Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Long History of Jewish/Israeli Ties with Jordan

History books provide glimpses of nearly a century of ties between Hashemite rulers and Jewish leaders, starting with the pre-state of IsraelDr. Chaim Weizman of the Zionist Organization met with Emir Faisal in January 1919 and signed an agreement of understanding. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) was the interpreter for the meeting, but it is not certain to this day just how much of an "agreement" it was. Nevertheless the acts of meeting and dialogue were monumental.
Weizmann - Faisal meeting, 1919 (Syrian Times)
Days before Israel's declaration of independence in May 1948, Golda Meir travelled to Jordan disguised as an Arab peasant to meet with King Abdullah to urge him to stay out of the pending Arab attack on the soon-to-be state. (He didn't.)

On September 25, 1973, Abdullah's grandson, King Hussein of Jordan, secretly visited Israel to warn Prime Minister Golda Meir of imminent attacks on Israel by Egypt and Syria. (Tragically, his warnings were not given their due seriousness.)

These two photographs, however, fill in some of the years. The first shows Emir Abdullah's personal bodyguards in 1922 -- armed Jewish Yemenite warriors from the Habani tribe. The three men were brothers -- Sayeed, Salaah, and Saadia Sofer. Notice their traditional side curls (peyot). The men of the Habani tribe were known as tall, muscular and fierce warriors.
Hashemites also used Circassian bodyguards.
Emir Abdullah with his Jewish bodyguards (1922, Bible Discovered)
In 1932, King Abdullah was again in close relations with the Jewish Yishuv when he inaugurated the major hydro-electric power plant in Naharayim located on the Transjordan side of the Jordan-Yarmuk Rivers confluence. The Jewish project was headed by Pinhas Ruttenberg, the founder of the Palestine Electric Company. The joint project required security cooperation between the two sides to protect the plant and power lines. 

More information on the power plant can be found here, The Great and Electrifying Pinchas Ruttenberg. 
Ruttenberg watches Emir Abdullah start the turbines at the Naharayim power plant. (1932, Library of Congress) Is that one of Abdullah's bodyguards watching on the right?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Passover: Whoever Is Hungry, Come and Partake of this Yemenite Seder

Passover is one of the three pilgrimage festivals mentioned in the Bible along with Sukkot and Shavuot.  Historians and rabbinic literature refer to hundreds of thousands of pilgrims who filled the streets and alleyways of Jerusalem, bringing sacrifices to the Temple.

The Temple Institute's depiction of a Passover seder at
the time of the Temple. Note the pascal lamb on the table.
Today as well, Jews from all over the world and from all over Israel make their pilgrimages to the holy city.

The Library of Congress photographic collection includes a series of photographs of Yemenite residents of Jerusalem celebrating their Passover seder in 1939.  Note their low table and compare it to the painting of a Seder during the time of the Temple, taken from the Passover Seder Haggadah of the Temple Institute in Jerusalem.

In 1882, the Christians of the American Colony adopted a wave of Yemenite Jews who arrived in Jerusalem penniless, hungry and sick. The Colony believed the Jews were from the lost tribe of Gad. For decades the American Colony photographers continued to take pictures of the Yemenite community.

Yemenite Passover Seder: Drinking wine in the Kiddush ceremony. Note the table is covered at that point,
and all men are leaning to their left as prescribed. (Library of Congress)

Yemenite Passover Seder, eating the bitter herbs  (1939)
Washing hands during the Seder. Note the children's involvement and wonderment. A major theme of
the Seder is to teach the children about the Exodus from Egypt.

Passover meal.  Note the square matza

The Yemenite community has a tradition of a soft matza, similar to Middle East pita or laffa bread, which they bake daily during Passover.  

Discussing the local Yemenite matza, an ancient traveler to Tza'ana in Yemen quoted his Yemenite host, "There is no requirement that the matzos be dry and stale because they were baked many days before Pesach.  Every day we eat warm, fresh matza. "

The traveler reported, "I enjoyed their special kind of matza -- it was warm, soft and didn't have the usual burnt sections which was present in every matza I had ever eaten until then."

Unfortunately for the 1939 Yemenite family, it appears that the only matza available to them was the square and stale machine-made matza.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Time to Get Ready for Passover.
The Matza Factories Are Hard at Work

A reprint of a special Passover feature
With Passover just weeks away, Jewish households around the world are purchasing or making their matzot (unleavened bread) for the festival.

One of Judaism's oldest customs, the baking of matza goes back to the Jewish exodus from Egypt.  Ever since, Jews often went to great trouble to bake their cracker-like bread. Jewish communities in Europe and the Arab world faced "blood libels" for making their matza. Ancient synagogues in France built matza bakeries under their synagogues. Jews in Nazi concentration camps risked being shot to bake their Passover "bread." In the former Soviet Union, Jews baked their matza in secret, lest they be discovered and sent to the Gulag.  During major wars, armies made sure to provide matza to their Jewish soldiers.

