The Story Of Birya
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To illustrate an accomplishment of the chalutzim, with a tie-in to the Bnei Akiva members who played a part in settling Birya.
The story of Birya represents an accomplishment of creating a Jewish settlement through the determination and willpower of the Jews living during the British Mandate of Pre-State Israel.
Read the enclosed story of the events at Birya.
If the kvutza is cooperative, you can allow chanichim to read different parts instead of the madrich reading the entire story.
The Story of Birya
This story took place before Israel became an independent country. At the time, in 1946, the British were in charge of Eretz Yisrael. On the 23rd of Tevet, 5705, eight members of Hapoel Hamizrachi went to work the lands of Birya. The settlement, in the hills just north of Tzfat, was to be prepared for a group of discharged soldiers. The barren hills did not provide the small group of workers a haven from the bitter cold and violent winds; they had to live in Tzfat and travel to their work every day. After a short time even this comfort was denied them. The Arabs attacked and tried to destroy everything. The workers were forced to take turns standing guard during the long cold hours of the night.
A year passed. One by one the hardships were overcome. A house was built, and some twenty members settled on the place and began to work intensively at its development. In a short time more than twenty kilometers of terracing were prepared for afforestation on the rocky slopes. The settlers worked hard, in eager anticipation of the day when they would be joined by their chaverim in the armed forces.
On the second day of Adar, 5706, their work was suddenly interrupted. A detachment of British troops surrounded the little settlement, rounded up the settlers and loaded them in a military truck. Before they left for the notorious prison at Acre the chaverim heard the head officer announce that the settlement was to be closed, and that no Jews were to be allowed to settle here. They watched with dismay, as the British began to destroy all that they had worked so hard to build. The British left soldiers to guard the site to make sure no Jews returned.
The British had an official explanation for their actions. Shots were said to have been fired at a sentry in the nearby camp of the Arab legion. Blood stains were said to be found which led to Birya, and weapons were discovered at the foot of a hill near the settlement.
Upon hearing of the events at Birya there was an uproar among all the settlements in the Upper Galil. "Such a thing has never happened! Shall we give up a Jewish settlement? Shall we abandon one stretch of Jewish soil?" From all sides came the call: 'We shall go up to Birya:.
And they went. On foot they went, on a stormy night. From all parts of the Galil they had come. City people joined them.. The leaders of the group announced "Chaverim, we are going to Birya. The night is one of darkness, one of cold and rain. The forces of the military are awaiting us at the place. Anyone who does not desire to endanger himself may return to his home- we shall have nothing against him". Not a single man left.
They hiked for seven hours. The rain beat down on them and occasionally even hail. On their backs they carried the tents, the poles, the lumber and the sacks of food. Hundreds marched together, crowded into one compact body in order to conserve the small amount of heat and afford themselves a little protection from the rain. Here and there someone fell from cold and exhaustion. They picked him up and marched on. They went quickly, in constant fear lest the military forces discover and not permit them to reach the place.
One thought was in every mind - they must at all costs reach Birya. They must not fail.
They finally reached an area near the original site of Birya, wet to the very marrow of their bones. Streams of water rushed from their clothes. Their knees were weak from exhaustion but there was no place to rest. Soon dawn began to break over the hills. The work began. In a short time the place was cleared of rocks, tents were put up and lean-to's built. Some dropped to the wet ground under the lean-to's and promptly fell asleep. But not all were so fortunate. Many hundreds of people crowded the small area; there was no room for all to lie down.
The building continued. The place soon took on the appearance of a camp. A wall was built around it and a blue and white flag was hoisted in the center. Ten British soldiers guarding the original camp of Birya awoke and rubbed their eyes in amazement. A new camp had been built right next door!
The British soldiers alerted their headquarters and in the late hours of the morning the British military forces reached the new site of Birya. A detachment of soldiers stationed itself near the new settlement. The men in Birya were tense, ready for anything. Hours passed and nothing happened. The feeling grew that "Birya 2" was secure. One by one the builders of the new colony returned home. Only about 250 men remained.
