Fisherman, Archaeologist, Teacher, Rose Grower—Pioneer

Baruch Safrai belongs to Israel’s pioneer generation—the generation that settled the land, drained the swamps, fought the War of Independence and established the State of Israel. His biography encapsulates much about his country and his generation.

Safrai was born in Jerusalem in 1926. While a youth he joined the HaShmner HaTzair (Young Guards) movement, which advocated national self-fulfillment and self-reliance. After Israel’s War of Independence in 1948. Safrai settled in Kibbutz Sa‘ar, along the country’s northern coast and near the Biblical port of Achziv. The kibbutz became a fishing and agricultural settlement.

Safrai worked as a fisherman for nearly ten years. His interest in archaeology was kindled by the ancient pottery that the kibbutz fishing boats would periodically pull up in their nets. In 1990, Safrai earned a B.A. in archaeology from Haifa University and he wrote a pamphlet on marine archaeology called “About Jars and the Sea.” His interests led him to serve as an assistant to the late Yohanan Aharoni, one of Israel’s leading archaeologists. Safrai worked with Aharoni on the Judean Desert excavations, as he describes in the accompanying article.

Safrai has not had far to go for some of his discoveries: Underneath the fields of his kibbutz, he has uncovered an ancient agricultural site and a Byzantine house with a colorful mosaic and a plaster floor (the latter was published in an Israeli archaeology periodical). He established and continues to tend the kibbutz collection of the ancient pottery hauled up by members, and its collection of coins and flint and petrified objects.

Safrai has been active for 39 years in Chug L’Yediat HaAretz (Knowledge of the Land Group), a society he helped found that is devoted to promoting knowledge of Israel’s history, archaeology and geology. He has also published articles on those subjects. In addition, he is an experienced schoolteacher.

Closely tied as he is to Israel, Safrai has also lived away from his homeland for extended periods. He was in Germany for three months during the building of a fishing boat for his kibbutz (Safrai returned on that boat), and he served for three years in Argentina as a representative of the Jewish Agency, the organization responsible for encouraging emigration to Israel.

Never one to stay in a rut, Safrai’s recent challenge is growing commercial roses in the kibbutz hothouses and conducting horticultural experiments at Hebrew University’s agriculture facility. (Some of his experiments have been published in agriculture journals as articles with titles like “Increasing the Yield of Roses by Incision.”) Safrai keeps a hand in fishing by working in the relatively new field of aquaculture, the practice of raising fish in enclosed waters. As if all that were not enough, Safrai spends the remainder of his workweek in the kibbutz industrial factory.

And one more thing—Safrai teaches Hebrew to recently arrived immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Once a pioneer, always a pioneer.