Thursday, October 2, 2014

The U.S. Navy Saved Jews of Eretz Yisrael
Exactly 100 Years Ago (October 6, 1914)

USS North Carolina (Photographic History of
the U.S. Navy)
Versions of this article appear in today's Jerusalem Post Magazine and the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs website

One hundred years ago the Jews of Palestine suffered terribly from hunger, disease and oppression.  The territory was ruled with an iron fist by the Ottoman (Turkish) army.  The Middle East teetered on the brink of World War I, and in 1914 Turkey abolished the “capitulation” agreements with European powers which granted them elements of sovereignty over their subjects in the Ottoman Empire.  For many Jews of Eretz Yisrael their French, British and Russian protectors were gone. The financial assistance they received from their European Jewish brethren evaporated.  

In late 1914, the war in the Middle East began with Turkey massing troops in Palestine and the Sinai to move against the British along the Suez Canal.  The Turkish army prepared for the attack by forcibly conscripting locals, including Jews, and by looting (so-called “levies”) supplies, food and animals from residents of Palestine.

The forced conscription and looting of  Jerusalem homes. (1914, Ottoman Imperial Archives)

Hassan Bey, the "Tyrant" (Library
of Congress)

In a report on the Jews of Palestine in World War I, the Zionist Organization of London related in 1921, “The harshest and most cruel of all the Turkish officials was the Commandant of the Jaffa district, Hassan Bey.” 

The report described how “it would suddenly come into his head to summon respectable householders … with an order to bring him some object from their homes which had caught his fancy or of which he had heard — an electric clock, a carpet, etc. Groundless arrests, insults, tortures, bastinadoes [clubs] — these were things every householder had to fear.” [In April 1917, on the eve of Passover, the Turks ordered the expulsion of approximately 8,000 Jews from Jaffa.  An unknown number died. The expulsion of all Jews from Palestine was halted by the German commander in Palestine.]

Locust eradication attempt (1915, Library of Congress)

In March 1915, the situation for the residents of Eretz Yisrael turned more hopeless when a plague of locusts of Biblical proportions ravaged the land for six months.

The United States retained its neutrality in the war until 1917. Its consulate in Jerusalem, headed by Dr. Otis Glazebrook,remained open.  The Americans were the only ones left to help the Jews of Palestine.

On August 31, 1914, the American ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, sent an urgent telegram to the New York Jewish tycoon Jacob Schiff. “Palestinian Jews facing terrible crisis,” he wrote. 

Morgenthau's cable to Schiff, 1914 (JDC Archives)

Amb. Henry Morgenthau
(Library of Congress)
“Belligerent countries stopping their assistance. Serious destruction threatens thriving colonies. Fifty thousand dollars needed by responsible committee. Dr. Ruppin chairman to establish loan institute and support families whose breadwinners have entered army.  Conditions certainly justify American help. Will you undertake matter?”  Signed “Morgenthau.”

Realizing the difficulty in bringing money into Palestine past corrupt Turkish officials, Morgenthau also appealed to Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan for assistance.  It came in the form of U.S. Navy ships.

The U.S. Navy to the Rescue

On October 6, 1914 the U.S. Navy’s USS North Carolina landed in the Jaffa harbor and delivered $50,000 to the U.S. consul general for distribution to the Jewish community. A total of 13 port visits were made by ships such as the USS North Carolina, Vulcan, Des Moines and Tennessee which plied the eastern Mediterranean between Beirut and Cairo. Some of the ships delivered money, food and aid to the Jews of Palestine until the United States entered the war in 1917. 
USS Tennessee crew members carrying
stores onto the ship’s boat deck, probably
 at Alexandria, Egypt, circa 1914/1915.
Ship alongside may be 

USS Vulcan. (U.S.Naval Historical Center)

The Jews of Eretz Yisrael “would have succumbed had not financial help arrived from America,” the Zionist Organization of London report declared.  “America was at that time the one country which through its political and financial position was able to save [Jewish] Palestine permanently from going under.”

The U.S. ships also left with valuable cargo – the Jews of Palestine who were expelled or had to flee the Turks because of their Zionist activity or draft dodging.  One such Palestinian Jew was Alexander Aaronson whose brother Aaron and sister Sarah were founders of the anti-Turk NILI spy network that helped the British.  Sarah killed herself after prolonged Turkish torture.

In his book With the Turks in Palestine, Alexander Aaronson relates: “One of the American cruisers, by order of Ambassador Morgenthau, was empowered to assist citizens of neutral countries to leave the Ottoman Empire. These cruisers had already done wonderful rescue work for the Russian Jews in Palestine, who, when war was declared, were to have been sent to the Mesopotamian town of Urfa—there to suffer massacre and outrage like the Armenians.”  

Aaronson stealthily traveled to Beirut where he was able to sneak aboard the USS Des Moines. Once under sail, Aaronson wrote, “Friends discovered friends and tales of woe were exchanged, stories of hardship, injustice, oppression, all of which ended with mutual congratulations on escaping from the clutches of the Turks.” [HT: AA]

Lenny Ben-David is the Director of Publications at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and the publisher of  He served as a senior diplomat at Israel’s embassy in Washington and an arms control consultant in eastern Europe. He spent 25 years working for AIPAC in Washington and Jerusalem.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Yom Kippur at the Western Wall 100 Years Ago
- reposting a feature from last year

Jews at the Kotel on Yom Kippur (circa 1904) See analysis of  the graffiti
on the wall for dating this picture. The graffiti on the Wall are memorial
notices (not as one reader suggested applied to the photo later). (Library of Congress)

On Saturday, Jews around the world will commemorate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  For many centuries, Jews in the Land of Israel prayed at the Western Wall, the remnant of King Herod's retaining wall of the Temple complex destroyed in 70 AD.

Several readers noticed and commented on the intermingling of men and women in these historic pictures.

It was not by choice. 

The Turkish and British rulers of Jerusalem imposed severe restrictions on the Jewish worshipers,  prohibiting chairs, forbidding screens to divide the men and women, and even banning the blowing of the shofar at the end of the Yom Kippur service.  Note that the talit prayer shawls, normally worn by men throughout Yom Kippur, are not visible in the pictures.

The men are wearing their festival/Sabbath finery, including their
fur shtreimel hats. Note the prayer shawls.  (Credit: RCB Library1897)

We found one rare picture in an Irish church's archives, dated 1897, showing men wearing prayer shawls at the Kotel.

View this video, Echoes of a Shofar, to see the story of young men who defied British authorities between 1930 and 1947 and blew the shofar at the Kotel.

Another view of the Western Wall on Yom Kippur. Note the various groups
of worshipers: The Ashkenazic Hassidim wearing the fur shtreimel hats in
 the foreground, the Sephardic Jews wearing  the fezzes in the
center, and the women in the back wearing white shawls. (Circa 1904, Library of Congress)

For the 19 years that Jordan administered the Old City, 1948-1967, no Jews were permitted to pray at the Kotel.

Many of the photo collections we have surveyed contain numerous pictures of Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall over the last 150 years.

After the 1967 war, the Western Wall plaza was enlarged and large areas of King Herod's wall have been exposed.  Archaeologists have also uncovered major subterranean tunnels -- hundreds of meters long -- that are now open to visitors to Jerusalem.
Click on the photos to enlarge.  Click on the captions to see the originals.