Degania was the first agricultural commune or kvutza formed in then Palestine. It has been called “the mother of all kibbutzim,” not only because it was the first, but also because it became the model for all subsequent kibbutzim. It was founded in 1910 by eight men and one woman, although this soon expanded to ten men and two women. Over 300 kibbutzim have since been formed in Israel. There are two museums in Degania Alef - the Founders Museum which can only be viewed with a group and the Gordon Museum. The theme of the former is the early days of this commune. The latter is a collection of natural history specimens. Unfortunately, the format of this valuable collection is quite dated.
The kvutza began in the area of an Arab village called Umm Juni, the land having been bought by the Jewish National Fund. (A kvutza is a settlement that was intended to remain small in size and to engage in agriculture, as distinct from a kibbutz which was larger and which engaged in agriculture and other ventures). Two years later they moved from their mud huts and shacks to a permanent location by the mouth of the Jordan River. Well-known figures who worked here included Israel’s national poetess Rachel Bluwstein, A.D. Gordon who was a well-known philosopher who held that only physical labor could connect Jews with their homeland, the paramilitiary commander Joseph Trumpeldor, and David Ben-Gurion who would later become Israel’s prime minister. Moshe Dayan was the second child to be born here, although the family did not remain in the kvutza.
This was a place imbued with socialist thinking, as was predominant during the period of the Second Aliya. The kibbutz split into Alef, Bet and Gimel in 1920 over the issue of whether children should stay with their parents or move to dorms before age 10. Two new kibbutzim were established south of Degania Alef. The kibbutz underwent privatization in 2007.
These kibbutzim, together with a small number of military personnel, repelled a Syrian attack in one of the first battles of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, and thereby prevented a Syrian advance into the Jordan Valley. Degania Alef was destroyed in the battle, but it was rapidly rebuilt. At the gates of the kibbutz one can see an original Syrian tank that was stopped with a Molotov cocktail.
Directions: Enter "Degania Alef" into Waze.
Entrance: The Founders Museum is open from 9.00 to 4.00 pm Sunday to Thursday and on Saturday. A 1½-hour tour is offered for groups and this can be in English. Call Hadas at 052 374 9170 or the kibbutz office at 04-675 0040.
The Gordon House museum can be viewed by individuals on Monday, Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 9.30 am to 1.30 pm. Call Rachel at 050 374 9175 or the kibbutz office at 04 675 0040. For precise directions within the kibbutz enter "Gordon House" into Waze and click on "Gordon House Museum, Degania Alef , Israel."
The Founders Museum is in the former dining room and is about the experience of the founders of this kvutza. Explanations of all the exhibits are in Hebrew, but explanations are provided during the tour in English. There is also a movie in the nearby restaurant which can be viewed in English.
The Gordon House is a natural history museum that includes a display of stuffed animals and birds - those still found in the area and those extinct - plus other exhibits such as geology specimens. A tour is offered for a small fee and this can be in English.
A.D. Gordon was not a biologist and this museum was founded in 1936 after his death in his memory. At its beginnings, it was very popular and was visited by many dignitaries. However, other than two very nice displays of creatures in their natural habitat, this is a collection, with exhibits displayed only with their Hebrew and Latin names. This is a museum seeking a role, since unless one is already a biologist its educational value is limited. The tour is also about the history of the museum and not about the exhibits. For that, you are left on your own.