Friday, February 10, 2017

Tu B'Shvat Special: The Trees of the Land of Israel

Pomegranate tree, hand-colored photo
(circa 1900-1920)
The photographers of the American Colony Photographic Department traveled the length and breadth of the Holy Land and the Middle East, from Damascus to Cairo, Malta to Iraq. 
Date palm tree (circa 1900-1920)

Click on pictures to enlarge.

Click on captions to view the originals.




Olive trees. Click here for more. Click
here to see original black and white

Almond tree. See original in black and white

They were also fond of photographing the flora of the land of the Bible and providing the botanical genus name.

Facing the 1915 plague of locusts that hit with Biblical proportions, the photographers documented the life cycle and devastating results of the swarms.


"Cactus figs," called today
cactus pears or "sabras"

Carob tree






































On the eve of Tu B'Shvat, the traditional New Year for trees, we present this collection of photos of trees taken between 1900 and 1920. Some of the pictures were hand-colored 25-30 years later.

Acacia (Shetim) tree in the desert

Gnarled trunk of a sycamore tree









Pine trees (circa 1900)




















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.

Postscript

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.

Why? 

"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.


Friday, September 2, 2016

Who Was the 19th Century American Preacher Mendenhall John Dennis?
Actually, He Was a Jerusalem Watchmaker Named Mendel Deniss, Jerusalem's First Photographer

Mendenhall John Dennis in the center surrounded by his family in 1885. After 1860
he lived in Ohio, Massachusetts and Washington. Before 1860 he was Mendel
Diness of Jerusalem  (With permission of Special Collections, Fine
Arts Library, Harvard University)
In 1988, John Barnier visited a garage sale in St. Paul, Minnesota.  There he found and purchased eight boxes of old photographic glass plates.  Fortunately, Barnier is an expert in the history of photographic printing.

He had little idea that he had uncovered a historic treasure. Later, he viewed the plates and saw that they included old pictures of Jerusalem.  He contacted the Harvard Semitic Museum in Cambridge, Massachusetts, known for its large collection of old photographs from the Middle East.

On some of the plates they found the initials MJD. Until then the name Mendel Diness was barely known by scholars.  It was assumed that with the exception of one or two photos his collection ....

Thank you for your interest in Mendel Diness. The full article is available in the forthcoming book.  Order it now here.


Sunday, July 17, 2016

July 22: Anniversary of the Bombing of the British Military Intel HQ in the King David Hotel 70 Years Ago

King David Hotel 1946
On July 22, 1946, the Irgun resistance organization blew up a section of the King David Hotel, killing 91 British, Arabs and Jews.  The Library of Congress - Matson collection includes several pictures of the bombing's aftermath.


Those photographs pretty much marked the end of the Matson Photo Service's  65 years in Jerusalem.  According to the Library, "In 1946, in the face of increasing violence in Palestine, the Matsons left Jerusalem for Southern California." 

King David Hotel 1946
The attack still raises the question of the involvement of the Jewish underground in terrorism. 

The following appeared in Myths and Facts, 1989, written by the publisher of Israel Daily Picture.


The King David Hotel was the site of the British military command and the British Criminal Investigation Division.  Two events led the Irgun commanders to choose the British military headquarters as a legitimate target.  On June 29, 1946, British troops invaded the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem and confiscated large quantities of documents.  Simultaneously, over 2,500 Jewish leaders from all over Palestine were placed under arrest.  Not only were the documents of crucial importance to the Jewish liberation movement, but papers on Jewish agents in Arab countries were also confiscated, endangering vital intelligence activities.  The information was taken to the King David Hotel.  


King David Hotel 1946

One week later, Palestinian Jewish anger against the British and their blockade of Palestine grew.  Word arrived of the massacre of 40 Jews in a pogrom in Poland; 40 Jews who might have been saved had the doors to Palestine been opened for the survivors of Hitler's concentration camps.
On July 22, the Irgun planted bombs in the basement of the hotel. Several calls were placed warning the British to evacuate. They refused.  For decades the British denied that they had been warned. In 1979, however a member of the British parliament introduced evidence that the Irgun had indeed issued the warning.  He offered the testimony of a British officer who heard other officers in the King David Hotel bar joking about a Zionist threat to the headquarters.  The officer who overheard the conversation immediately left the hotel and survived.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The U.S. Navy Evacuated 6,000 Jews from Jaffa in 1914/1915

The book is moving forward, so we cannot publish new pictures and essays at this time.


But, here are two never-before-seen pictures from the book showing Jews boarding and disembarking from the USS Tennessee after their expulsion by the Turks in 1915. 


Stay tuned for information on the book's publication.
Jewish refugees boarding and registering in Jaffa.

Jewish refugees disembarking in Alexandria Egypt.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Jewish Festivals - Shavuot
The Book of Ruth Recreated 100 Years Ago
This feature is one of our most popular posting

Reposting a popular feature
Photo portrait of "Ruth the Moabitess" (Library of Congress)
Ruth said, "Do not entreat me to leave you, to return from
following you, for wherever you go, I will go...
Your people shall be my people, your God my God"
And Naomi and Ruth both went on until they arrived at Bethlehem
The Jewish holiday of Shavuot - Pentecost is celebrated this week.  The holiday has several traditional names: Shavuot, the festival of weeks, marking seven weeks after Passover; Chag HaKatzir, the festival of reaping grains; and Chag HaBikkurim, the festival of first fruits.  Shavuot, according to Jewish tradition, is the day the Children of Israel accepted the Torah at Mt. Sinai.  It is also believed to be the day of King David's birth and death.



Ruth came to a field that belonged to Boaz who was
of the family of Naomi's deceased husband
The reading of the Book of Ruth is one tradition of the holiday.  Ruth, a Moabite and widow of a Jewish man (and a princess according to commentators), gave up her life in Moab to join her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, in the Land of Israel.  She insisted on adopting Naomi's God, Torah and religion.


A central element of the story of Ruth is her going to the local fields where barley and wheat were being harvested so that she could collect charitable handouts.  She gleans in the fields of Boaz, a judge and a relative of Ruth's dead husband (as such he had a levirate obligation to marry the widow).  The union resulted in a child, Obed, the grandfather of King David. 



Boaz said to his servant, who stood over the reapers,
"To whom does this maiden belong?"

 The members of the American Colony were religious Christians who established their community in the Holy Land.  They were steeped in the Bible and photographed countryside scenes that referred to biblical incidents and prohibitions.






Boaz said to Ruth, "Do not go to glean in
another field...here you shall stay with my maidens"


















Boaz said to her at mealtime, "Come here and partake
 of the bread..." He ordered his servants "Pretend to 
forget some of the bundles for her." 
Ruth carried it to the city and Naomi
saw what she had gleaned





We have matched the pictures with corresponding verses from the Book of Ruth.

We present a few of the dozens of "Ruth" photographs found in the Library of Congress' American Colony collection.   See more of the pictures here.



Ruth came to the threshing floor and Boaz said, "Ready the shawl you are wearing and hold it," and
she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley....
A major effort was made by the photographers to re-enact the story of Ruth, probably in the fields near Bethlehem.  "Ruth," we believe, was a young member of the American Colony community; the remaining "cast" were villagers from the Bethlehem area who were actually harvesting, threshing and winnowing their crops.

Unfortunately, we don't know when the "Ruth and Boaz series" was photographed, but we estimate approximately 100 years ago.


Click on the pictures to enlarge.
 Click on the caption to view the original.