A matza factory in Haifa.  The signs on the left read "For the purpose of the commandment of matza" -- a reminder to the workers to keep their intentions on the commandment.  The signs on the right, in Hebrew and French,
 read "No smoking" and "No Spitting"  (from the "Cigarbox Collection" provided by Othniel Seiden, circa 1925)

"No smoking or spitting"
'Keep in mind the matza commandment"

Children baking matza in kindergarten in the Holy Land. The teacher is in the center, and it appears there 
 is a tiny oven in front of her.   (Harvard/Central Zionist Archives, circa 1920)

Special feature: 
Matza baking in the "New World" 150 years ago

Caption: "General view of preparations and baking matzot, the unleavened bread for the Passover" (Frank Leslie's
Illustrated Newspaper, New York, April 18, 1858, Library of Congress)  Note the rabbi watching.

The Library of Congress Archives has preserved several 150-year old engravings of Jewish customs in New York from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.  [See Purim celebration] 

The story we bring today is unusual because of the writer's attempt to describe the New York Jewish community and the Passover holiday.  The first element, rich in Faginesque imageries,  would be considered anti-Semitic by today's standards.  The second element, a description of the holiday customs, is woefully full of mistakes.  Excerpts below:

Any one taking a morning walk through Chatham street will meet enough men whose low stature, shining black eyes, crisp laky hair, stooping shoulders, and eager movements proclaim them of the Hebrew race, to convince him that Jews are prevalent in our city in large numbers.  Exactly how many thousands of the Hebraic people have their present sojourning in New York we have no means of ascertaining, but the number is very considerable, and is on the rapid increase.
Weighing and kneading of the flour with the rabbi
 The Israelitish race preserve to this day their peculiar characteristics as strongly marked, and their national prejudices is as full force as in the days of Darius, King of Persia.  They exist among us, a distinct race, preserving an identity of their own... but whilst constantly intermingling in trade and business with the Gentiles, keeping themselves as separate from the uncircumcised dogs in all social and religious intercourse....They could not keep themselves more apart if they were walled out from the Christian world....
The eating of the unleavened bread for the seven days of the Passover is obligatory on all of the Jewish faith, and it is observed with the most punctilious exactitude by all, old and young, and no matter how poor or rich.  During the seven days this unleavened bread is the only sort permitted to be used, no meat is allowed, and no drop of wine or spirits or fermented liquors.  Fish and some kinds of vegetables are eaten sparingly....

 Click on pictures to enlarge.

Click on captions to view the original pictures.

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Wednesday, April 6, 2016

The "Other" Passover Commemoration --
The Samaritans Still Sacrifice the Pascal Lamb

Samarian high priest Yitzhak ben Amram
ben Shalma ben Tabia (circa 1900). View
other pictures of priests here and here
Updated from a 2012 Passover feature

The Samaritan population in the Land of Israel numbered more than a million people 1,500 years ago, according to some estimates.  This ancient people lived in northern Israel and claimed to have been descendants of those tribes of Israel which were not sent out into the Babylonian exile.  One line of Samaritans traces their lineage back to Aaron the priest, and they consider their "holy mountain" to be Mt. Gerizim outside of Nablus (Shechem) -- not Jerusalem.  

Samaritan family (1899)

The Samaritans worship the God of Abraham, revere a scroll comparable to the five books of Moses, and maintain Passover customs, including the sacrifice of the Pascal Lamb.  The photographers of the American Colony photographed dozens of pictures of the Samaritans' sacrificial service. 

Samaritan synagogue in Shechem (1899). Also view here
Jews ceased the Passover sacrifice with the destruction of the second Temple.

Already in Talmudic days, Jewish authorities rejected the Samaritans' claims to be part of the Jewish people. The Cutim, according to rabbinic authorities, arrived in the Land of Israel around 720 BCE with the Assyrians from Cuth, believed to be located in today's Iraq.

Over the millennia, the Samaritans almost disappeared.  Persecuted, massacred and forcibly converted by Byzantine Christians and by Islamic authorities, the Samaritans' community today numbers fewer than 1,000 who are located on Mount Gerizim near Nablus (Shechem) and in Holon, Israel.

Baking matza on Mt. Gerizim (circa 1900)

This year, the Samaritans will celebrate their Passover on April 20, 2016.


Preparing a lamb (1900)
"The prepared carcasses
ready for the oven" (1900) 

According to Samaritan officials, on January 1, 2015, the Samaritans number 777 souls.

