Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Steamroller in Jerusalem 100 Years Ago -- an Update

"Steamroller (sic) in Jerusalem" with U.S. and
Turkish flag outside of the Old City's Jaffa Gate
We recently posted a feature on a "streamroller" in the streets of Jerusalem.

We received this clarification from the folks at the British Road Roller Association.

My colleagues have responded that this is not a Steam Roller; it's an American-built Austin motor roller with two somewhat narrow flywheels (in the style of much later A&P motor rollers) - and I would therefore assume the flag denotes its origins. It's thought to be from around the time of WW1.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Jewish State in Formation Required Major Industries.
The Dead Sea Potash Works Was One of Them

Palestine Potash Company on the shore of the Dead Sea
(c 1937). Note the airplane, upper right corner of picture.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jews of Palestine were employed in agriculture (oranges, wheat, dairy cows, etc) and small industries (textiles, edible oils, furniture, etc). 

Unlike other areas in the Middle East, large reserves of petroleum and natural gas were never found.  While no "black gold" was pumped from beneath the ground, a "white gold" was mined from beneath the water.   

In 1930, a major industry was launched on the barren shores of the Dead Sea, the Palestine Potash Company.  Established by Moshe Novomeysky,  the company was responsible for approximately half the worth of all of the exports of the Jews of Palestine by 1940.  During World War II, the company provided Britain with half of its potash.  (Potash is not only used in fertilizer.  In World War II, it was a vital component in the fuel used by combat aircraft.) 
Dead Sea 100-ton barge. View another
mining picture here
Dead Sea housing on the northern shore.
 Note how close the buildings are to
the water line (1931). Since then, the
shoreline has receded hundreds of yards.
At the time, the only route to the Dead Sea was overland via the Jerusalem-Jericho road or by boat to Trans-Jordan.  Potash mined on the southern shore was loaded on barges and shipped to the northern facility where it was loaded on trucks.  Until a workers' settlement was established in the north, workers traveled from Jerusalem. 

Dead Sea dining room and
security building (1931)

The remains of the dining room and
security building today (credit: Michael

Remains of the housing today (credit:
Michael Yaakovson)
The potash company expanded to the southern half of the Dead Sea in 1934 where there was more area for evaporation pans.  The area was known as Sodom. 

The violence of the Arab Revolt (1936-1939) also struck the Dead Sea enterprise.  In September 1937 terrorists struck a truck convoy on the way toward Jerusalem.  According to the British Mandate report for 1937:

   "On the 16th, five trucks belonging to the Palestine Potash convoy were ambushed and destroyed on the Jerusalem-Jericho road and two Arab employees of the company were murdered."
One of the burned-out trucks


British military jeep passing the burned-
out convoy of trucks (1937)

Guards at the Palestine Potash Company (1937)

During the 1948 War of Independence, the Jewish workers of the Dead Sea facility in the north were evacuated.  The site was looted and destroyed by local Arab and the Jordanian Legion.

Today, the Dead Sea Works is part of the Israel Chemical Group which reported $1.3 billion in revenue in 2010.

The historic photographs presented here were part of an American Colony album produced for the Palestine Potash Company, and some 90 pictures can be viewed in the Library of Congress files.

Michael Yaakovson visited the southern facility in 2009 and posted online an incredible collection of pictures of the abandoned camp.  We thank him for permission to use some of his pictures.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Another Mystery Photo Identified.
New depth to the historical record of Mikve Yisrael

"A Jewish colony" dated sometime between 1898 and 1946.
Where and when was the picture taken?
The buildings in the circles help identify the site
Here are more pictures from the American Colony collection dated between 1898 and 1946.  Not only is the date uncertain, but so is the location of the pictures.  
"Harvesting, Jewish colony" (1898-1946)
Note the ultra-Orthodox man under the
umbrella. In the Library of Congress
digital collection the two harvesting
pictures are adjacent to the large photo
of the horse and buggy on the top right

"Jewish colony harvesting" (1898-1946)
Note the same machinery in the two
Using landmarks and comparing the horse and buggy picture to other photographs, we can identify the unnamed "Jewish Colony" and suggest a time and vicinity for the harvesting pictures. 

The photo of the horse and buggy on the top right was taken at the Mikve Yisrael Agricultural School, established in 1870, near what later became Tel Aviv.  Note the building with the central chimney which appears in other photographs below.  The "Jewish colony harvesting" pictures are located in adjacent files to the horse and buggy picture.

