Nostalgia Sunday – Yaakov Gross documents Israel

Celluloid must run in documentarian Yaakov Gross’ blood. His father, Natan Gross, made films for the early Zionist enterprise. Yaakov emigrated to Israel in 1950 and graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and went on to direct and produce over 30 documentary films for organizations such as the KKL-JNF and Israel Television. He is also heavily involved with the preservation and restoration of the films of early Israeli filmmakers. As part of that labor of love, Gross has digitized and uploaded films made by his father and by himself, as well as films he by others that he has restored, to YouTube.

In honor of Israel’s 65th Independence Day celebrations, Gross has decided to spread the word about his YouTube channel. Several of the videos document visits to the early settlement by dignitaries, royalty and other celebrated personages.

In this first video from 1918, Chaim Weizmann, later to be named the first President of the State of Israel, marches down the main streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem together with other heads of the Zionist CommissionMontague David Eder, Baron Israel Sieff, Sir Leon Simon, Sylvain Levi, Joseph Cowen, Aaron Aharonson, Edwin Samuel, Baron Edmond James de Rothschild, Bezalel Jaffe, David Levontin and others — most of whom today are known more as street names than as actual people.

Gross notes that, “This is probably one of the few surviving fragments of the first Hebrew film, “Judea Liberated”, by Yaacov Ben-Dov, a film whose loss was recorded by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in 1927. Yet, I still have hope that I will find it someday.”

The clip entitled Trumpeldor at Migdal is part of the larger 1913 film, Lives of the Jews in Eretz Yisrael, directed by Noah Sokolowski and produced by Mirograf (Odessa) et Mizrah (I. Diesengof, Odessa). The film went missing and was rediscovered in 1997 in the French national film archive, the CNC. It was then reconstructed by Gross on behalf of the Jerusalem Cinematheque and the CNC’s Eric Le Roy into a new, 60-minute long version depicting 20 Jewish communities in the pre-State Land of Israel.

The clip, Allenby in Jerusalem 1917, is part of a movie by Yaacov Ben-Dov and cameraman Harold Jeapes about the entry of General Allenby to Jerusalem following the conquest of the city by the British two days earlier. It was hoped that the British administration would put the Balfour Declaration of 1917 — viewing “with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” — into effect.

The visit by Lord Balfour on April 7, 1925 was one of the most exciting in the history of the Jewish settlement. Balfour arrived on the occasion of the opening of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. These clips show him visiting the city of Tiberias and Haifa’s Technion.

Following the 1937 death of King George V, the coronation of his son was celebrated in Haifa. Gross notes that George VI was the king who witnessed the birth of the State of Israel in 1948. The original film was directed by Nathan Axelrod Collection for Carmel Newsreels, and is presented courtesy of the Jerusalem Cinematheque.

For more historic clips, visit Yaakov Gross’ YouTube channel and the Yaakov Gross website.

Foto Friday – Wonderful Country!

Eretz-Nehederet-logoIn a speech on his recent visit of March 21, 2013, US President Barack Obama gave Israel’s favorite satirical TV show a big boost.

Obama said, “Now, I know that in Israel’s vibrant democracy, every word, every gesture is carefully scrutinized. (Laughter.) But I want to clear something up just so you know — any drama between me and my friend, Bibi, over the years was just a plot to create material for Eretz Nehederet. (Applause.) That’s the only thing that was going on. We just wanted to make sure the writers had good material. (Laughter.)”

Whether because of Obama or just because, Eretz Nehederet has decided to celebrate the 65th anniversary of Israeli independence — and its own 10 years of existence — with an unusual photo exhibition at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. Unusual because the images by photographer Eldad Raphael provide a behind the scenes look at the art, artistry and hard work that goes into making comedy look easy.

So, here is resident wild man, Yaron Berlad, in a pensive moment…

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Alma Zack ready to risk her life for an underwater gag…

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Mariano Edelman getting in touch with his inner Bibi…

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And the cast lining up onstage.

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To get an idea of Eretz Nehederet’s brand of comedic satire, here’s a clip that went viral around the world. In it, a UN mediator tries to neogiate a peace treaty between Angry Birds, pigs and well… you’ll see…

The photo exhibition, We Have A Wonderful Country runs from April 10 through April 24 at the Tel Aviv Museum. Visit the official Eretz Nehederet page or join their Facebook fan page.