Praying on Mt. Gerizim (1900)
In May 2013, the Israelite-Samarians  numbered 760 individuals, 400 in Holon, Israel and 360 in Kiryat Luza, Mount Gerizim, Samaria

In 1919, there were only 141 individuals. ( Source: Benyamim Tsedaka, A.B. -  Institute of Samaritan Studies, Holon, Israel)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Israel Radio -- Kol Yisrael -- Commemorates 80 years of Broadcasting Today

We found in the Library of Congress a picture of the inaugural broadcast.
Library of Congress caption: Photograph shows radio engineer Moshe Rubin transmitting the special
broadcast during the opening of the Palestine Broadcasting Service, Ramallah, March 30, 1936

Monday, March 21, 2016

Purim Celebrated this Week

Tales of Disguise, Mirth and the Threat of Haman

This week Jews around the world celebrate the joyous holiday of Purim. The Purim holiday commemorates the victory of Queen Esther and Mordechai over the evil Haman of Persia, saving the lives of the Jewish people. 

Below are several Purim-related pictures we discovered in the archives of the Library of Congress.

This picture appeared in an American newspaper on April 1, 1865.  The wood engraving is captioned, "The Hebrew Purim Ball at the Academy of Music, March 14."  The picture contains a large sign, "Merry Purim," another sign listing the "Order of Dancing," and merrymakers wearing costumes and masks.

The picture was published in Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, printed in New York, NY. The Academy of Music was built in 1854 and was located in Manhattan at Irving Place and East 14th Street.
And in Tel Aviv --

Purim celebration in Tel Aviv (Library of Congress, 1934)

The Jews of Palestine used to celebrate heartily at the Purim Adloyada ["until they don't know"] festival and parade held in Tel Aviv in the 1920s and 30's.  Some commentators make a crude
The "Queen Esther" of the carnival
in 1934 (Library of Congress)
comparison to Marde Gras partying, but the merriment is based on an ancient rabbinic tradition of Jews imbibing on Purim to the point where they do not know the difference between sobriety and drunkenness, between Mordechai and Haman -- but without losing their wits.

But the threats to the Jewish people were also apparent to the photographers of the American Colony who photographed Purim celebrations in Tel Aviv in the early 1930s. They photographed parade floats showing the Nazi threats.
Purim parade in Tel Aviv with a float  of a dangerous 3-headed Nazi dragon
(Library of Congress 1934)

View Yaakov Gross' film of the Tel Aviv celebrations in the 1930s
here and visit his wonderful collection of films here.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Through the Enemy's Lens.
World War I Photos Taken by a Captured German Officer

Historical photos treasures are still waiting to be uncovered around the world.

A German officer photographed Be'er Sheva before its capture by Australian Light Horsemen in October 1917
(Mitchell Library, New South Wales State Library)
Presented here are photographs of World War I in Palestine that we found in the Australian New South Wales State Library. The photographs were taken by a German officer who was captured by Australian troops.  Details about the officer are not available, but his camera contained pictures from Nazareth in the north to Jerusalem, Hebron, Gaza, and Be'er Sheva in the south. The officer also took several gruesome pictures of a military hanging across the Jordan River in Salt.

Be'er Sheva before its capture (1917, Library of Congress)
The German and Austrian armies were allied with the Ottoman army in their attempt to force the British army from the Middle East.  German officers commanded the joint forces.  On the other side, the British army included forces from Australia, New Zealand, India, Hong Kong, and Jewish soldiers from Palestine -- all under a British commander.

In the north, the German officer took the picture below of the Turkish and German soldiers' muster at their Tiberias headquarters.

Turkish and German soldiers at muster in Turkish Tiberias headquarters.
(Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

He also took several pictures of the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee which can be viewed here.

In the Spring of 1917, the British army, traveling north from the Sinai Peninsula, attempted two frontal assaults on Turkish lines holding Gaza.  The results were disastrous for the Brits, and Gaza was left in ruins.  Compare the picture on the left by the German officer before the battle and the colored one on the right, taken by an Australian soldier. Both show the central mosque in Gaza.

Gaza before the British attacks, a photo from the German's camera
(Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Australian Light Horsemen after the capture of Gaza, note the remains of the mosque.
(Hurley Collection, Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Turkish infantrymen holding the line in Gaza, photo by German officer
(Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)
The following pictures may be difficult for some viewers.

