Monday, November 30, 2015

Commemorating 850,000 Jews Expelled from Arab Countries, November 30

Young Jewish girl from Beirut (British Library, Fouad
Debbas Collection
Jewish Women of the Orient 100-150 Years Ago

Last year, Israel's Knesset designated November 30 as the memorial day to commemorate the expulsion of Jews from Arab countries and Iran. Flourishing ancient communities were forced to flee anti-Semitic persecution, deadly pogroms, and confiscation of property.  An estimated 850,000 fled, most of them to Israel.  

Historic photographs of the Jewish communities and individuals serve to remind us of the rich heritage they left behind.  

Maison Bonfils studio was established in Beirut in 1867 and produced thousands of photographs from all over the Middle East.  Some of the most important pictures of Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem were taken through Bonfils' lenses.

Lebanese collector Fouad Debbas amassed some 3,000 Bonfils photographs.  When he died in 2001, his collection faced possible dispersal, deterioration, or worse.  The British Library's Endangered Archives Programme stepped in to save the collection, digitize it and post the pictures online.

In the British Library's honor, we present these Bonfils photos of Jewish women of the Middle East. We estimate they were taken in the last decades of the 19th century.

Syrian Jewish woman

A young Jewish girl from Egypt

Young Jewess

Jewish girl from Damascus

Young Jewish girl

Jewish girls

Young Jewess

Jewish women preparing to go out

Syrian Jewish woman
We commend the British Library for this essential project. 

The Library and its staff serve as a model: Responsible archivists and libraries digitize and preserve their treasures for the world to see.

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Why Is There an American Flag on this "Vehicle?"

Soon to be published
Call it a palanquin, litter or sedan. 

But we still have no idea why an American flag waves from the top of this mule-carried contraption used in Lebanon or Palestine around the 1870s.

The passenger appears to be a woman.

We discovered this photo in a collection now online in the British Library's Endangered Archives Program.  Perhaps it shows a litter used by an American diplomat or his family. We estimate it was taken in the 1870s in Beirut, Jerusalem or Jaffa.

The picture is part of the Fouad Debbas private collection in Beirut. The collection of 3,000 photographs contains photographs from the Maison Bonfils studios of Paris and Beirut (1867-1910s). The British Library undertook to "clean, list, index, catalogue and digitize" a collection that was endangered. 

We thank the staff of the British Library for their efforts and for opening the collection to the public.

Responsible librarians and archivists digitize antique photographs to preserve their treasures.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bringing the Holy Land to America, Along with Mark Twain's Guide

(Future publication)
As American interest in the Holy Land grew in the second half of the 19th Century, entrepreneurs and Bible scholars attempted to "re-create" the wondrously exotic land of the Bible in the United States. A huge scale model of the Holy Land from Mount Hebron to Be'er Sheba was constructed as "Palestine Park" in Lake Chautauqua, NY in 1874. A Middle East Pavilion was built in the 1893 World Exposition in Chicago. And the Old City of Jerusalem was recreated at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase World's Fair in St. Louis.

The Dome of the Rock and Ferris Wheel at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 (Library of Congress)

America Clamored for "Far-Away Moses," Mark Twain's Guide in the Holy Land

Portrait of Far-Away Moses from the Chicago fair
Mark Twain's account of his 1867 visit to the Middle East in "Innocents Abroad" launched his career as America's foremost storyteller.  In his book he dubbed his quirky Turkish dragoman (guide) "Far-Away Moses" and elevated him to a legendary figure.

In 1870, Twain reported to his publisher, "I learn from Constantinople that the celebrated guide, 'Far-Away Moses' goes to the American Consulate & borrows my book to read the chapter about himself to English & Americans, & he sends me a beseeching request that I will forward a copy of that chapter to him -- he don't want (sic) the whole book, but only just that to use as an advertisement...."

The advertising campaign for the 1893 Chicago pavilion was not very successful:  "Life in the Holy Lands! Scenes from Biblical Days!!! The Historic East as It Is and Was!!! A Moral Show!!!"

Crowds were not attracted, wrote researcher Barabara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett in Jews and the Holy Land at World's Fairs, until the Turkish proprietor changed the campaign to "Life in the Harem!! Dreamy Scenes in the Orient!!! Eastern Dances!!! The Sultan's Diversions."

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett added, "The proprietor in the doorway and belly dancer on the placard [outside] were in all likelihood Jewish. According to other sources, one of the proprietors was none other than Far-Away Moses, apparently also known as Harry R. Mandil, an American citizen.

Another partner was R.J. Levi (pictured), identified as a "Jewish chef and caterer from Constantinople [who] was manager and chief proprietor of the Turkish Village and Theatre."

R. J. Levy (Ottoman Imperial Library)

Far-Away Moses on the "set" of the Turkish pavilion 1893

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

Future presentations: The 1904 St. Louis Fair and "Palestine Park" in Chautauqua.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs Will Be Packed This Weekend. Photographs from the Cave 100 Years Ago

Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron (All pictures are from the Library of Congress, circa 1900)

Republishing an earlier posting.
In synagogues around the world this Sabbath, congregations will read the Torah portion describing Sarah's death and burial.  Abraham purchased the Mearat HaMachpela [literally the "double cave" -- so named either because it had two chambers or it would eventually contain pairs of husbands and their wives].

Genesis 23:  And these were the days of Sarah, 127 years. Sarah died in Kiryat-Arba which is Hebron....Abraham spoke to the Sons of Heth: grant me legal possession of land for a burial site... for its price in full ... 400 shekels of silver.... Thus it was established, the field and the cave that was in it, for Abraham as legally possessed for a burial site from the Sons of Heth."

"Inner entrance to
Machpelah showing mammoth
 stones in Herodian wall"
In Israel, despite the recent terror knifings in Hebron, tens of thousands of Jews will converge on Hebron to pray in the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs during the Sabbath. Security will be tight.

The massive building surrounding the gravesite was built by King Herod two thousand years ago.  The actual graves are located in subterranean caverns beneath.  Their locations are marked above ground by cenotaphs -- empty tombs that serve as monuments.

Cenotaph above the Tomb of Sarah (circa 1900)

In the 11th and 12th century Jewish travelers documented visiting the caves.  One of them, Binyamin of Tudela, described "two empty caves, and in the third ... six tombs, on which the names of the three Patriarchs and their wives are inscribed in Hebrew characters. The cave is filled with barrels containing bones of people, which are taken there as to a sacred place."  


The great Jewish scholar Maimonides visited the tombs in 1116 and declared it a personal holy day.   

From the 14th century, however, Jews were not permitted to pray at the shrine.  The Mamluks (an Islamic army of slave soldiers) forbade Jews from visiting the site other than standing on stairs outside.  The practice continued until 1948 when all Jews were banned from the Jordanian-occupied West Bank.
Tomb of Abraham

"Cenotaph of Isaac showing distinctive
features of Crusader Church"

Hebron today, where school boys from near
 Jerusalem recently celebrated
completion of the book of Genesis

When Israel captured the area in 1967 Jews were allowed to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs, but Israel allowed the Islamic Waqf authorities to maintain control of large portions of the site. 

Many Jewish families in Israel celebrate weddings, bar mitzvas and circumcisions at the shrine.

Click on pictures to enlarge.
Click on captions to view original picture.