After the demise of Theodor Herzl in 1904, KKL-JNF started the Olive Tree Donation project, a fund that would collect money for buying land and planting olive trees. The lands of Hulda were acquired by the fund, and they were designated for planting olive trees to honor the memory of Herzl.
In 1909, an olive tree farm was founded, and a beautiful house was built and called the Herzl House. The farm was managed by agronomist Louis Barish, who lived alone on the second floor of the house, and left the crowded ground floor for the workers. Inexperience and lack of knowledge about the local climate hindered the tree planting project. Out of the 12,000 olive tree saplings, only 3,000 took root. The feeling was bad, and relations between the manager and the farmhands were not promising.
Under his successor, the agronomist Yitzhak Vilkansky, Hulda changed and became an educational farm. In addition to the olive trees, fruit trees, shrubs and forests were planted, including almond, pine, acacia, cypress and carob, and there was a chicken coop, a cowshed, grain fields and agricultural industries that turned the place into a diversified farm.
Hulda Forest. Photo: KKL-JNF Archive.
During the years of WWI, most of the workers left or were evacuated, and the farm was abandoned. The few remaining farmworkers coped with a severe water shortage and a plague of locusts that decimated the vegetation. After the war, groups of pioneers settled in Hulda, who brought with them the idea of afforestation of desolate lands. “We will plant trees on the hills, make them live, and live there ourselves,” is what they said. The forests were planted primarily with pines, which did well. The groups spent varying lengths of time at the farm, where they received professional training and furthered the farm and its various branches of agriculture and afforestation.
The vicious rampages that swept across the land of Israel in the summer of 1929 did not spare the isolated farm. On the night of 28 Av, September 4, the defenders of Hulda were attacked by local Arabs. Efraim Chisik, who had come to help, was killed in combat. The tragic stories of Chisik and his sister Sara illustrate the self-sacrifice and dedication of the pioneers dedicated to the Jewish repatriation of the land of Israel.
Sara Chisik was killed in the defense of Tel Hai, which turned into a symbol of the few prevailing against the many. Chisik arrived in Hulda with a man from the erstwhile Hashomer, Yaakov Abramson, where they found sixteen men, two women and two children. Another twenty Haganah men arrived, and they began to fortify the village, but thousands of Arabs from the villages in the vicinity attacked the yard and set the silo on fire.
As the defenders crawled back to Herzl House, Efraim Chisik, who led the retreat, was fatally wounded. The Herzl House was besieged. British soldiers arrived during the night and ordered the defenders to leave the place. They left the destroyed farm, reluctantly, and the forest that had gone up in flames. For the next two years, the devastated farm remained deserted.
Herzl House inside. Photo: Avi Hayun.
Then, in 1931, a group of pioneers arrived from the Gordonia movement in Poland and began rehabilitating and replanting the burnt forest, the olive groves and orchards, and the grain fields. The Gordonia people left the farm in the Herzl Forest in 1937 and went to establish Kibbutz Hulda on a nearby hill, which was more favorable for living and farming. During the Israel War of Independence, when the road to Jerusalem was blockaded, Kibbutz Hulda was the embarkation and organization point for the people who broke through the blockade to the capital city.