Monday, December 31, 2012

Another Historic Film: British General Allenby Entering Jerusalem
-- From the Wonderful Archives of Ya'akov Gross

This film was posted last month by film collector Ya'akov Gross to commemorate the 95th anniversary of the capture of Jerusalem by the British Army.  Gross has posted dozens of historic films on YouTube.

This film is, of course, a silent film with a musical score added. The captions are in Hebrew explaining as Allenby meets the commanders of the French and Italian armies, Jerusalem clergymen, and a short young officer named T. E. Lawrence (of Arabia).

Israel Daily Picture has posted on this website several other films from 100 years ago, including the first film made in the Holy Land in 1897.

Hat tip: NSP

Gen. Allenby enters Jerusalem's Old City and
addresses dignitaries and citizens of Jerusalem

What's Inside?
Updated Table of Contents by Subject

The Library of Congress' photo collection of 22,000 pictures from the century-old American Colony photo department in the Holy Land is a credit to the Library, the curators, the restorers, and, of course, the members of the American Colony, themselves. 
Our recent postings included evidence that these Christian utopians were "Zionists" well before Theodore Herzl, rejoicing in the return of Jews to Eretz Yisrael.  The choice of photo subjects was remarkably "Jewish-friendly," a fact absent from other studies of the Colony's photos.

We also published newly-found pictures from a Scottish university's medical archives where we unexpectedly found photographs of the citizens of Tiberias.

We present this Table of Contents of more than 290 essays and hundreds of pictures to assist you in viewing this incredible historical treasure.

Click on the topic to see the original posting.

 Biblical Sites

Jewish holidays

World War I

Anti-Jewish activity

Economic activity

Agricultural Activity

Groups (by their origin, religion, ethnicity)

Ancient towns

Jewish Towns -- New
Children in Ben-Shemen (1920)

Extinct or Vanishing Jewish Communities
 Film clips

Friday, December 28, 2012

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)
A version of this article appeared in the Times of Israel on December 26, 2012

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 was lost.

The Western Wall, photographed by Diness. Unlike most early
photographers of the Wall, Diness pointed his camera to the south
 and not to the north. (With permission of Special Collections,
 Fine Arts Library, Harvard University. 1859)
 Thanks to the research of historians and curators Dror Wahrman, Nitza Rosovsky and Carney Gavin, the Diness collection was saved from obscurity, and an amazing tale was revealed:  American Christian preacher Mendenhall John Dennis and Jerusalemite yeshiva student and watchmaker Mendel Diness were one and the same. 

Diness was born in Odessa in 1827 into a religious Jewish family. As a boy he apprenticed as a watchmaker; as a teen he went to study in Heidelberg and was influenced by the anti-religious "enlightenment movement."  His concerned father sent him to Palestine in 1848 to a yeshiva to strengthen his Jewish faith.

But in 1849 he met a Christian missionary who started him on his path to Christianity. His conversion caused a major controversy in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Diness was excommunicated from the Jewish community, lost his business, and was forced to divorce his wife, Shayndel Reisa, who was from a hassidic Chabad family in Hebron.

Enlargement of Jews at the Wall

Mishkenot Sha'ananim in Jerusalem under construction, beneath
Moshe Montifiore's windmill. The building project was the first
Jewish neighborhood built outside of the Old City (1860,
Special Collections, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University.)

Diness was taken in by Christian missionaries and families, including the British Consul, James Finn, who baptized the new convert.  His wife, Elizabeth Finn, a fan of the new photography art, was close to a Scottish missionary, James Graham, who taught Diness the new field of photography.  It was not simply a question of learning to press a button on a camera, but it involved a lengthy and difficult process of preparing emulsions and plates (not film), mastering light, exposures and the science of developing the pictures.

A portrait of missionary James
Graham taken by Diness. It is
not a portrait of Diness as
claimed by some collections
By 1856, Mendel Diness was photographing on his own.  By the end of the decade, however, other photographers had flocked to Jerusalem, and Diness found the competition daunting.  In 1861, he moved to the United States with his new wife, the daughter of a Jewish doctor who had converted to Christianity.  Diness was unsuccessful as a photographer in Cincinnati, Ohio and became a peripatetic preacher, renamed as Mendenhall John Dennis.

