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Encyclopedia Judaica : Deganyah

Degania (Heb. דְּגַנְיָה), two kevuzot – Degania Alef and Degania Bet – in Israel, on the Jordan-Yarmuk Plain south of Lake Kinneret, both affiliated to Ihud ha-Kibbutzim. Degania Alef was founded in 1909 on land that was among the first holdings acquired by the Jewish National Fund . The initiative came from seven pioneers of the Second Aliyah who were working as wage earners at the neighboring farm of Kinneret and who applied to Arthur Ruppin to farm a plot of land on their own responsibility. Ruppin decided to accord them a trial period on a part of the lands east of the Jordan named Umm Jūnī. Surprisingly, the experiment succeeded economically, although the group dispersed after a year. It was followed in 1911 by the Haderah Commune whose members (pioneers from Russia) worked out the principles of collective settlement (see Kibbutz movement ) and made Degania the Mother of the Kevuzot. 

A.D. Gordon, one of the early members, played an important part in laying the ideological foundations of communal living. In the initial years, the kevuzah suffered from frequent attacks by Bedouin robbers encamped in the vicinity. After World War I, with the arrival of Third Aliyah immigrants, Degania's intensified farming created a need for more hands, but preferring to maintain the frame of the small family kevuzah, the settlers ceded part of the land allocated to them for the establishment of another kevuzah, which was built in 1920 and named Degania Bet. In time, the two settlements further intensified farming and recognized the need, both economic and social, to absorb more members, although they were able to give a part of their landfor a third settlement, the kibbutz Afikim.

During the War of Independence (1948), the Syrian army, having taken neighboring Zemah, attempted to continue its advance across the Jordan westward; but on May 20, 1948, it was repulsed by the vigorous defense of Degania Alef. One of the Syrian tanks remained stuck in the settlement's perimeter; it remained there as a memorial. In memory of its fallen members, Degania laid out Gan ha-Meginnim (The Defenders’ Park).

In 1968, the two Deganias had a combined population of 960, in 2002 around 1,000, equally divided between the two. Both operated intensive, fully irrigated farming (avocado, bananas, date palms, dairy cattle, and poultry) based on the hot climate and abundance of water in the region. Degania Alef has operated the Toolgal industrial diamond plant since the early 1970s, while Degania Bet operates a guesthouse. The Bet Gordon Museum and Study Center for natural sciences and agriculture is located at Degania Alef. Levi Eshkol and Kadish Luz were members of Degania Bet. Arthur Ruppin, Otto Warburg, Leopold Greenberg, and other personalities are buried at Degania Alef, alongside A.D. Gordon, Joseph Busel , and other founders of the labor settlement movement.

In 1981, Degania Alef was awarded the Israel Prize for special contribution to Israeli State and society.

The name Degania (Cornflower) is based on the Arab designation of the land, Umm Jūnī, which in turn may have its origin in the village Kefar Gun of talmudic times.

[Efraim Orni / Shaked Gilboa (2nd ed.)]


Sources: J. Baratz, Village by the Jordan (1954);
Degania;
Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.