Friday, April 14, 2017

A Post-Script to American Interests in the Holy Land An Incredible Picture from the Rijksmuseum

The world's great libraries and archives continue to digitize and post photographic treasures.  We publish this photo from the archives of the Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam. With its amazing resolution, this photo from the Bonfils studio reveals fascinating details, including the American Consulate inside the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem's Old City.

Inside the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem, See "Bonfils" signature on the bottom right. The Rijksmuseum
dates the picture as "circa 1895-1915." Several historical facts dictate it was taken prior to 1898.
Here are some of the interesting details in the photo:

1. The moat on the right side of the photo behind the shops was filled in in 1898 so that German Emperor Wilhelm's carriage could ride into the city through a breach in the wall. The picture, therefore, was taken before 1898.

2. While attempts were made to appoint an American Consul already in the 1830s, the American Consulate was established in the Old City in the latter half of the 1800s.

Centered in Bonfils' photo is the American Consulate building, obtained in 1857, with the U.S. seal on the second story window. 

Note the American seal (eagle) on the building.
A drawing and blueprint of the building can be found in Ruth Kark's American Consuls in the Holy Land, 1832-1914.

Kark's book states that this picture was drawn by an American traveler and cites a report in the U.S. National
Archives by U.S. Consul Frank deHass on April 28, 1877. Note the U.S. flag.
Bonfils photographs for sale
3. Other oddities in the Bonfils photo include an advertisement for Bonfil's own photographs. Pictures and postcards were major tourist souvenirs.

4. Note the advertisement for the Thomas Cook Tourist Agency.  Many of the major visits and expeditions to the Holy Land were outfitted by Cook's.

5.  Also note the advertisement for "Valero." The Jewish Valero family arrived in the 1840s and opened the first private bank in the land.  Their office was inside the Old City. A detailed feature on the Valeros appeared in these pages in July 2012. The family also held valuable areas of Jerusalem real estate outside of the Old City.

Chaim Aharon Valero (1845-1923)

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Book Launch at AIPAC Policy Conference, March 26-28, 2017, Washington, D.C.

The book will be on sale in the AIPAC bookstore.  

"Meet the Author" session during the Conference.

Hi-tech exhibit in the AIPAC Village.
AIPAC Village touch screen exhibit in 2015. Updated and improved in 
2017 to include photos from the book.  The author and Australian 
friend, Jeremy Jones, pictured above.

What They Say About "The Holy Land Revealed"

Oded Ravivi, Mayor of Efrat, Israel
Can't wait to read the history of the period and judging by the pictures, it looks like a fascinating book.

Lenny, thank you very much.

What They Say About "The Holy Land Revealed"

Senator Joe Lieberman -- 

U.S. Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs exposes the secrets that would have been hidden away by history: Chief Rabbi Abraham Kook visiting President Coolidge in the White House, the U.S. Navy’s evacuation of 6,000 Jews from Jaffa in 1915 before the Turks could expel them, the visit to a synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem by Lincoln’s Secretary of State William Seward in 1872, and more. 

I first met Lenny Ben-David 20 years ago when he was an Israeli diplomat in Washington. With this wonderful book, he continues to strengthen the bonds between the United States and Israel.

What They Say About "The Holy Land Revealed"

Amb. Dr. Dore Gold -- 

I congratulate Lenny Ben-David on the publication of this major work illustrating over a century of American support for the Jews of the Holy Land. For over 39 years, Lenny and I have cooperated on projects in our respective professional lives. His knowledge and experience dealing with U.S.-Israel relations, Middle East affairs, and Jewish history in Eretz Yisrael is rich and vast."

Thursday, February 9, 2017

For Tu B'Shvat (Jewish New Year for Trees), a Picture of Jewish Soldiers in the British Army, WWI

Original caption: "A group from the 39th Battalion with workers and children from
Ben-Shemen. 15th (of Shvat)." The sign quotes from Leviticus: "When you come to the Land,
you shall plant...”

