Our guesthouse Beit Bracha is in Migdal
Beit Bracha is the smallest of CMJ Israel’s three guesthouses, with just twelve rooms and 30 beds. While Christ Church Guest House is situated in the bustling, busy heart of Jerusalem, right in the Old City just a short distance from the Temple Mount, and Beit Immanuel lies in Jaffa, just a few hundred meters from the Mediterranean Sea, Beit Bracha sits on a hillside overlooking the Sea of Galilee in the village of Migdal. During a recent visit I was privileged to visit the small museum there and learned something of this town's fascinating past.
The museum is in an old house that was owned by the curator, a long-standing resident of Migdal. It contains old photos and documents that give insight into Migdal’s unusual history. Founded early in the 20th century by German Catholics because of the location’s association with Mary Magdalene, the settlement was soon sold on to pioneer Zionists mostly from Russia, who tried to raise funds from Russia to grow their farm. The place became a training centre for farmers and workers, but few stayed there. They met their life partners and moved onto more permanent homes elsewhere in Palestine. And then the Russian revolution in 1917 forced them to look elsewhere for funds and to consider other plans for growth.
They turned their attention to the United States with a new plan to raise money to transform Migdal from an agricultural training settlement into a garden city, with large plots and well-built houses, hotels, synagogues, restaurants and community centres.
The plan worked well at first, and people bought into the idea of investing in and living in a beautiful town overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The project became prominent and visitors during the 1920s included the rich and famous. Among these two stand out. Albert Einstein visited Palestine in 1922, stopping at Haifa on his way by ship to Japan for a lecture tour. While there he was persuaded to come to Migdal. He wanted to drive there by car, but the roads such as they were were poor, and flooding had made it all but impossible to pass. When his vehicle became stuck, the villagers produced four mules that towed him out of the dirt and into the town! It was said that Einstein was so engaged in conversation with his wife that he was not even aware that mules and not the car’s engine were making it go! A photo in the museum shows him, distinguished and instantly recognisable by his hair and his pipe in mouth, planting a tree.
Another prominent visitor was Lord Melchett, formerly Sir Alfred Mond, a prominent British industrialist and Member of Parliament, who was so enchanted by the place the he bought land there and built a large villa on the sea shore at the bottom of the hill. The villa still stands today, prominent and distinguished among the trees on the edge of the lake.
Sadly, however, as in 1917 the plans to raise money came to nought. The great stock market crash of 1929 saw an end to American investment in the garden city scheme, and Migdal was left once more to fend for itself. Without the help that other towns and villages received from Zionist organisations like the Jewish National Fund, the villagers pursued agriculture and gradually grew the village.
A prominent and significant theme of those early days was that Migdal people never give up, they keep going, they don’t let circumstances get them down.
Migdal today is a product of those early struggles, of hope generated and dashed, of struggle and of perseverance. Many of the families living there now are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those early pioneers. The farmlands around the town and along the lakeshore are still in evidence, and the village has of course grown. Our guide at the museum stated that there are now about 2000 residents of the village, with perhaps half of the houses owned by people from out of town, who visit at weekends and over holidays.
And since 2002 we have been part of this history. Beit Bracha was established by CMJ Israel at the crest of the slope overlooking the Kinneret as a House of Blessing, to serve as a place of refuge and rest and refreshing, and of prayer and intercession for the village, and the land and people of Israel and the nations.
As our current directors there, Kent and Shawna Splawn, draw to the end of their term of office later this year, and we seek out those who will come in their place, it is exciting, humbling and a great honour to know that we now share in the identity of Migdal, the history of the town has been added to our history, and ours to theirs, and in future we will be part of the heritage that is established.
Join us in praying that Beit Bracha will continue to be the House of Blessing, the city on a hill, the place of rest and refreshing, and the centre of prayer, worship and intercession that it was established to be.