Synagogue Street, Rishon LeZion, 1893
This photograph from the late 1800s shows a street in the village of Rishon LeZion. The buildings in the picture are all made of stone, and the main road is not paved. The style of the homes shows the influence of European architecture, and most have only one floor. A close look shows that each home has a yard and a wooden outhouse. A larger two-storey building in the distance is the synagogue, built at the top of the hill in the centre of the moshava. The title of the photograph, written in German in the bottom right, is “Synagogue Street.” There are trees in between the buildings, and in the foreground there is a pile of large stones and an overturned barrel. Newly planted trees line the streets, and a few people can be seen on the road. There is a horse or donkey on the road in the distance.
Rishon LeZion, located south of Tel Aviv near the Mediterranean Sea, was founded in 1882 by Russian immigrants, most of who left Russia after a series of anti-Semitic riots. The name Rishon LeZion means “First in Zion,” although it was actually the second moshava (farm settlement), established after Petach Tikva. The founders faced many difficulties upon their arrival in Palestine due to their lack of resources, knowledge, and experience of the conditions in their new home. Baron Edmund de Rothschild, a philanthropist and strong believer in Zionism, supported the pioneers, established vineyards and wineries, and funded a project to provide water for citrus groves. These initiatives helped the Jews of Rishon LeZion establish the economic foundation for the new moshava. Work on the synagogue started in 1884, and it too was funded by the Baron de Rothschild. Despite obstacles imposed by the Turkish authorities, the building was finished five years later. The front of the synagogue has twelve openings, one for each of the twelve tribes of the Children of Israel and there is a chanukiya on the roof. In the early years of Rishon LeZion, the synagogue was used for social purposes, housing the moshava’s general meetings and celebrations, a boys’ school, the first Hebrew kindergarten in Israel, and the Maccabi youth movement. In 2013, the synagogue was renovated by the Rishon LeZion municipality but still retains the original nineteenth- century Ark.
Today, Rishon LeZion is Israel’s fourth largest city. The wine industry remains an important part of its economy alongside various high-tech companies.
Geography teachers can use this photograph when teaching about the urbanisation in general and the urban development of central Israel since the end of the nineteenth century.
Jewish History teachers can integrate this photo into a unit on the New Yishuv and the life of the pioneers who established the new settlements. It can also be used when discussing the role of philanthropists, such as Baron de Rothschild, in the development of Israel.
What can be seen in the picture?
What kinds of buildings can you see?
What can you say about the road?
Does this settlement look developed?
What else is depicted in the photograph?
What is the title at the bottom of the photograph?
What language is it written in?
Reading Between the Lines
This is a photograph of Rishon LeZion.
When do you think the photograph was taken?
Consider the title of the photo.
Where do you think the synagogue was located?
The buildings show European influence.
Why do you think this was the case?
Find out more about who established Rishon LeZion here.
Find the wooden structures next to each home.
What are they?
What does this tell you about life at this time?
At the bottom of the picture is a wine barrel.
How do you think this was connected to the lives of the settlers in RIshon LeZion?
Have you been to Rishon LeZion?
Where is Rishon LeZion located?
Find it on a map.
How big is it today, and what characterizes it?
What does the name Rishon LeZion mean?
Why was this name chosen?
Imagine life in Rishon LeZion at the time this photograph was taken.
Would you like to have been a pioneer and farmer in a new village in the Land of Israel?
Rishon LeZion was first in many things; its very name means “First in Zion.”
Read here to find out about the city’s many claims to being first. Which “first” do you like best? Why?
Use Google Images to find out what this street looks like today. Can you see any similarities? What are the most noticeable differences?
Write a journal entry after a long day as a new settler in Rishon LeZion in 1893. What was your day like? What things were successful about your day? What was difficult? Using canva.com design your journal entry to make it look as if it was written in the 1890s.