Tu B'Shvat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, is a date assigned thousands of years ago in the Mishna for the purposes of determining the age of a tree and its tithing requirements. 

Indeed, the date usually coincides with the first blossoms on the almond trees in Israel. 

Today, Tu B'Shvat is commemorated as a combination of Arbor Day, environment-protection day, a kibbutz agricultural holiday, and, of course, a day for school outings and plantings.

The above picture of Jewish soldiers of the British Army who fought in Palestine in World War I was taken on Tu B'Shvat in 1919.  One Legionnaire, Leon Cheifetz from Montreal who enlisted before the age of 18,  assembled an album with dozens of pictures and biographies of many of the Canadians who fought with him. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

On Tu B'Shvat, Give Credit to the Jewish National Fund, the "Yoni Appleseed" of the Land of Israel

In 1901, the Jewish National Fund (Keren Kayemet LeYisrael) was formed to develop the Land of Israel.  The Turks ruled Palestine, and the Jewish leadership sought a way to buy land for the Jewish people. Hundreds of thousands of acres of land were purchased, and to reclaim barren land, more than 250 million trees were planted. 

Metal worker making collection boxes for the Jewish
National Fund (Seidon collection, circa 1925)

For more than 100 years, Jewish families around the world kept a blue metal charity box in their homes to collect pennies to buy trees in the Holy Land.  School children would bring to school dimes to buy leaf stickers in order to pay for a tree.

A photographic collection sent to this author by Dr. Othniel Seiden of Denver -- the Cigarbox Collection -- was featured here in 2013. Among the pictures was this one of the production of the Jewish National Fund's pushkes.

Tu B'Shvat, the Jewish New Year for Trees, Is Celebrated on Saturday

Reforested hills along the road from Jaffa to Jerusalem, near Bab el-Wad, or Sha'ar HaGuy (circa 1930)
Reposting Tu B'Shvat features from February 1912.

The Jewish National Fund was established in 1901 to purchase and develop land in the Holy Land.

Planting trees on the barren hills on the way to Jerusalem (circa 1930)

A government tree nursery on Mt. Scopus, Jerusalem (circa 1930)
One major activity of the JNF, or in Hebrew the Keren Kayemet LeYisrael, was the planting of trees on Jewish-owned land in Palestine. Many a Jewish home had the iconic JNF blue charity box, or pushke, in order to buy trees.  In its history, the JNF is responsible for planting almost a quarter of a billion trees.

The photographers of the American Colony recorded the JNF's efforts.
"Afforestation sponsored by Keren Kayemeth" (circa 1935)

Reforested hillside along the road to Jerusalem. "Demonstrating
reforestation possibilities" (circa 1930)
The day chosen for school children and volunteers to go out to the fields and barren hilltops to plant trees was Tu B'Shvat, the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat, a date assigned thousands of years ago in the Mishna for the purposes of determining the age of a tree and its tithing requirements. 

Indeed, the date usually coincides with the first blossoms on the almond trees in Israel. 

Today, Tu B'Shvat is commemorated as a combination of Arbor Day, environment-protection day, a kibbutz agricultural holiday, and, of course, a day for school outings and plantings.


Ceremony of planting the King's tree (1935) at Nahalal
In 1935, the Jews of Britain and the JNF established a "Jubilee Forest" near Nazareth.  According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency's account at the time, an "oriental cypress tree presented by King George V of England to the Jubilee Forest in the hills of Nazareth will be formally planted by High Commissioner Sir Arthur Grenfell Wauchope on December 19."

"The Jubilee Forest is British Jewry's mark of loyalty and devotion to the throne, expressed on the occasion of the royal couple's twenty-fifth jubilee. It will cover a large area of desolate and barren land on the hills of Nazareth which in ancient times were famed for their forest beauty. The forest constitutes the most important effort in reforestation of the Holy Land."

