The story of Kibbutz Degania is a testament to the fortitude of the early immigrant pioneers who settled the land of Israel prior to statehood. In honor of Yom Ha’zikaron and Yom Ha’atzma’ut (Israeli Memorial Day and Israel Independence Day), Jewish Treats presents a brief history of the heroism of the first kibbutz.

Kibbutz Degania actually consists of two separate settlements: Degania Aleph and Degania Bet. The land for Degania Aleph, which is located just south of the Sea of Galilee, was purchased by Keren Kayemet Leyisra’el (the Jewish National Fund), and was settled by seven immigrants from Romny, Russia. This initial settlement unfortunately did not succeed, but a second group of pioneers, ten men and two women, arrived from Russia and took over the land in October 1910. They named their new settlement Degania after the five varieties of grain that would grow on the land.

Although Degania Aleph was a collective settlement, it was not actually a kibbutz, but rather a kvutzah  (same root, k-b-tz, which means gathering), due to its small size. Because the members of Kvutzah Degania wished to remain small, Kibbutz Degania Bet was established a few miles to the south in 1920, during the next wave of immigration. Degania Aleph is often referred to as the “Mother of the Kvutzot” and was often a model for the establishment of other collective settlements in Israel.

On May 20, 1948, only a few days after David Ben Gurion declared the existence of the State of Israel, Degania Aleph came under attack by a Syrian tank unit that wished to capture the nearby bridge over the Jordan River. The 70 residents of Degania Aleph fought valiantly and were able to keep the Syrians out of their settlement. (One tank did cross the perimeter and was then immobilized by a Molotov Cocktail.) The battle at Degania Bet was no less harrowing, but in the end the Syrians retreated.

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