Friday, March 28, 2014

"Austrian" or "Australian," What's the Difference?
Plenty If You Were a Soldier Fighting in Palestine in WWI

Jewish soldiers in the Australian (sic) Battalion standing next to the Western Wall, 1916. (Harvard  
Library/Central Zionist Archives)  The soldiers were actually from Austria.
The photographer, Ya'akov Ben-Dov, moved to Palestine  in 1907 from Kiev. He was
 into the Ottoman army during World War I and served as a photographer in Jerusalem
World War I was not only waged in Europe, but across the Middle East as well. The armies of Turkey, Germany and Austria fought the British Empire's armies from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and India.  The Austrian soldiers in the picture above marched into Jerusalem in 1916.

[Another copy of this Kotel photo -- damaged -- appears elsewhere in the Harvard Library collection with the correct caption of "Austrian" soldiers.]

Update, April 2: We received the following note from a librarian in Harvard Library's Judaica Division:
We are  in the process of updating the caption to read "Austrian soldiers" instead of "Australian soldiers".  The caption should be updated within one or two days.  Thank you very much for alerting us to this error.

The Australians arrived in Palestine with General Allenby's troops in 1917, and were famous for their daring cavalry charge that captured Be'er Sheva before German and Turkish troops could blow up the wells of the oasis.

Austrians marching into Jerusalem, 1916 (Library of Congress, American Colony Collection)

Australian Light Horsemen in Jerusalem (1918) in a badly damaged Library of Congress photo

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Passover Nears.
Time to Recall that a Biblical-Scale Plague Struck the Holy Land 99 Years Ago

The American Colony photographers  took
hundreds of pictures of the  locust plague
and the insects' metamorphosis from larvae to adult
A version of this posting appeared in January 2012.

World War I brought widespread devastation to the Middle East as German and Turkish armies fought British, Australian and New Zealand troops in battlefields from the Suez Canal in the south to Damascus in the north. 

The war also meant a cut-off of aid and relief to the Jews of Palestine from Jewish philanthropists in Europe and the United States. 

As many as 10,000 Jews were expelled from Jaffa-Tel Aviv in April 1917 by the Turks, and many perished from disease and hunger.

But the famine that struck the residents of Palestine was also caused by a massive plague of locusts that swarmed into Eretz Yisrael in March 1915 and lasted until October.  Accounts of the locusts and the subsequent starvation and pestilence recalled the plagues of Bible.

A New York Times account from April 1915 described deaths from starvation.  By November 1915, the Times detailed a cable from the American Counsel General in Jerusalem in which he described "fields covered by the locusts as far as the eye could reach."  The diplomat reported on efforts made by the Turkish leader of Palestine to combat the locusts.  A Jewish agronomist, "Dr. Aaron Aaronsohn, who is well known to the Department of Agriculture at Washington, was appointed High Commissioner" to the "Central Commission to Fight the Locusts." 

A tree before the locusts arrived
The same tree after the locusts finished

[Aaronsohn would go on to establish the anti-Turkish NILI spy ring in 1917.  His sister Sarah was captured by the Turks for her involvement in the spy ring, and after torture, she committed suicide.]

American funds and food were essential for keeping the Jewish community in Palestine alive, and aid was delivered by U.S. Navy vessels.

The American Colony in Jerusalem established soup kitchens to feed starving residents in Jerusalem.  The colony's photographers documented more than 200 pictures of the locusts' devastation, efforts to combat them and the locusts' life cycle.  An album of color (hand tinted) photographs is stored in the Library of Congress collection.

"Locusts stealing in like thieves through
the window"
The Times reported, "Few crops or orchards escaped devastation.  This was especially true on the Plain of Sharon, where the Jewish and German colonies, with their beautiful orange gardens, vineyards, and orchards, suffered most severely... In the lowlands there was a complete destruction of crops such as garden vegetables, melons, apricots and grapes ... upon whose supply the Jerusalem markets depend... few vegetables or fruits [were] to be had in the markets."

Click on photos to enlarge.
Click on captions to view the original pictures.

Team waving flags tries to push a swarm of locusts into a
trap dug into the ground.  The Turkish governor demanded
that every man deliver 20 kilo (44 pounds) of locusts

"In Jerusalem and Hebron," the report continued, "the heaviest loss from the onslaught of the locusts has been in connection with the olive groves and vineyards.  Olive oil is a staple of food among the peasants and poorer classes....The grape, too, is a similar staple among all classes."

