….My life…My museum…
“I was born in Tel- Aviv in the year 1928. I attended the school for children of “Histadrut” members (workers’ union). From there I continued at the “New High School” in Tel Aviv. My group from the youth movement was destined to be trained for Kibbutz settlement, but I decided that I wanted to study agriculture, so I went to “Mikve- Yisrael” the legendary agricultural school. Two years later, when I graduated, my school mates and I joined the “Palmach”; not with my youth movement friends. After two months of service, a grenade exploded in my hand. In the hospital, my first worry was the trousers of my uniform; in those days the Palmach was not enthusiastic about replacing equipment! When I was released, I was 17 years old and found myself injured with 30 bits of shrapnel in my body and only one good eye. It took me a year to return to activity although for years my medical treatments continued.
I returned to army service through the youth movement. My parents didn’t like the fact of me going back, but I didn’t leave them much say in the matter. We arrived at Kfar Giladi in the Upper Galilee where I fought in the Third Battalion of the Palmach. At the same time, thanks to my knowledge of agriculture, I participated in the farm work and was charged with growing animal fodder. One of my army duties was to clear boulders from the fields near Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch; “Hamara-land”. There, I found some special stones- but I didn’t know exactly what they were. It was my luck that parents of my friends knew that these were prehistoric hand tools. I went to “Stekelis” (Professor Moshe Stekelis), then, the only archeologist in Israel and brought him the stones. At first he yelled at my ignorance and then he taught me how to collect and identify them. Thanks to him I realized that I was holding hand stones that were 400,000 years old. This is when I stopped collecting stamps and I started to collect stones!
The first museum 1956
In 1947 together with pioneers from the US and South Africa we established Kibbutz Ma’ayan Baruch; these same people were to be my family for an entire lifetime. During the battles of the War of Independence, the Palmach hesitated to approve our settlement but after negotiations it became our home. At first we slept in tents, then in shacks, then Kibbutz Kfar Blum gave us two calves, and in the end we had a Kibbutz of our own! There, I was a farmer for 30 years. In time, the idea of a museum crystallized in my mind. Until then, I had kept all the findings in cartons under my bed. I asked the workers’ committee to provide a shack to display my findings, and this was the start of the museum. Over the years I looked for ways to enlarge the space and gradually my vision for the museum became clear to me. I succeeded in raising a budget, enlarging the exhibition space, and finally constructed a new museum instead the old shack. In 1978 I added another wing dedicated to ethno-graphics.
Jean Perrot and Amnon Assaf at the excavation site
I joined excavations around the area and sometimes hosted missions. This is how I formed a wonderful friendship with Jean Perrot (one of the most important archeologist to work in the Middle East). Jean taught me about pre-history and we had a mutual appreciation of each other’s work
Every place I went, while working in the fields or even before starting work, I looked around me. I used to take my children and go to places where I knew I might find something. I made maps of fish pools, anti-tank ditches, fields; sketches of where the stones were found.
I never made archeology my profession but it has become my life’s work; the museum was always a magnet to experts. Just as I dreamed, my collection grew and grew and today it is gathered together in a wonderful and modest museum.”
Amnon Assaff july. 2013
The President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi and his wife Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi- visiting the museum in 1960
Prime Minister Levi Eshkol with chief of staff of the IDF- Yizhak Rabin visiting the museum in 1966