The American Colony photographers took dozens of pictures of the "Jewish colonies and settlements," no doubt reflecting their Christian "end-of-days" theology  which supported the return of Jews to the Holy Land.  The founder of the American Colony's photographic department, Elijah Meyers, a Jew from India who converted to Christianity, produced a photographic documentary of the Jewish communities already in 1897.

An earlier posting:

Training Israel's Farmers 140 Years Ago at Mikve Yisrael Agricultural School 

Photo captioned "Mikweh"
Note the two buildings in the
buggy picture
Mikveh Yisrael students
In 1867, young residents of Jerusalem requested assistance from Jews in Europe in order to build outside the Old City walls. "We're not requesting charity," they wrote, "but work. Provide us the land, put in our hands the tools and send us the people who will teach us to work the land." 

The Mikve Yisrael Agricultural School was the result.  

"Mikweh" photo and the chimney
Founded in 1870 by Karl Netter of the French Jewish organization, Alliance IsraĆ©lite Universelle, the school was allocated 750 acres by Palestine's Ottoman rulers. It was one of the first modern Jewish schools in Eretz Yisrael 
Wine cellar (1898)

 Pictured here (left) is the Mikve Yisrael wine cellar, built in 1883.

The montage of the
two men.(Not from the
Library of Congress

The school was the site of the historic 1898 meeting between Theodore Herzl and the German Emperor, Wilhelm II.  Herzl requested that the Emperor intercede with his ally, the Ottoman Sultan, to establish a Jewish state.  

The famous picture of the meeting, however, is not real. The photographer (apparently not one of the American Colony photographers) "missed the shot" and created a photo montage instead.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Another Mystery Photo -- A Steamroller in Jerusalem
Can You Suggest Why It Flies an American Flag?

"Steamroller on Jerusalem Street" is the caption
The Library of Congress provides little information about this dynamic picture in Jerusalem.

The picture's caption reads "Steamroller on Jerusalem Street." 

The date of the picture is given as sometime between 1898 and 1946, nearly 50 years the American Colony photographers were active.

The steamroller is on the left side of the picture surrounded by a crowd.  Why is it flying an American flag (alongside what appears to be a Turkish flag)?

As we researched, we discovered another photograph of the same vehicle.  The second picture was taken outside of the Jaffa Gate, beneath David's Citadel.

Here is what we deduce:
Vehicle enlarged

  • The first picture was taken on Mamilla Street with the vehicle heading away from the photographer. The photographer's back is to Jaffa Gate.
  • The picture was taken during the Turkish rule of Palestine, sometime in the early1900s and before automobiles were introduced.  Only horse-drawn wagons are on the road.
    "Steamroller on street outside of Jerusalem
    walls." (1898 - 1946)
  • Perhaps the steamroller was a vehicle never seen before by Jerusalem's residents, and that would explain why all traffic stopped. 
  • Perhaps the American flag was being flown because the vehicle was an American gift or produced by an American company.
What's your opinion?  Send us your comments, please.

Click on the picture to enlarge.  Click on the caption to see the original photograph.

Subscribe to Israel Daily Picture by entering your email in the box in the right sidebar.  It's free.

New comments:  Hat Tip to Reader Paul M!  Read his comments below which explain the American flag and help date the picture.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Ultra-Orthodox Jews also Established Agricultural Communities in the Holy Land -- Kfar Chassidim

The blacksmith of Kfar Chassidim and former
resident of a Polish shtetl.  (1935)
Many of the kibbutz and moshav agricultural communities established in Palestine in the early 1900s were based on socialist ideals.  A large number of the new settlers discarded the old religious traditions of their parents and ancestors.

The fields of Kfar Chassidim, (c. 1935)
 a community founded 10 years earlier

The ark in the synagogue

Exterior of the synagogue
But the Zionist enterprise and the promise to return to the "holy land" also inspired ultra-Orthodox Jews in Poland to establish a farming community in Israel's north called Kfar Chassidim, or "village of the devout."

Click on photos to enlarge.  Click on caption to see original photo

The blacksmith in his shop
The settlers, many followers of the Kuznetz chassidic dynasty of Poland, first organized in 1922 while still in Poland.  They purchased the land in Palestine and established Kfar Chassidim in 1924.  But the land was swampland, and the community was hard hit by malaria and a lack of agricultural training. 