Garden of Gethsemane, Jerusalem,  before the locusts
Garden of  Gethsemane, Jerusalem, after the locusts

"When the larvae appeared near Jerusalem," the Times related, residents were mobilized "for immediate organized resistance....Tin-lined boxes were sunk in the earth in the direction in which the locusts were advancing." Men, women and children were given flags and "the flaggers would drive the locusts together in a dense column toward the trap..."

Both the forces of war and nature combined to take a terrible toll on the residents of Palestine during World War I.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Another Library of Congress Treasure:
The Matza Factory in New York in 1858, but the Accompanying Article Is Full of Errors

Caption: "General view of preparations and baking matzot, the unleavened bread for the Passover" (Frank Leslie's
Illustrated Newspaper, New York, April 18, 1858, Library of Congress)  Note the rabbi watching.
The Library of Congress Archives has preserved several 150-year old engravings of Jewish customs in New York from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.  [See Purim celebration] 

The story we bring today is unusual because of the writer's attempt to describe the New York Jewish community and the Passover holiday.  The first element, rich in Faginesque imageries,  would be considered anti-Semitic by today's standards.  The second element, a description of the holiday customs, is woefully full of mistakes.  Excerpts below:
Any one taking a morning walk through Chatham street will meet enough men whose low stature, shining black eyes, crisp laky hair, stooping shoulders, and eager movements proclaim them of the Hebrew race, to convince him that Jews are prevalent in our city in large numbers.  Exactly how many thousands of the Hebraic people have their present sojourning in New York we have no means of ascertaining, but the number is very considerable, and is on the rapid increase.
Weighing and kneading of the flour with the rabbi
 The Israelitish race preserve to this day their peculiar characteristics as strongly marked, and their national prejudices is as full force as in the days of Darius, King of Persia.  They exist among us, a distinct race, preserving an identity of their own... but whilst constantly intermingling in trade and business with the Gentiles, keeping themselves as separate from the uncircumcised dogs in all social and religious intercourse....They could not keep themselves more apart if they were walled out from the Christian world....
The eating of the unleavened bread for the seven days of the Passover is obligatory on all of the Jewish faith, and it is observed with the most punctilious exactitude by all, old and young, and no matter how poor or rich.  During the seven days this unleavened bread is the only sort permitted to be used, no meat is allowed, and no drop of wine or spirits or fermented liquors.  Fish and some kinds of vegetables are eaten sparingly....

 Click on pictures to enlarge.

Click on captions to view the original pictures.

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Time to Get Ready for Passover.
The Matza Factories Are Hard at Work

With Passover just a few weeks away, Jewish households around the world are purchasing or making their matzot (unleavened bread) for the festival.

One of Judaism's oldest customs, the baking of matza goes back to the Jewish exodus from Egypt.  Ever since, Jews often went to great trouble to bake their cracker-like bread. Jewish communities in Europe and the Arab world faced "blood libels" for making their matza. Ancient synagogues in France built matza bakeries under their synagogues. Jews in Nazi concentration camps risked being shot to bake their Passover "bread." In the former Soviet Union, Jews baked their matza in secret, lest they be discovered and sent to the Gulag.  During major wars, armies made sure to provide matza to their Jewish soldiers.

A matza factory in Haifa.  The signs on the left read "For the purpose of the commandment of matza" -- a reminder to the workers to keep their intentions on the commandment.  The signs on the right, in Hebrew and French,
 read "No smoking" and "No Spitting"  (from the "Cigarbox Collection" provided by Othniel Seiden )
No smoking or spitting
Keep in mind the matza commandment

Children baking matza in kindergarten in the Holy Land. The teacher is in the center, and it appears there 
 is a tiny oven in front of her   (Harvard/Central Zionist Archives, circa 1920)

A future feature:  Matza baking in the "New World" 150 years ago 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Israel Daily Picture Featured at AIPAC's Annual Policy Conference
in Washington D.C.

AIPAC's Annual Policy Conference hosted the publisher of Israel Daily Picture, Lenny Ben-David, at its recent mega-event in Washington DC.  In addition to three presentations by Ben-David, AIPAC also provided large interactive touch-screens where delegates were able to view more than 1,800 pictures from the Israel Daily Picture site.

Click to view the YouTube presentation.