Next, the trees of Eretz Yisrael
"The tree shipped by King George was removed from Windsor Great Park in London, where it was the only one of its kind. It is the first ever to have been shipped from England to Palestine."

Next feature: 100 year old pictures of the trees of the Land of Israel

Sunday, December 18, 2016

In the Hebrew Calendar on the Eve of Hanukkah 99 Years Ago, the British Captured Jerusalem

How incredibly fitting: the British army captured Jerusalem on the 24th day of Kislev, in December 1917, on the eve of the Holiday of Lights commemorating the re-establishment of the Jewish Temple. How the Jews of Jerusalem responded can be seen in this flyer distributed on the first anniversary in 1918.

Screen shot of a Jerusalem flyer in a video about the capture of Jerusalem

In honor of Liberation Day
From the Ashkenazi City Council

[a precursor to today's ultra-Orthodox Eida Chareidit]
In the holy city Jerusalem may it be rebuilt soon, Amen.
The Council announces to our brethren in the congregations of the God’s people to honor Thursday, the 24th day of Kislev [Hanukkah eve], the first anniversary of the capture of Holy Jerusalem by the government of Britain – on this honored day, all synagogues and study halls should thank the Lord for the redemption and salvation and pray after the Torah reading the prayer “Who givest salvation unto the King of Great Britain …” [based on the Psalms 144: “Who givest salvation unto kings, who rescuest David Thy servant from the hurtful sword.”]
British Commander Edmund Allenby is greeted by Sephardic
Rabbi Ben-Zion Meir Hai Uziel on arriving in Jerusalem's Old
City, December 11, 1917.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Opinion: Horror and Carnage in the Middle East - In Historic Context

A New Perspective on the Balfour Proclamation

By Lenny Ben-David

This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post on November 27, 2016. Space limitations would not allow the pictures that originally accompanied the column.

The human toll of the Middle East war was horrific.

Disease and famine pandemic. Orphans wandering in the streets. Unspeakable atrocities described only by the bravest critics. No red lines. Emergency deliveries of aid essential.

For God’s sake, would at least one person of international stature speak out? 

Thankfully, yes, but that was 99 years ago, and his name was Lord Arthur Balfour. No one of his stature today has so proclaimed the need to provide shelter for the millions suffering in Syria under the barrage of Assad’s troops, Iran and Russia.

The Palestinian leadership today threatens to sue Great Britain because of the Balfour Declaration issued in November 1917, which declared, “His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people....”

Detractors of Israel held a quackathon in the House of Lords on October 25, 2016, squawking about the declaration’s evil colonialist intentions and demanding an apology. To them, the Balfour Declaration was no birth certificate for the Jewish nation; it was confirmation of a bastard colonial creation. None of the detractors complained about the modern-day Russian and Iranian colonialists or the mass destruction in Aleppo, Homs, Hama and Damascus.

The Balfour Declaration is condemned today by Israel’s detractors and hailed by Israel’s friends as a great historic document establishing the principle of a Jewish state – almost on par in its significance with the Magna Carta, the American Declaration of Independence, or the Emancipation Proclamation. Yes, it deserves its place in the pantheon of Jewish history.

But Balfour’s 120-word declaration must also be seen in the context of the horrifying events in the Levant during World War I. The catastrophes were so crushing that the Jewish leadership in Palestine, Britain and the United States warned about the threatened eradication of the indigenous Jewish community in Palestine. They correctly expressed a sense of urgency.

Many Jews of Jerusalem depended on the chaluka, charity funds that came from Jewish communities in Europe.

With the onset of the war, Turkey prohibited the funding from its enemies.

On August 31, 1914, the American ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, sent an urgent telegram to the New York Jewish leaders: “Palestinian Jews facing terrible crisis.... Serious destruction threatens thriving colonies...Support families whose breadwinners have entered army [forced conscription].”

Amb. Morgenthau requested aid for the Jews of Palestine
On October 6, 1914, the first of 13 U.S. Navy ships anchored in Jaffa and delivered money, food, medicine and aid to the Jews of Palestine.

