Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mystery Rabbi at the American Consulate
Getting a Little Closer to Identifying Him. Can You Help?

"American Consulate group" (1898-1946)
The Library of Congress photograph collection contains many mystery photos.  Captions are often wrong or just plain missing.  That's not surprising considering that the 22,000 photos took a very circuitous journey from the American Colony Photographic Department to the basement of the YMCA in Jerusalem, to the United States and a California old age home, to the Library of Congress in the 1970s and eventually to the Library's digitalized library online.

This blog has been able to solve some of the photographic enigmas.

Second file, with the additional infor-
mation, "Heiser, American Consul,
fourth from left"
Who is the rabbi?
So we looked at the picture above as a new challenge.  While the American seal is evident above the door on the left, there is no information about the group's identity or the year the picture was taken.  The only data provided was that the picture, now badly deteriorated, was taken between 1898 and 1946.

Oscar Heizer
But a search of the Library digital files uncovered a second file, also deteriorated and with a broad range of dates, but with a name in the caption: "Heiser (sic), American Consul, fourth from left."

Earthquake damage in Jerusalem 1927
Presumably, that's Oscar S. Heizer who served as Consul General in Jerusalem between 1923 and 1928. 

Heizer held important diplomatic positions in the Middle East at the beginning of the 20th century, including consul in Trebizond, Turkey in 1915 from where he reported on Ottoman atrocities against Armenians in letters to the American ambassador in Constantinople, Henry Morgenthau.

Again, who is
the rabbi?
In July 1927, Heizer sent cables reporting on the wide devastation in Palestine caused by a major earthquakeOne of cables listed the casualties: "Twenty-five were killed and 38 injured in the Jerusalem district, At Ramleh-19 killed, 28 wounded. At Nablus-15 killed, 250 wounded. At Ramallah District-3 killed. At Hebron-3 killed."

So now we have the name and dates of the American consul-general.  But who is the rabbi, who, we suspect from his well-tailored suit, was visiting from the United States sometime between 1923 and 1928?  Was he involved in distribution of charity funds to the "Old Yishuv" in Palestine? During World War I, the American consulate played a very important role in distributing the "Haluka" funds, bypassing rapacious Turkish officials.

Monday, March 26, 2012

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
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)


Praying on Mt. Gerizim (1900)

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

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 21, 2012

Passover in the Holy Land:
Pilgrimage to Jerusalem 100 years ago and a Yemenite Seder 75 years ago

"Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives, showing the throngs
in the city at Passover time (1911)"
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. 

Today as well, Jews from all over the world and from all over Israel make their pilgrimages to the holy city.

Cover of the "Temple Haggadah"
Painting by the Temple Institute in
Jerusalem. Note the Paschal Lamb
on the low table.

Yemenite Seder, eating the bitter herbs  (1939)

Drinking wine in the Kiddush ceremony. Note the table is covered
at that point, and all men are leaning to their left as prescribed.

The Library of Congress photographic collection includes the 100-year-old picture of the "throngs" visiting Jerusalem.  The collection also contains 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.

Washing hands during the Seder

Click on the photos to enlarge.
Click on the captions to see the originals.

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 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.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Gates of Jerusalem -- Herod's Gate
Part 8 of a Series on the Gates of Jerusalem's Old City

Herod's Gate (circa 1898)
Herod's Gate is located at the northeast corner of Jerusalem's Old City between Damascus Gate and Lion's Gate, adjoining the Muslim Quarter.  It is also called the Flower Gate because of intricate stone designs above the gate, and the Sheep's Gate because of the animal market held outside of the gate. 

The sheep market outside of Herod's Gate (circa 1900)
The name "Herod's Gate" was based on the belief that King Herod's palace was located near the site.  In fact, the gate was a modest entrance until the 1870s when the Turks built the more impressive gate to give access to neighborhoods north of the Old City.

A sacrifice ceremony outside of Herod's Gate (circa 1898)
The Old City of Jerusalem is surrounded by four kilometers (2.5 miles) of walls built by the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, in 1540.  Seven gates serve as points of entry into the Old City. The eighth gate, the Golden Gate located at the entrance to the Temple Mount, has been sealed for centuries. 