Special HT to the amazing production teams at AIPAC and Viva Creative.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mystery Picture Solution:
Sha'ar HaGai (Hebrew) Bab al-Wad (Arabic)
-- Almost Every Visitor to Jerusalem Passes this Spot

Original caption: "Entering the Judean Hills, Wady Ali, old route
Jaffa to Jerusalem."  (Keystone-Mast Collection, California Museum of Photography
at UCR ARTSblock, University of California, Riverside)
Several readers immediately recognized this location as the entrance way to the gorge between Israel's coastal plain and the Judean hills leading to Jerusalem.

Today, the location is called "Sha'ar HaGai" in Hebrew (Gate of the Valley). The name "Sha'ar HaGai" can be found in the Biblical book of Chronicles II (26:9) referring to the fortified towers and gates of Jerusalem built by King Uziyahu. 

The Arabs referred to the site as "Bab al-Wad," (Gate of the Valley); the valley was called "Wadi Ali."

The Library of Congress archives dates this
picture of the "entrance to the Judean Hills" as 1900
Throughout history, this natural gorge was the chokepoint for armies seeking to put Jerusalem under siege. In 1948-49, Arab armies laid siege to Jewish Jerusalem, and major battles took place from Latrun, near Sha'ar HaGai, all the way to the outskirts of Jerusalem.

"Bab al-Wad" was a popular and mournful song memorializing the convoys which attempted to break through the siege during Israel's war of independence.

According to blogger Daniel Ventura, the rocky path to Jerusalem was "paved" in the 1860s and formally dedicated for the visit of Austrian Kaiser Franz Josef in 1869.  The Turkish "Khan" -- wayside rest station (a precursor to a gas station) -- was built in 1873.  Reader Rose Feldman wrote, "Sha'ar HaGai was the way station where horses were changed on the way to Jerusalem at the beginning of the 20th century."
Ventura quotes a 19th century writer, Binyamin Ze'ev HaLevy Sapir, Jerusalem editor of The Lebanon newspaper, who reported in 1869, "The way from Jaffa to Jerusalem is almost well-finished, and two horse-drawn wagons come and go every day.  The trip from Jaffa to Jerusalem takes 10 hours, and horses are switched at Bab al-Wad."
The road today:

The highway today.  Ruins of the Turkish Khan can still be seen alongside the road. (Google Earth)

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Mystery Photograph: Can You Identify Where this 100+ Year Old Picture Was Taken? Do You Have a Photo of the Location Today?

The picture appears to be of a way station in the Holy Land. Do you know where? Enter your answer
 below in the "comment" section, or send it to

Monday, March 10, 2014

Theodore Roosevelt and Palestine -- "Bully for You!"

Young Theodore (in circle) and the Roosevelt family "On the Nile, winter 1872-1873."
(Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library)
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States (1901-1909), played a vital role in turning the United States into a global power. As president, he showed concern for the Jews of North Africa and Czarist Russia.  After his presidency, he expressed strong support for the emergence of a Jewish state in Palestine.

Roosevelt's first contact with the Jews of Palestine was as a teenager when his family toured the Middle East in 1872-1873. A perspicacious young man, Roosevelt wrote a diary of his trip which included his observations of the Jews' prayer at the Western Wall.

Women of the Wall.  From 15-year old Teddy Roosevelt's diary  (Theodore Roosevelt Center, Dickenson
State University, 1872
"In the afternoon we went to the Wailing Place of the Jews. Many of the women were in earnest, but most of the men were evidently shamming."

The "Jews' Wailing Place" photographed around the same time as the Roosevelt visit (Bonfil, Getty Villa Exhibit)
(Typically, such early photographs at the Wall were posed.)

As a young politician, Roosevelt served as police commissioner of New York City, a role that brought him into contact with the Jewish community of New York.  One young immigrant, Otto Raphael, was encouraged by Roosevelt to become a New York policeman, and the two men maintained a close friendship until Roosevelt died.  See Officer Otto Raphael: A Jewish Friend of Theodore Roosevelt by Nancy Schoenburg. 

Roosevelt returned to the Nile
(Theodore Roosevelt Center, 1909)
As president and a former secretary of the navy, Roosevelt was quick to resort to "gunboat diplomacy," especially in the Middle East. In Power, Faith and Fantasy, Amb. Michael B. Oren notes that as part of his negotiations over the rule of Morocco, the president "secured his country's customary concerns in the area, protecting North African Jews from oppression and American merchants from unfair restrictions and fees." 