How did the Dennis/Diness' collection end up in St. Paul?  When he died in 1900 his belongings were apparently sent to his daughter in New Jersey. When her daughter died, a grandson cleaned out her attic and took the crates to Minnesota.  The family was unaware of Dennis/Diness' Jerusalem photography background.

The Damascus Gate photographed by Diness (Special
Collections, Fine Arts Library, Harvard University, circa 1856)

A footnote: Diness was not the only Jewish photographer in the Holy Land who converted to Christianity.  Peter Bergheim, a German Jew who converted in the 1830s in England, arrived in Palestine in 1838. He worked as pharmacist and then opened a bank. In 1859 he became an accomplished photographer, apparently working for the British Ordnance Survey team. (His works appear frequently in these pages.) 

Elijah Meyers
(circa 1910)
Several years later Elijah Meyers, a Bombay, India Jew who converted to Christianity, appeared on the scene.  He was the founder and director of the American Colony Photo Department in 1898, but "he had been taking photographs before he became connected to the American Colony," according to a Colony publication.  He trained a team in the art of photography and documented the visit of the German Kaiser in 1898 with pictures sold around the world.  According to sources at the Library of Congress, Meyers was hired by Theodor Herzl to photograph Jewish settlements prior to the 1899 Zionist Congress in Basel.

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

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For more information on Mendel Diness we recommend:

"The Life and Works of the Photographer Mendel John Diness," Cathedra, (Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi) by
Nitza Rosovsky and Carney Gavin (Hebrew)

"Mendel Diness - The First Professional Jerusalemite Photographer," Cathedra, (Yad Yitzhak Ben-Zvi) by Professor Dror Wahrman (Hebrew)

"The Unlikely Story of a Convert: Mendel Diness," Disciples History, by Lester McAllister

"The Diness Discovery," by Piney Kesting. The site includes a slide show and an explanation of the 1850 photo developing process (Saudi Aramco World)

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Special Feature for Our Christian Readers --
Christmas in the Holy Land 100 Years Ago

Entry of pilgims into Bethlehem at Christmas time (circa 1875) by photographer Félix Bonfils (Library of Congress)

Christmas procession in Bethlehem (circa 1900)
The town of Bethlehem plays a major role in the Christian faith. There, Christians believe, Jesus was born some 2,000 years ago, and they celebrate his birth on Christmas.

But when is Christmas?

Bethlehem hosts Christmas services for Roman Catholic and Protestant denominations on December 25.  Coptic, Greek and Syrian Catholics will celebrate in the Church of the Nativity on January 6, and the Armenian Orthodox on January 19.

The photographs on this page were taken by the American Colony Photographic Department before and after World War I when the British captured Palestine after 400 years of Ottoman rule.
Church of the Nativity and Manger Square (circa 1898). Note
the unfenced cemetery on the left. View here the square and
cemetery approximately 20 years later, possibly under British rule

The name "Bethlehem" is derived from the Hebrew "Beit Lechem -- House of Bread," and its fields of grain are mentioned in the Book of Ruth as where Ruth gleaned her wheat for her mother-in-law Naomi and where she met her eventual husband, Boaz.  According to the Bible, Ruth's great-grandson David was born in Bethlehem where he was anointed as king.

The Church of the Nativity was built in 339 CE by King Constantine and his mother, Helena, over the grotto believed to have been the site of Jesus' birth.  

Throughout history the Church was destroyed and/or rebuilt by various conquering armies -- the Samaritans, Persians, Arabs, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans and British.
The Grotto of the Nativity beneath the
Church (circa 1900)

In 1948, Bethlehem was conquered again, this time by the Jordanian Legion.  Jordan ruled Bethlehem and the West Bank until 1967 when the territory was captured by Israel. In 1995, under the terms of the Oslo Accords, Israel transferred Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority.

Bethlehem was traditionally a Christian town, built around the basilica, and tourism was the most important industry.  In recent years, however, the proportion of Christians in Bethlehem has dropped from 85 percent in 1948 to 54 percent in 1967, and now to about 40 percent.  Some analysts point to tensions between resurgent and aggressive Islamists and the Christian community, a phenomenon pressuring other Christian communities across the Middle East, with the exception of Israel.

British and French soldiers guarding the Church of the
Nativity (circa 1918)

Turkish soldiers drilling in the square outside of the Church of
the Nativity in Bethlehem (circa 1900)

Click on pictures to enlarge. Click on captions to view the original Library of Congress photo.

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