The Jews “would have succumbed had not financial help arrived from America,” the Zionist Organization of London reported in 1921. “America was at that time the one country which through its political and financial position was able to save [Jewish] Palestine permanently from going under.”

In December 1914, the Turks expelled 6,000 Jews of Russian origin from Jaffa. With Russia at war with Germany and Turkey, Russian Jews were seen as the enemy. They were evacuated by US Navy ships to Alexandria.

Expelled Jews arriving in Alexandria, Egypt, in late 1914, early 1915 on the USS Tennessee

Calamities had befallen the Jews of Palestine almost a year before the massacre of Armenians by the Turks. The Armenian atrocities, begun in April 1915, were witnessed with great trepidation by the Jews of Palestine. Some perceived signs of Turkish preparations to replay the brutal expulsion of Armenians, and some witnessed actual acts of mass murder. In response, several Jews organized the NILI spy ring to assist the British in the war in Palestine.

Ultimately, German commanders in Palestine blocked the Turkish expulsion plans.

A severe locust plague hit Palestine in April 1915. The New York Times reported on April 23, 1915: “Distress in Jerusalem, Many Deaths from Starvation Reported – Plague of Locusts. [Alexandria] – Seventy Jews who arrived yesterday from Jerusalem on an Italian steamer...describe the economic situation as terrible. Flour costs $15 a sack. Potatoes are six times the ordinary price. Sugar and petroleum are unprocurable and money has ceased to circulate. Many deaths from starvation have occurred.”

With major battles taking place in Gaza, on April 6, 1917, the eve of Passover, the Turks ordered the expulsion of approximately 8,000 – 10,000 Jews from Jaffa and Tel Aviv. An estimated 20 percent of the expelled died from hunger and contagious diseases.

On October 31, 1917, Australian light horsemen captured Beersheba, opening the way for Jerusalem’s capture in December 1917. At the major Turkish base in Beersheba, scores of Jewish forced laborers were employed by the Turks in construction, milling, tailoring, railroad work, cutting wood, and as teamsters. They fled as the Australians and British approached. Many others died from disease, flash floods and British aerial attacks.

It was at this point of history that the Balfour Declaration was declared on November 2, 1917. And on December 9, 1917, the British army liberated Jerusalem.

In 1918, even after the liberation, poverty was still crushing.

Balfour received in Tel Aviv, 1925
The first British military governor, Roland Storrs, reported finding “many ladies of doubtful reputation [presumably not all Jewish]... On our entry into Jerusalem we had found no less than 500 such women living in a special quarter.” Thousands of orphans were living in the streets.

For the indigenous Jews of the Holy Land, Arthur Balfour was no less a hero and savior than British commander Edmund Allenby. When Balfour toured the Jewish communities in Palestine in 1925, he was tumultuously received by appreciative throngs of Jews who had survived hardships and punishments of truly biblical proportions.

Whatever the intent, the Balfour Declaration was a humanitarian proclamation as much as a political/diplomatic announcement.

The writer is the author of the forthcoming book US Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs (Urim Publishers). He is now writing World War I in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs. He is director of publications at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Why Were 19th Century Photographers so Interested in Peasants' Plowing?

"Native ploughing with his wife and donkey, Palestine" (original caption)
(Credit: Keystone-Mast Collection, California Museum of
Photography at UCR ARTSblock, University of California, Riverside)

"Thou shall not plow with an ox and an ass together."
לא תַחֲרֹשׁ בְּשׁוֹר וּבַחֲמֹר יַחְדָּו
Deuteronomy 20 (Library of Congress, circa 1890)
For Jews in synagogue tomorrow, the answer is found in the Torah portion.

Virtually every vintage collection that we've analyzed contains a picture of an Arab farmer in Palestine plowing with a rudimentary plow pulled by an ox and an ass.


