Unique Places in Israel: Yad Hashmona
Nestled in a quiet Judean hillside twenty minutes west of Jerusalem, is a place you’ve likely never heard of. Yet, it’s the only place like it in the world. Yad Hashmona, a small, rural community, home to both Christian and Jewish Believers in Yeshua (pronounced Yuh-shew-ah; Hebrew for Jesus), gives visitors a glimpse into the Israel of Scripture. Its biblical garden features a variety of plants and trees mentioned in the Bible and includes re-creations of an ancient wine press, olive oil press, burial cave, ritual bath and synagogue. Not only does it open a window of understanding for Christians who come to study ancient Israel; the story of Yad Hashmona sheds light on modern Israel as well.
Establishing a kibbutz in Israel
For the past century, the tradition of the kibbutz has been a vital part of Israeli culture. These agricultural collectives were first built by Jewish pioneers in the early 20th century—decades before the establishment of Israel in 1948. Now, around 3% of Israel’s population live and work on the property of kibbutzim (the plural of kibbutz). These communities may have dozens or even hundreds of members. Still very popular today, kibbutzim account for more than 40% of the country’s agricultural produce.
This is the very way in which Yad Hashmona began. In the years following Israel’s statehood, young adults from around the world began to come to Israel to live and volunteer in Kibbutzim.
They were pursuing simple, communal lives in agriculture, with the ultimate goal of helping the fledgling nation survive and develop. But the founders of Yad Hashmona—a group of Christian volunteers from Finland in 1971—had an additional purpose. They felt called to establish a community in Israel to atone for a scandal that took place a generation before.
The Community’s WWII History
In the anti-Semitic environment of pre-war Europe, eight Jewish Soviet refugees escaped from Austria to Finland. For four years they lived peacefully in the Scandinavian country, until late in 1942, when the Finnish government (who were collaborating with Nazi Germany) agreed to hand the eight over to the gestapo. Seven of the Jews were killed immediately by the Nazis in Auschwitz. The eighth eventually made Aliyah and found safety in Israel.
Like many in Finland, these visionaries grew up burdened by their government’s betrayal of the Jewish people. They hoped that establishing a Finnish community in the Holy Land could serve as an act of repentance or restoration between the two nations. Their desire was to name this community Yad Hashmona—“memorial to the Eight.”
Israel responded favorably to the idea. The nation’s Prime Minister, Golda Meir, gave her permission to establish the community at an abandoned military outpost in the hills between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. So in 1974, these Believers sold their possessions, left Finland and set out to begin a new life in a very different part of the world. Because the founders were not Jews or Israelis, the government classified their settlement as a Moshav Shitufi—“communal village”—but residents of Israel soon began to join their ranks. These were Messianic Jews. Messianics are Jewish people who who retain their cultural heritage, but accept Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. Some were individuals or couples. Others were families. All believed God had plans for this special place.
A Continuing Legacy
To this day, Yad Hashmona is classified as a moshav, not a kibbutz; meaning that residents work regular jobs outside the community grounds. And it continues to receive not only those of Finnish Heritage, but Messianic Jews. It is the only Messianic moshav in existence—crucial because many Messianics are misunderstood and ostracized by mainstream society. Just this year, the community is completing an exciting expansion project of a new neighborhood, which will welcome 20 new families with open arms.
Noora* is a 35-year-old Finnish Christian who, following in the steps of her forebears, moved to Israel four years ago to learn Hebrew, volunteer and live at Yad Hashmona. She now studies at Hebrew University and teaches art in Jerusalem. “Living in Israel was, I believe, something God always had in store for me. And He has been so faithful to bless me on every step of this journey.”
Those planning a short trip to Israel can immerse themselves in this serene setting—if even just for a day. Visitors the world over stay at their Scandinavian-style log cabin guest house, use their conference facilities and dine on biblical meals in their restaurant. (See video.) Meander through the biblical landscape, as guides relay parables and Old Testament traditions that relate to the world today. Pick up a loaf of fresh-baked bread from the kosher bakery, (we recommend the seeded spelt!) And be sure to get some alone-time with God overlooking the picturesque Judean countryside.
For the traveler, Israel is always full of discoveries. But few expect to encounter a Finnish Christian agricultural community on the outskirts of Jerusalem—especially one with such a powerful story of forgiveness, healing and international support for the people of Israel.