Roosevelt also issued a strong letter of rebuke to the Russian Czar in 1903 after the murder of 49 Jews during a pogrom in Kishinev.

Oren's opus on America and the Middle East also cites correspondence by Roosevelt in 1918 in which he wrote, "It seems to me that it is entirely proper to start a Zionist State around Jerusalem."  In another letter, the former president stated, "[T]here can be no peace worth having" until Armenian and Arabs are granted independence "and the Jews given control of Palestine."

A Purim Treat from the Archives of the Library of Congress
-- Celebrating Purim in New York 150 Years Ago

Nearly all of our vintage photographs are from the Middle East, especially from the Holy Land. 

But in honor of the Jewish festival of Purim, joyously commemorated this week by Jews around the world, we bring our readers a print we found in the Library of Congress archives

The Purim holiday commemorates the victory of Queen Esther and Mordechai over the evil Haman of Persia, saving the lives of the Jewish people.

The picture appeared in an American newspaper on April 1, 1865.  The wood engraving is captioned, "The Hebrew Purim Ball at the Academy of Music, March 14."  The picture contains a large sign, "Merry Purim," another sign listing the "Order of Dancing," and merrymakers wearing costumes and masks.

The picture was published in Frank Leslie's illustrated newspaper, printed in New York, NY. The Academy of Music was built in 1854 and was located in Manhattan at Irving Place and East 14th Street.

"Chanucka celebration in New York City" 1880
We found another engraving from Frank Leslie's newspaper, also of the Academy of Music, in the Library of Congress archives. It is dated 1880 and captioned "New York City--the Chanucka celebration by the Young Men's Hebrew Association, at the Academy of Music, December 16th--scene of the sixth tableau, 'the dedication of the temple.'"

Click on pictures to enlarge.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Russians Are Coming! Subbotnik Converts Are Making Aliya

Khudera, Russian proselytes (Library of Congress, circa 1906).
Today, the Library of Congress caption reads, "Identified
by researcher as Russian converts to Judaism (Subbotniki)"
Israeli news announced this week that the aliya (immigration) of Russian "Subbotniks" will resume. 

Identified and trained by the Shavei Israel organization, the Subbotniks are descendants of a group of Russian Christians who assumed a Jewish lifestyle 200 years ago.  They were persecuted by the Czars, Communists and Nazis.

The following feature appeared in Israel Daily Picture two years ago. 

The Library of Congress' American Colony photo collection is full of mysterious pictures, some of which have been presented on these pages.  Here's one, captioned "Khudera, Russian Proselytes," with the date listed as "between 1898 and 1934." Who or what is "Khudera?" 

In the 19th century, a Christian sect in Russia kept Saturday as their day of Sabbath, thus earning the name "Subbotniks." They read the Old Testament and had a loose identification with Judaism.

Yoav Dubrovin (Dubrovin Farm Museum)
In the late 1800s, two emissaries from Eretz Yisrael (one, Meir Dizengoff, would become mayor of Tel Aviv) traveled to Europe to encourage Jews to move to the land of Israel.  In Kovno they encountered a successful Subbotnik farmer named Dubrovin who peppered them with questions about the Bible and about farming and weather conditions in the Galilee.  The respected sage of Kovno, Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor, had befriended Dubrovin and after several years converted Dubrovin, now named Yoav, and his family to Judaism.

In 1903, Dubrovin moved to the land of Israel with his family of 13.  In 1909, he established a very successful farm in Yesod HaMa'aleh in the upper Galilee.

So who are the "Russian Proselytes of Khudera?" 

According to Yoav Dubrovin's biography, the family lived in Hadera before purchasing their farm in Yesod HaMa'aleh.  Elsewhere in the Library of Congress collection there is reference to Jewish towns "Jewish coastal colonies: Herzlia, Ranana, Nathania, Khudeira. Herzlia" -- apparently what we call and spell as "Hadera."

The mystery photo is likely a Dubrovin family portrait (minus Yoav who was in his 70s at this time) and was probably taken around 1906. Yoav Dubrovin lived to the age of 104.

Yoav Dubrovin's son donated the farm to the Jewish National Fund in 1968, and today the farm house has been restored and is the centerpiece of the Dubrovin Farm Museum.