"Thou shall not muzzle an ox in its threshing"
לֹא תַחְסֹם שׁוֹר בְּדִישׁוֹ
Deuteronomy 25 (circa 1900)

We suggest that the photographers, many of whom were well-versed in the Old Testament, focused on agricultural prohibitions found in the Bible.  The photographs, slides, and postcards were usually sold to a Bible-reading public.

"Plowing with an ox and an ass" (April, 1929, Torrance
Collection, University of Dundee)

The photographers illustrated the prohibition "Thou shall not plow with an ox and an ass together" (Deuteronomy 20) and provided pictures of the prohibition "Thou shall not muzzle an ox in its threshing"(Deuteronomy 25).
The photograph above in the UCR collection went one step further, showing an Arab farmer using his ass and wife to pull the plow.

Plowing with a cow and and an ass (circa
1900) See also here (Library of Congress)

Peasant plowing (circa 1900)
(New York Public Library)


"Plowing with an ox and ass" -- the original caption.  (Credit: RCB Library, 1897)

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Jordan River Water Was Shipped to the U.S. in 1906 and May Have Flushed an Anti-Semitic U.S. Diplomat Out of His Job

The International River Jordan Water Company was launched by Col. Clifford E. Naudaud of Covington, Kentucky, in 1906.  He secured "the sole right of shipping the water of the Jordan River from the banks of the stream in Palestine to all parts of the world for baptismal and other purposes," according to a Kentucky newspaper, The Bee, published in Earlington, KY.

The water was "shipped in casks bearing the seals of the Turkish Government and the American Consul," according to The Bee. "The water will be bottled in the United States in bonded warehouses."

The American Consul granting his seal for the commercial venture may have cost the veteran diplomat his job. His departure was a blessing for the Jews of Palestine. The Consul-General was undoubtedly the nastiest anti-Semite to ever hold that post.

Details on the U.S. diplomat and his legacy in the American foreign service are discussed in the forthcoming book, American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs.  Order it here now.

19th Century Paintings of Jerusalem Found in the Ottoman Imperial Archives

We pay tribute again to archivists and librarians who digitize their historical treasures. Pictures of these two paintings were found in the Ottoman Archives.

The first painting is by German artist Johann Martin Bernatz (1802-1878) who traveled in the Holy Land in 1836.

Jews Praying at the Wailing Wall by Johann Martin Bernatz. The Ottoman Archives provided a date of 1868.
(Author's digital photograph collection)


The second painting is by another German artist, Gustav Bauernfeind (1848-1904).

Jews Praying at the Wailing Wall by Gustav Bauernfeind. The Ottoman Archives provides a
date of 1888. (Author's digital photograph collection)

Bauernfeind moved to Jerusalem in 1898. He is buried in the German Templar Cemetery in Jerusalem. In 2007, his oil painting of the Wailing Wall sold for 4.5 million Euros at Sotheby.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

When President Calvin Coolidge Hosted the Chief Rabbi of Palestine in the White House, 1924

The caption reads "Rabbi Dr. Abraham I. Kook, 4/15/24"
Where was this picture taken?
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), one of the most influential rabbis of the 20th Century, was a renowned Talmud scholar, Kabbalist and philosopher. He is considered today as the spiritual father of religious Zionism, breaking away from his ultra-Orthodox colleagues who were often opposed to the largely secular Zionist movement.

September 6, 2016 corresponds with his yahrzeit (anniversary of his death) on the Hebrew date of the third of Elul.

Born in what is today Latvia, Rabbi Kook moved to Palestine in 1904 to take the post of the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa. 

The picture above has appeared in various Israeli publications in recent years, but few know it was taken in Washington D.C. on the day Rabbi Kook met with President Calvin Coolidge in the White House.  The picture was found in the Library of Congress archives.

What was Kook's mission, what messages were exchanged?

The details on Rabbi Kook's visit to Washington D.C. and the White House will be available in the forthcoming book, American Interests in the Holy Land Revealed in Early Photographs.  Order it now here.