To tour the restored Mikveh Israel Agricultural School is to step into Israel’s past and its future. Today’s entrance to the school grounds is via the vibrant city of Holon south of Tel Aviv. But its original gateway still stands to tell visitors one of the site’s fascinating stories: At this very spot, one of the best-known photographs of the Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl was taken, in 1898, with the German Emperor Wilhelm II. A stately old boulevard of palm trees links the gate to Mikve’s grand synagogue, still in use, whose restored ornate painted ceiling and marble floor recalls bygone days.
Mikve Israel was founded in 1870 by the indomitable Karl Netter of the French Jewish organization Alliance Israélite Universelle. Netter pioneered progressive educational methods teach agriculture and a new way of life to the future farmers of this land. There were only about 13,000 Jews in the country at that time, virtually all in the old traditional cities: Jerusalem, Tiberias, Safed and Hebron.
The country’s Ottoman Turkish rulers allocated 750 acres to Netter’s project. Mikve is proud that to this day its lands, bordering on the 2,000-acre Ariel Sharon Park, make an essential contribution to the “green lung” that helps preserve open space around densely populated Tel Aviv and the towns of the surrounding Dan Region.
Over the years, Mikve Israel has not only educated tens of thousands of children; it has taken part in the most dramatic chapters of Israel’s history––as a base for the pre-state defense force, the Haganah, and a home for waves of new immigrant children. To this day, with a student body of over a thousand, Mikve Israel educates boys and girls, Jews and non-Jews, Orthodox and non-Orthodox––a true microcosm of Israel.
A guided tour brings alive the old gate, the synagogue, the Karl Netter House and other attractions at the site, which is dipped in greenery, including its famous Bengali ficus tree planted by the Mikve’s pioneering landscape gardeners in around 1888. You can also descend deep underground to the cool arched halls of the stone-carved wine-cellar, built in 1883. The roots growing through the walls give these underground chambers an air of mystery, which goes with the story of the young people sworn into the ranks of the Haganah here in pre-state days.
The care and expertise with which the buildings of Mikve Israel have been restored are an integral part of its story. It’s not by coincidence that the Council for the Restoration and Preservation of Historic Sites in Israel has its headquarters here. The Council has its offices in the Teachers House at Mikve, built in 1898. The Teachers House also has an authentic assembly hall, a unique venue for a special celebration or conference.
To arrange a tour at Mikve Israel, (by reservation only) write: firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn about the many other restored sites in Israel you can visit, go to www.shimur.co.il