The Jewish National Fund aided the community in drying the swamps, paid off their debts and sent agricultural experts to train the new farmers.

Today, the community has approximately 600 residents.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

What Is "Carding Cotton?"
Old photograph shows old Jewish trade

Jews carding cotton
The caption on this picture from the Library of Congress' American Colony collection reads "Jews Carding Cotton" sometime around 1900 in Palestine.

What does carding cotton mean?  How is it done?

Carding is a process of taking unprocessed fibers, such as wool or cotton, and untangling, cleaning and mixing the strands.

When done manually, carding was usually done with a brush-like tool, or "card."  In the 18th and 19th centuries machines were invented to card fiber.

These Jewish men, however, are using another ancient method discussed in Wikipedia:
Historian of science Joseph Needham ascribes the invention of bow-instruments used in textile technology to India. The earliest evidence for using bow-instruments for carding comes from India (2nd century CE). These carding devices, called kaman and dhunaki would loosen the texture of the fiber by the means of a vibrating string.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

How Strange Does the American Colony Story Get?

Meet the Founders' adopted Jewish son, responsible for one of the most incredible archeological finds in Jerusalem in 130 years

Jacob Eliahu Spafford
Meet Jacob David Eliahu, born in 1864 to Turkish Jewish parents in Palestine.

Jacob and his parents were converted to Christianity by the "London Jews Society," a missionary group that started in London's East End and established a mission hospital in Jerusalem in the mid-1800s.  Jacob was born in Ramallah where his mother went to escape a cholera epidemic in Jerusalem.

Spafford picnic (1902). Jacob is believed
to be in the middle with a dark shirt.

At the age of 17, Jacob went to live with the founders of the American Colony, Horatio and Anna Spafford, who had just arrived in Jerusalem.  The Christian utopians, who had tragically lost five children to shipwreck and disease, adopted Jacob.

Jacob with his two Spafford sisters
and unknown girls (circa 1900)
Jacob appears in numerous Spafford family pictures and is credited with using his many languages (English, Spanish, Swedish, Arabic and Hebrew) and business skills to guide the American Colony community through an incredibly difficult period in Palestine marked by war, famine, and a locust plague.

Hezekiah's inscription.  The original tablet
was chiseled out and taken to the Istanbul
Museum (Credit: Tamar Hayardeni,

According to the Library of Congress, "Jacob continued to join [Jewish] relatives for Jewish holidays and observances while serving in a long and highly respected leadership capacity in the American Colony."

As a "local," Bible-steeped young man, Jacob was certainly familiar with the man-made underground water channel discovered in the 1830s from the Gihon Spring to the Silwan pool in Jerusalem.

But it was young Jacob who is credited with recognizing beneath centuries of silt an ancient chiseled tablet on the wall that dated the tunnel to the 8th century BCE and confirmed the massive engineering feat of King Hezekiah.

The inscription reads:
... the tunnel ... and this is the story of the tunnel while ... the axes were against each other and while three cubits were left to cut? ... the voice of a man ... called to his counterpart, (for) there was ... in the rock, on the right ... and on the day of the tunnel (being finished) the stonecutters struck each man towards his counterpart, ax against ax and flowed water from the source to the pool for 1200 cubits. and 100?cubits was the height over the head of the stonecutters ...
Jacob Eliyahu Spafford was killed in a car crash in 1932 and was buried on Mt. Scopus.
From a family album: "Uncle Jacob Spafford,
adopted son of Horatio and Anna Spafford,
formerly a Jew called Jacob Eliahu."

Plaque dedicating a wing in Jacob's
memory at an
American Colony orphanage
Jacob Spafford's grave on Mt. Scopus

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Mystery Picture of a "Triumphal Arch in Jerusalem" --
Where, When, Why?

"Triumphal arch" in Jerusalem, sometime between 1898 and 1946
Where? Why? When?
There are many pictures in the American Colony collection that are simply not well captioned.  Kudos go to the curators at the Library of Congress for digitalizing and cataloging the 22,000 photos they received from a California old age home.  But, in some cases, they may have had trouble putting all of the puzzle pieces back in place.

