The Establishment of Mikveh Israel
The Cultural Legacy of Baron Edmund de Rothschild’s Built Heritage in Israel

Mikveh Israel is situated near the town of Azur and the city of Holon. The school was established near the main Jerusalem-Jaffa Road, on a vacant plot of land surrounded by several Arab villages.  Salameh in the north, Tel Arish and Abu Kabir in the west, and Yazur in the east. To the south, there were sandy areas on which the city of Holon stands today.  Situated in the western drainage basin of Nahal Ayalon, the land is alluvial and very fertile. The school is built on a kurkar hill.  Wells and the evidence of water sources can be seen, such as “Antilla” wells and cisterns. The school grew various crops (wheat, barley, grapes, avocado, almonds, mango, feijoa, apples and more) and raised livestock (horses, cows, chickens, and sheep) and kept bees. 

The school now extends over 3,500 dunams.  2600 of these are the original plot of land allocated by power of the original firman; this allocation of lands was also recognized by the British mandate.  Following the establishment of the State of Israel, in response to a request by the school’s director, the Land and Development Authority allocated an additional 839 dunams to the school 

According to an agreement signed in 1956 between AIU and the State of Israel, the joint Mikveh Israel Company was established in 1962. It was responsible for management, growth and development of the institution.  Based on this same agreement, Israel has leased the land to AIU for 99 years, with the option of renewing the lease for an additional 99 years, on the condition that AIU subleases the land to Mikveh Israel. 

Mikveh Israel: Cultural Assets

Carl Netter’s original building plan is modeled after French farms. The school gate allowed access to the main road from Jaffa to Jerusalem. A tree-lined path leads from the gate to the main building housing the synagogue.  Two elongated buildings were built on both sides of the synagogue, creating a closed compound with inner courtyards. Most of Mikveh Israel’s buildings were built from local kurkar (sandstone). 

The cultural assets of Mikveh Israel tell the story of the school and illuminate the history of Israeli agriculture and architecture, while providing information regarding the role of this institution in the defense of the Yishuv. 


These assets include: 

  • Jerusalem Gate, the school’s main entrance, features an iron gate flanked by two kurkar pillars. A narrow rectangular building nearby marks the remains of a defense post, an Antilia well, and reservoir. A statue of Herzl standing in front of the German Emperor (on horseback) commemorates the famous meeting between the two men that took place at this site in 1898. 
  • Synagogue Building. Built in 1896, the eclectic-style synagogue has two floors. The ground floor has a prayer hall and a library, and the second floor has study halls. The bars and windows of the synagogue are embellished, and the inside walls also feature intricate designs.    
  • Beit Netter: Built in 1971, the elongated structure was Mikveh Israel’s first building.  The ground floor includes a dairy, stables, a barn, calf and sheep pens, the tool shed, the pantry, the kitchen, the dining room, a classroom, and a prayer hall. Dormitories and the director’s apartment were on the second floor. At the north end of the house, a reservoir collected runoff and rainwater. This was the first water well built by the Jewish settlement movement in Eretz Yisrael.  
  • Beit Ha’Prahim.: Built in the 1890’s, and modeled after Arabic architecture, the structure features many ornamental elements such as projecting windows with latticework, inscriptions. and stone gables. The building was first used as a bakery and the second floor housed the laundry. Later it became a laboratory. 
  • The Winery: Partly carved out of rock, the winery was built in 1887. It is divided into various halls which feature wooden gables and roof-tiles imported from Marseille. It’s four cellars are carved from sandstone and feature sandstone tiles and arched niches. Wide vaults were built above the underground halls. The ventilation system is a series of interior tunnels and clay pipes. 
  • The Teachers’ House: Established in 1894 to house the teaching staff, the cobblestone building has two floors and a Marseille-tile roof.  
  • The Trainees House: This building, containing bedrooms and a dining room, housed groups of workers who came to work at Mikveh Israel for ideological reasons during the Second and Third Aliyot. The sandstone building is supported by wooden beams; it has two stories and a Marseille-tile roof. 
  • Administration Building: Built in 1895 on the top of the hill, the structure features a mix of Western and Middle Eastern motifs. There is a mural on the living room ceiling. School offices are on the ground floor. The school principal and his family live on the second floor. 
  • Netter Cave: This is the cave that Netter lived in the early days of Mikveh Israel. A bronze statue of Netter has been erected just above it. 
  • Netter’s grave: Netter died in 1882, at the age of 56, and was buried in Mikveh Israel. The inscription on the tombstone is attributed to Bialik. 
  • Eucalyptus Grove:  The seeds of these eucalyptus trees were brought to Mikveh Israel from Australia in 1882. The trees grown at the school were later replanted in Jewish settlements as they were effective in draining swamps. 
  • Botanical garden: Established in 1923, this 90-dunam botanical garden was one of the first of its kind in the region. The garden features the Warrior’s Monument erected in 1953 in memory of the fallen soldiers of the War of Independence.    

Mikveh Israel Law

Later, widespread recognition of the importance of preserving these assets led to the legislation of the Mikveh Israel Law. The following excerpts from Knesset discussions on the Mikveh Israel Law reveal the consensus regarding the importance of Mikveh Israel as a national site:

Minister of Interior Yosef Burg, National Religious Party: “Personally, I present this law with special love, since I was active, during the Nazi rule of Germany, in establishing the religious division of Mikveh Israel. Under the influence of Baron Rothschild, about fifty certificates were given then… we chose the first children from an orphanage in Frankfurt am Main, which was built by the Baron’s ancestors. That is the chain of Jewish history, and that’s why I am especially moved to present this law.” 

MK Avraham Katz, Likud: “Please remember, Mikveh Israel is not just another site, another agricultural school, another point on the map. Mikveh Israel has become a concept that represents the return to the land, the study of its Torah, training for settlement and defense, the absorption of young immigrants, and the internalization of traditional Jewish values by students from all different backgrounds… this law before us repays our debt of honor towards Mikveh Israel…” 

MK David Koren, Labor:  “Even before the First and Second Aliyot and the Biluim, when Jews were looking for a practical way to realize the goal of returning to Zion, Carl Netter founded Mikveh Israel. This is the source, this is the beginning, this is the foundation, and everything that happened in Israel in the field of agriculture and settlement has its origins in Mikveh Israel.” 


photo credit: Pikiwikisrael (talk | contribs)

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