Photos by German officer of German soldiers "hanging
spies" in Salt, east of the Jordan River
(Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Photos by German officer of German soldiers "hanging
spies" in Salt, east of the Jordan River
(Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales)

Caption: "Hangings outside Jaffa Gate, Jerusalem. Arabs, Armenians, Bedouins, Jews - official Turkish photo"

Click on photos to enlarge.
We thank librarians and archivists for preserving their photographic treasures by digitalizing them.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

In Honor of our 2 Millionth Viewer Today, This Damascus Jewish Woman Put on her Finest, 1865

Sometime today, our 2 millionth visitor will open this site.  
Flash (2:32 PM EST)  All time history  2,000,014
Jeune fille juive de Damas en grande toilette.  A Jewish girl of
Damascus in her best outfit. (Paris, Musée d'Orsay)

Researching a recently digitized collection in France, we decided to celebrate and share one of the pictures we found this week. The photo was taken by French photographer Charles Lallemand in 1865 and can be found in the archives of the D'Orsay Museum in Paris.  The young woman welcomed us in her fanciest outfit, wearing on her feet elaborate platform shoes used in the hammam (Turkish baths). Some of the shoes at the time were inlaid with mother-of-pearl and silver.

This site has published features on early pictures of lost Jewish communities in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.  We recently published 19th century pictures of other Jewish girls from the Middle East, including Syrian/Damascus Jewish girls, found by the British Library in an endangered Beirut collection of Bonfils photographs.

"Jewish girl from Syria"
(Bonfils, British Library)
"Jewish girl from Damascus"
(Bonfils, British Library)

Jewish home in Damascus (1901, Library of Congress)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The U.S. Navy Saved the Jews of the Holy Land 100 Years Ago

U.S. Navy receipt for emergency aid supplies destined for the Jews of Palestine from the Joint
Distribution Committee 100 years ago, February 21, 1916. According to the JDC file,
the supplies included matzot for Passover. (JDC Archives)
We have written previously how the United States Government rallied to save the Jews of the Holy Land from famine and expulsion by the Turkish army during World War I.  But we are now adding an important historic document from that episode showing the vital involvement of American Jewry and the United States Navy exactly 100 years ago.

At the start of the war, Jewish men were forcibly conscripted into the Turkish Army, a devastating locust plague ravaged the land in 1915, Turkish troops were looting supplies in preparation for their attack on the Suez Canal, charitable funds from European Jewish communities for the Jews of Palestine were cut off, and plans were being drawn up by the Turks to expel the Jews from the land.  The United States Ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, warned American Jewish leaders of the danger to the Jews of the Holy Land and appealed to them for funds.

The forced conscription and looting of  Jerusalem homes. (1914, Ottoman Imperial Archives)
The American government had not yet enterred the war and U.S. aid could still get through. But to ensure that the money and supplies would not be stolen by rapacious Turkish officials, the U.S. secretary of state approved the use of American warships for the deliveries. Thirteen U.S. ships were used for the deliveries and for providing passage to Jews expelled from the land by the Turks.

More information and photographs on this historic episode will appear in the forthcoming book, American Interests in the Holy Land, Revealed in Early Photographs by Lenny Ben-David.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Why the Jerusalem Merchant Closed His Shop when the Emperor Came in 1898

The shuttered shop at Jaffa Gate when the German
Emperor arrived in 1898. (Ottoman Imperial Archives)
The full picture of the Emperor's arrival

The German Emperor's arrival in Jerusalem on October 28, 1898 was a major news item around the world. The Ottoman rulers of Jerusalem and Palestine changed the face of Jerusalem to receive him. Victory arches were built along his route, and the Old City wall was breached to allow passage of his carriage. 

And as the picture above shows, one shopkeeper closed his shutters. Why?

Enlarged photo of the millinery shop
The day was Saturday, and as we discovered in a photograph in the Library of Congress archives, the shop was a Jewish-owned hat store.  We enlarged that picture and discovered the shop and its clientele.  A sign with Hebrew writing hung above the store. (Readers are invited to decipher it.) The owner closed his store for the Sabbath, and the Jews of Jerusalem received the Emperor elsewhere in the city.

The Emperor and his wife passing under the Jewish community's arch on Jaffa Road.
The photos of the Emperor's visit established the photographers of the American
 Colony in the world market.

Below is the full Library of Congress picture of Jaffa Gate with the following caption: "Photograph taken before October 1898 visit of Kaiser Wilhelm II to Jerusalem when a breach was made in the wall near the Jaffa Gate. (Source: L. Ben-David, Israel's History - A picture a day.)"
Jaffa Gate and the Jewish shop (Library of Congress)

Friday, January 1, 2016

Coming Attractions: Ottoman Rabbis and the Jerusalem Store that Boycotted the German Emperor

The Ottoman Imperial Archives continues to share its digitized photographic treasures online.

These important historical pictures were recently released.  We will be providing the background to these pictures in the near future.

Ottoman Rabbis of the 19th century.


The German Emperor arrived in Jerusalem in 1898.  All of the city turned out to receive him with great fanfare, but we noticed that one shop, the closest to the Jaffa Gate, closed its shutters. Why?

The German Emperor arrives at Jaffa Gate in 1898, but why did one shop stay closed?

This shop shuttered its front.

Readers of this site know that it was a millinery store.

Answers next week.