"Triumphal arch"
Here's an example of another mystery photograph that this website attempts to decipher.  The photo is set somewhere in Jerusalem, sometime between 1898 and 1946, the period when the American Colony's photography department was active.

The photo is accompanied by a second photograph with the same caption "Triumphal arch" and the dates of 1898-1946.

The Emperor's arrival in Jerusalem, riding on his white horse.
The building on the right is the American Colony's residence.
Note the minaret in this photo and the second "Arch" picture.
View another picture of "The Kaiser in front of our house."
Now we fill in the blanks: The picture was taken in 1898. The arch was built in honor of the Emperor of Germany, Wilhelm II.  The location was Nablus Road, a few hundred meters north of the American Colony's home.  The second "Arch" picture was probably taken from the American Colony's upper floor and may be a photo of the Emperor's procession.

This website has published other photos of events on Nablus Road in a posting "Nablus Road: Where History Marched."

View the "Arch" picture below with other Nablus Road pictures.  We have marked in a box a group of houses with distinct roofs in several of the pictures.

Click on the picture to enlarge.  Click on the caption to view the original photograph.
Note the roofs, arch and crooked
telegraph pole on the left

"Turkish soldiers marching on Nablus Road past the
American Colony." Marked are the same arches, roofs and
crooked telegraph poll (between 1898 and 1917)

Jewish children's procession on Nablus
Road on Lag B'Omer, 1918. Note the
distinct roofs on the left

British army towing artillery on Nablus Road
during World War I (1917-1918)
Several "triumphal arches" were built in honor of the German Emperor, including a very elaborate structure built by Jerusalem's Jewish community, replete with Torah crowns and curtains from synagogues' Torah arks. 
The arch built by the Jewish community of Jerusalem (1898) on
Jaffa Road. View photo essay on the arch here. The Emperor's
arrival was on the Sabbath, but the Jewish community and
its rabbis turned out.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Who Was Mendel Kremer?
Jewish pharmacist, Turkish soldier, journalist, agent and spy

British commissioner Samuel (center), Chief Rabbi Kook (in  fur
hat), and Mendel Kremer in white suit (1925).  Who was this man?
Central Zionist Archives, Harvard
Like the American Colony collection, the Central Zionist Archives (CZA) has many 100-year-old pictures of key events in Jewish history in Eretz Yisrael.  One person, however, apparently got past the photographers of the American Colony, usually featured in this space.

In several CZA pictures, usually in the background -- Forest Gump-like -- stands a stout man identified as Mendel Kremer.  Who was he? 
Advertisement for Kremer's pharmacy
on flyer at the Jerusalem railroad
station (1898) Central Zionist

Kremer in Turkish
uniform (1910)
Central Zionist
Archives, Harvard

Kremer was an alleged agent and informer who first worked for the Turks and then the British. He was considered a hated moser who turned over his co-religionists to the authorities, according to some accounts.  

Reports claim that he was directed by the Turks to spy on Theodore Herzl during his 1898 visit to Palestine and was even authorized to arrest Herzl if his presence led to disturbances.  In his diary, Herzl noted Kremer's presence.

Mendel Kremer was born in Minsk in the 1860s and moved with his family to Palestine in 1873.  He opened a pharmacy in Meah Sha'arim in Jerusalem in 1890. 

Kremer, in suit, with other veterans of
the Turkish army (1927) Central
Zionist Archives, Harvard
Kremer worked for some of the early Hebrew newspapers which probably served him well in providing information to the Turkish authorities.

Kremer with his Turkish
medals of honor Central
Zionist Archive, Harvard

Kremer with chief rabbi Yaakov Meir
(1925) Central Zionist Archives,
Dov Ganchovsky, an Israeli journalist and chronicler of Jerusalem stories, suggests that Kremer was actually a double-agent and on occasion assisted the Jewish community. 

When the Turkish Pasha plotted to kill the manager of the British-Palestine bank, Ganchovsky wrote, Kremer warned the manager and smuggled him out of Jerusalem to Jericho.  Subsequently, Ganchovsky recounted, the manager's daughter confirmed the story.  A woman claiming to be Kremer's granddaughter also contacted the reporter to thank him for "saving my grandfather's honor."

When Kremer died in 1938, the newspaper Davar reported that Jerusalem lost one of its most known figures.  The obituary referred to Kremer's experience with Herzl and his work with the Turkish and British police.  The latter attended his funeral.