During the Arab Revolt (1936-1939) the Old City of Jerusalem was subject to British police curfews and even the sealing of the gates.
British police with dogs at Herod's
Gate (1937)

Sealed gate (1938)
The Israeli Defense Forces captured the Old City in June 1967 and opened the Herod's Gate for pedestrians.
See previous photo essays on the Zion Gate, Damascus Gate, Golden Gate, Dung GateJaffa Gate, the New Gate and Lions Gate.

Herod's Gate today

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Click on the captions to see the originals.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Purim in the Holy Land: Tales of Disguise, Mirth and the Constant Threat of Haman

The American Colony's "Book Club" (1898). Almost certainly
not Purim-related, but great costumes!
 Purim provides the Jewish comics' classic example of a Jewish Holiday: 

"They tried to kill us. We survived.  Let's eat!"

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 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.

Purim celebration in Tel Aviv (1934)
Purim carnival in Tel Aviv (1934)
The Purim tale did not take place in Eretz Yisrael, but in Persia.  A villain named Haman arose and tried to destroy the Jewish people.  Through guile and disguise, Mordechai and Esther were able to thwart Haman's genocidal plans and save the Jewish people.  To this day there is a custom to dress up in disguises.
The "Queen Esther" of the carnival in 1934

Jerusalem Drama Society in costume
(not believed to be
 related to Purim) 1940
Click on the photos to enlarge.

Click on the captions to see the originals.

The parallels between Haman's threat and the threats against Israel from Persia/Iran today are stark and worrisome. 

Purim parade in Tel Aviv with a float
of a dangerous 3-headed
Nazi dragon (1934)

Tel Aviv Purim float of Nazi cannons
(screen capture from 1933 film)
 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.

Another movie photographer filmed a float in 1933 showing dangerous Nazi cannons.  A screen capture from the film is presented here. 

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

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Incredible 1925 Film of Jerusalem, Commissioned by Frenchman Albert (Abraham) Kahn

Albert Kahn, 1914
 (Albert Kahn Museum)
While the American Colony photographers were assembling their collection of pictures of the Holy Land, a French banker named Albert Kahn was commissioning photographers to travel the world (1909 - 1931) to create his "Archives of the Planet."  They photographed 72,000 colored pictures and 600,000 feet of film in 50 countries around the world -- including the British Mandate of Palestine.

From the Kahn collection
Some of the Kahn collection's still pictures taken in Jerusalem are similar to those in the American Colony collection in the Library of Congress reproduced here in

But unsurpassed are the movies taken by Kahn's Jerusalem photographer Camille Sauvageot in 1925.  The film below shows the Old City's gates, Jewish prayer at the Western Wall, Christian processions on Good Friday, and Muslims on the Temple Mount.

The film below was posted to YouTube this week by Israeli film collector and archivist Yaakov Gross.   Visit his wonderful collection of films here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"That's Prohibited in the Bible!"
The American Colony Photographers Focused on Agricultural Prohibitions

"Thou shall not muzzle an ox in its threshing"
לֹא תַחְסֹם שׁוֹר בְּדִישׁוֹ
Deuteronomy 25 (circa 1900)
The American Colony photographers were religious Christians and probably  knew the Bible from beginning to end. 

Some of their pictures reflected religious themes, such as women working in the field in the tradition of Ruth, or young shepherds near Bethlehem. 

"Thou shall not plow with
an ox and an ass together."
לא תַחֲרֹשׁ בְּשׁוֹר וּבַחֲמֹר יַחְדָּו
Deuteronomy 20 (circa 1890)
Plowing with a cow and a camel (circa 1900)
They also focused on one area of Biblical prohibitions -- the care of farm animals.  Many pictures portray mismatched animals pulling a plow, and one picture shows a muzzled cow threshing wheat.
Plowing with a cow and and an ass
 (circa 1900) See also here

Click on the photos to enlarge.

Click on the captions to see the originals.