Thursday, November 10, 2011

What Brought Together These Rabbis and the Founder of Modern Hebrew, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

Guests at the High Commissioner's reception (1920)
The date: July 7, 1920
The place: The Government House, Jerusalem
The Occasion: The High Commissioner's Reception

Those are the details we know from the photograph's caption.  But what brought together these ultra-Orthodox rabbis, British officers, Arab dignitaries and Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the founder of modern Hebrew, who appears to be standing behind the rabbis? [Both the men -- the one in the light suit and his partner with the hat -- look like the man on the stamp.] And what are all the men holding?

Samuel's arrival by rowboat, Jaffa
Port, June 30, 1920
On June 30, just a week earlier, the first British High Commissioner, Herbert Samuel, arrived in Palestine.  The British army captured all of Palestine in 1917-1918 and imposed military rule. Samuel invited the leaders of Jerusalem's society to hear and receive a proclamation marking the new civilian rule over Palestine.

Samuel read the proclamation and presented a copy to all of his guests.

Samuel reading his
proclamation again two
days later.
 As for the identity of the rabbis, the man on the left has been identified as Rabbi Moshe Leib Bernstein, a wealthy Jerusalem businessman; second from the left is the venerated Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, the chief rabbi of Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox community; next, Rabbi Yerucham Diskin, the son of a revered rabbi who set up the Diskin Orphanage in 1881 (which still helps needy children); and Rabbi Baruch Reuven Jungreis of the ultra-Orthodox rabbinate. 

Rabbi Sonnenfeld joined other rabbis a year later to meet with Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill at Samuel's Government House.  See the posting and video here describing the meeting.  Also attending the meeting with Churchill was Emir Abdullah who would become King Abdullah of Jordan.  Sonnenfeld, Bernstein and Jungreis met with Abdullah in Jordan in 1924.

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