery.

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A little more detailed background in case you are interested:


In December of 1942, 21-year-old Hannah Senesh wrote a poem beginning with the words, “A voice called. And I went. I went because the voice called.” Weeks later, she would be asked to take part in a clandestine operation that would aid European Jewry during World War II. In mid-March of 1944, Senesh parachuted into what was then Yugoslavia, crossing into Nazi-occupied Hungary two months later in an effort to save her fellow Jews from certain death. She was caught at the border and interrogated, but refused to divulge information that could compromise the safety of her fellow paratroopers. On November 7, 1944, following months of torture, she was executed in Budapest by a Nazi firing squad.

Senesh was buried in a Jewish cemetery in Budapest, but in 1950 her body was exhumed and transported to Israel by a warship that docked in Haifa for a memorial ceremony. Her remains were then taken to her Israeli home, Kibbutz Sdot Yam for another ceremony, and then on to Tel Aviv where yet another commemoration took place. Finally, she was laid to rest in the military cemetery at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

Senesh was a talented writer who produced dozens of poems, and a play about kibbutz life, as well. Senesh’s mother was an accomplished pianist and Hannah herself played the piano. Life then was good. But nevertheless, during her teen years, she saw how antisemitism was on the rise in her homeland. Becoming an ardent Zionist, she studied Hebrew to prepare for immigration to what was then British Mandate Palestine. Her first written words in Hebrew were: “I want to read the Bible in Hebrew. I know it will be very difficult, but this is a beautiful language and in it lies the spirit of our people.”

An outstanding student, Senesh graduated high school with honors in 1939. Soon afterward, she immigrated to the Holy Land, where she studied at an agricultural school for two years. With farming knowledge under her belt, she joined the pioneers of Kibbutz Sdot Yam, who had settled the previous year on the sands of Caesarea just south of what would become the marvelous Caesarea National Park of today.

Information was reaching Palestine about a European genocide. The Jewish Agency made plans to rescue as many Jews as possible, and in 1943 Senesh joined a group of men and women tasked with parachuting into Europe and helping to organize the Jewish resistance. In the end, 30 men and three women parachuted into Eastern Europe. Twelve of the volunteers were captured and seven executed by the Nazis; five men and two women. Those who jumped but were not caught performed missions crucial to the Jewish resistance.

Three of the slain paratroopers — Hannah Senesh, Haviva Reik and Raphael Reis — were eventually buried in a uniquely designed plot on Mount Herzl. Next to them are memorial gravestones for the other four: Abba Berditchev, Zvi Ben Yaakov, Enzo Sireni, and Peretz Goldstein.

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Very recently (actually, the day before we went there!), a Jerusalem high school student, Klil Shemesh (above) noticed that the Hebrew birth date on Hannah Senesh's gravestone has been incorrect for 70 years! Klil, who is a fan of the late paratrooper, had decided to write her final 11th grade assignment for literature about the poems of Hannah Senesh. During the course of her work, she noted that the date on Hannah’s gravestone was Tamuz 21 when in fact, Senesh was born on Tamuz 11. She went to Mount Herzl with her father, and they confirmed that the date was indeed wrong. Klil immediately notified the Defense Ministry, and the date was corrected. After revisiting the grave after the date was corrected, Klil stated, "It is only right to honor the memory of such a great historical figure with the correct details. I do not feel like I did anything great, but it moved me."


On the same day we visited the Hannah Senesh museum, we also stopped at a nearby site called Heftziba. This is not a place you should make a special effort to get to, but if you’re already in the area… you get the point. We found the guard at the entrance to the site to be quite exhausting, saying, “Why do you want to look at old buildings?” The only thing we could think to reply was, “Uhhh… because we like them?”


Heftziba was an agricultural farm from the beginning of the Jewish settlement in Palestine. From 1906 to 1914, orchards were planted, and houses for workers, a cowshed, and a stable were built. With the outbreak of WWI, the farm suffered a chain of disasters that led to its final abandonment in 1929. The remains of the buildings were used in the following years by members of youth movements, and Haganah and Palmach fighters for training.


In 1992, the area was purchased by the Electric Company, which over the years restored the buildings and paved walking paths for the public. You can really only see the exterior of the buildings and can’t enter them. But you can manage to see through the window bars the interior of the historic pump house by which water from the Hadera Stream was pumped to irrigate the plantations.


There is a large and lovely grassy area on the site for picnics, and you can walk along the Hadera Stream. The site is very clean and well maintained. So just ignore the sour guard at the entrance - we think he was just pissed off about having to work on Chol HaMoed!

Dir Aziz (Southern Golan)

Dir Aziz is an abandoned Syrian village that was built on the ruins of a Jewish settlement from Talmudic times. The village houses a synagogue, olive presses, and a spring with an artificial pool, inside a eucalyptus grove. The spring area was renovated by the people of Kanaf, a moshav in the Golan Heights, in memory of their friend Asher Novik, who died in the Second Lebanon War.


The synagogue on the site was first described by Laurence Oliphant in 1885, and is believed to be from the fourth century C.E. In Oliphant’s report were details of a three-meter-high wall, but it is believed to have collapsed in an earthquake. Features of the synagogue that have survived include a basalt stone floor, remains of eight pillars, and three benches. Archeologists recovered hundreds of Byzantine coins from beneath the floor of the synagogue. Olive presses, a cemetery and what may be a pottery workshop were documented in surveys of the site. In 1998–2004, excavation of the synagogue uncovered a unique basilica structure, an apse and a magnificent bimah. The synagogue is unique in its build: It was constructed to have its inhabitants pray in the direction of southern Jerusalem.


The southwestern wall has an indentation in it that is assumed to have contained the Torah Ark. A line of Greek writing has been revealed on the bimah containing the name Judah and the number 295, presumably marking the number of years since the fall of the Second Temple. In addition, one of the synagogue's door frames has the Greek word "AZIZO" written on it, indicating that Aziz was the original name of the Talmudic-era settlement that settled the land.


We found it a little tricky to try to see the remains of the olive press, and are not certain we actually found them – you have to wade through a field of tall, thick bramble and wildflowers to do so, so you might want to skip that attempt and just enjoy the synagogue structure and the beautiful views from the site.


Also on the site were cement pools that reach about a meter depth, but they looked a little on the murky side, so we didn’t try entering them. There were a group of families and kids there though who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying themselves.

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