Saturday, February 27, 2016

In Honor of our 2 Millionth Viewer Today, This Damascus Jewish Woman Put on her Finest, 1865

Sometime today, our 2 millionth visitor will open this site.  
Flash (2:32 PM EST)  All time history  2,000,014
Jeune fille juive de Damas en grande toilette.  A Jewish girl of
Damascus in her best outfit. (Paris, Musée d'Orsay)

Researching a recently digitized collection in France, we decided to celebrate and share one of the pictures we found this week. The photo was taken by French photographer Charles Lallemand in 1865 and can be found in the archives of the D'Orsay Museum in Paris.  The young woman welcomed us in her fanciest outfit, wearing on her feet elaborate platform shoes used in the hammam (Turkish baths). Some of the shoes at the time were inlaid with mother-of-pearl and silver.

This site has published features on early pictures of lost Jewish communities in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq.  We recently published 19th century pictures of other Jewish girls from the Middle East, including Syrian/Damascus Jewish girls, found by the British Library in an endangered Beirut collection of Bonfils photographs.

"Jewish girl from Syria"
(Bonfils, British Library)
"Jewish girl from Damascus"
(Bonfils, British Library)

Jewish home in Damascus (1901, Library of Congress)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The U.S. Navy Saved the Jews of the Holy Land 100 Years Ago

U.S. Navy receipt for emergency aid supplies destined for the Jews of Palestine from the Joint
Distribution Committee 100 years ago, February 21, 1916. According to the JDC file,
the supplies included matzot for Passover. (JDC Archives)
We have written previously how the United States Government rallied to save the Jews of the Holy Land from famine and expulsion by the Turkish army during World War I.  But we are now adding an important historic document from that episode showing the vital involvement of American Jewry and the United States Navy exactly 100 years ago.

At the start of the war, Jewish men were forcibly conscripted into the Turkish Army, a devastating locust plague ravaged the land in 1915, Turkish troops were looting supplies in preparation for their attack on the Suez Canal, charitable funds from European Jewish communities for the Jews of Palestine were cut off, and plans were being drawn up by the Turks to expel the Jews from the land.  The United States Ambassador to Turkey, Henry Morgenthau, warned American Jewish leaders of the danger to the Jews of the Holy Land and appealed to them for funds.

The forced conscription and looting of  Jerusalem homes. (1914, Ottoman Imperial Archives)
The American government had not yet enterred the war and U.S. aid could still get through. But to ensure that the money and supplies would not be stolen by rapacious Turkish officials, the U.S. secretary of state approved the use of American warships for the deliveries. Thirteen U.S. ships were used for the deliveries and for providing passage to Jews expelled from the land by the Turks.

More information and photographs on this historic episode will appear in the forthcoming book, American Interests in the Holy Land, Revealed in Early Photographs by Lenny Ben-David.