A few hours later the British began to move. The soldiers, reinforced by police, descended on the camp and began loading the settlers on trucks. Meanwhile the tanks plowed through the tents and barracks. Soon the place was a shambles - smashed to the ground. The chalutzim offered no resistance, for so they had been ordered beforehand; but they knew that others would come in their place. Birya would not be abandoned! As the trucks rumbled through the streets of Tzfat and Rosh Pina on the way to Tverya a muffled cry arose from the men crowded within: "'Chaverim, go up to Birya!".
But even as the tanks were destroying "Birya II", a group of 300 men were watching from some distance away. They had come to relieve the chaverim who were exhausted from the work of the night and suspense of the day. From their hiding place they saw everything that happened. They saw the destruction and they saw their chaverim taken away on the trucks. As soon as the tanks had finished their work and the soldiers had left, this second group rushed to the place, and began to rebuild the wall and set up the tents anew. As they got the work under way streams of Jews began arriving from Tzfat and Rosh Pina. Stores were left closed and farms were left untended. Old and young men joined the new march on Birya. Soon 1,200 men were assembled in the camp. The work progressed quickly, and soon "Birya 3" was established.
In the evening the British soldiers returned and surrounded the camp at a distance. All roads to the settlement were blockaded and the communications were cut off. Friday came. All of Eretz Yisrael was tense, all ears glued to the radio. Friday afternoon a protest strike broke out in Haifa. Delegations began arriving in Tzfat from all parts of the country. They city itself was in an uproar. For many years the city had been isolated. Finally a settlement had been established nearby, and now the settlement was in imminent danger. Jewish men were endangering their lives to defend its land. Shabbat came, and Purim was the following day, yet the eyes of Tzfat were intent on Birya.
The men of Tzfat stood ready that day not only to sacrifice their lives, but even more, to desecrate the Shabbat. And indeed on that Shabbat, as the two camps in Birya stood face to face and it seemed that blood would be shed at any instant, the main square of Tzfat, where cars were never seen on Shabbat, was lined with trucks readied for a dash to Birya. And together with the less religious of youth, who were anxious to go up to the colony, the old Jews, shomrei mitzvot, readied themselves to travel on Shabbat - to save Birya.
At the last minute it was announced that the danger had passed and the trucks did not set out. a messenger came from Birya with the news. The British soldiers had not disturbed the place but the bread had given out and the men at Birya were hungry. On Shabbat afternoon the bakery was opened and with the permission of the Rav, an oven was heated so that bread could be provided for the guardians of the little settlement. That evening every oven in Tzfat was busy baking hamentashen to send to Birya in honor of Purim.
On that night of Purim a group of people went from Tzfat to visit Birya. One of the elders of the city walked at the head, carrying a megilla that would be read before the men at the camp. As he entered the gates of the camp he said the blessing "Shehechiyanu" for this hill in the Galil which had been resettled by Jews By torch light the megilla was read to the hundreds of people from all parts of the Galil. The singing and dancing which followed belied the tension which still enveloped the colony.
Purim afternoon the battle ended. The Committee representing the settlers was summoned to the British Commissioners office and informed that the government would allow twenty settlers to remain on the land on condition that by the evening the crowds at Birya would disperse. A member of the Committee returned to the camp, and, as the blue and white flag waved proudly overhead, announced to the jubilant multitude that their work was crowned with success. The siege had been lifted. Because of the strong stand and powerful will of the people a Jewish settlement would not be erased from the map of the Yishuv. The strains of "Hatikva" rose joyfully from every throat.
On the 29th of Adar a pluga of Bnei Akiva members settled in Birya to take the places of those who had been arrested. The settlement will, therefore, remain as before a Jewish area, settled by religious chalutzim.
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