Nostalgia Sunday – Mimouna photo opportunity

mimounaMimouna, the traditional North African Jewish celebration held the day after Passover, marks the start of spring. Israelis of Moroccan and Algerian Jewish origin open their homes to visitors and offer guests special holiday cakes and sweets containing the leavening that had been off-limits throughout the Passover week.

One of the holiday specialties is mofletta (also spelled mufleta, mofleta, moufleta, etc.), a thin crepe made of water, flour and oil, and eaten warm with honey or jam.

Wikipedia describes Mimouna in Israel as “[having] become a popular annual happening featuring outdoor parties, picnics and BBQs” while politely omitting the locations of said picnics, which can take place on any open patch of grass, be it a park, nature preserve or highway median strip.

In 1966, Mimouna was introduced as a national holiday and — in an extension of an already overly-long spring break — yet another day off from school. It has been adopted by other ethnic groups, mainly in the Mizrahi sector.

And therefore, Mimouna also marks the traditional photo opportunity for Israeli politicians to cozy up to the Maghreb communities in towns like Sderot that are known for their large concentrations of North African Jews.

Tradition also requires that the photos be characterized by uncomfortable “East meets West” encounters between suited Asheknazi pols trying to fit in by wearing a red tarbush, sitting on floor cushions, dancing awkwardly and, of course, eating mofletta as if they’d never tasted a pancake before.

But over the generations, this divide has become less pronounced, the photo opp has become a well-oiled machine and Mimouna has been mainstreamed to the point where it’s everyone’s holiday. At least for schoolchildren, if not for their parents who must go back to work.

The Israel Revealed to the Eye family album project, spearheaded by Yad Ben Zvi, has some wonderful photos from Mimouna in Sderot.

And for an excellent slide show of Israeli politicians getting their mofletta on, visit this post on Maariv NRG.

Nostalgia Sunday – Dagon flour mill

Dagon-barMatzah, the unleavened bread of affliction as it’s affectionately known, is the only breadstuff Jews traditionally eat on Passover. The real deal is made from flour and water only — no sweet wine, egg or garlic matzot at our Seder, thank you very much!

In Israel, 75% of the 3 million tons of our grain imports — including the wheat which makes that flour — comes in via the Haifa Port. It is then stored in a grain terminal with a nominal storage capacity of 90,000 tons. Now, that’s a lotta flour.

The grain silo, which was inaugurated in 1953, is one of Haifa’s most distinctive buildings. It is operated under an extended license by the Dagon Israel Granaries Company.

A few details, courtesy of the Haifa Port Authority: “The silo has three elevators, two mechanical and one pneumatic, that operate on the quay where water depth reaches 13.8 meters. The elevators unload grain from ships and transfer it to the grain silo by a system of conveyer belts installed inside a concrete bridge.”

“The three elevators have a throughput of about 1800 tons per hour. The mechanical elevators were built locally according to an original Israeli design which has since been patented in many countries around the world.”

“Stored grain is loaded from the silo onto rail-cars and trucks at a rate of about 15,000 tons per day. The silo is equipped for dust extraction and separation, fumigation, sorting, weighing and sampling.”

The building was designed by by architect Joseph (Ossip) Klarwein, which is perhaps best known for having also designed Israel’s Knesset building.

Dagon also houses an archeological museum, the Dagon Grain Museum, which presents the different ways in which grain was cultivated and processed in pre-modern times.

The exhibition includes an archeological collection on the subject of grain in Israeli history and a Jewish ethnological collection on the subject of bread. Imagine, these are the sort of storage jars that our forefathers — and foremothers in particular — used in baking the first unleavened flatbreads that got this whole thing started.

Before Dagon, there was Rothschild-funded Palestine Flour Mills. In the film clip below from 1928, you can see this charming structure and the modern mass production of matzot that are — as the subtitle proudly states — shipped from Haifa, city of Industry in the Land of Israel to Jews throughout the Diaspora.

For a modern take on life in Israel with (and without) matza, see this post. And a Happy Passover to all!

The way we are – hoping for a visit from Streisand

babsWe really want to believe it, we do. The reports that Barbra Streisand will be coming to Israel to serenade President Shimon Peres in honor of his 90th birthday may or may not be true, but they’re catching on like wildfire.

Yediot Aharonot is to blame, or credit, with the information that the legendary diva will be arriving to open up the Israeli Presidential Conference on June 18 at Binyanei Hauma in Jerusalem. The only snag is that it’s not a done deal.

The Presidential Conference organizers responded to the report saying that Streisand had been invited to the conference’s opening night and that they would be delighted if she were to accept.

The 70-year-old funny lady, despite being a spring chicken, compared to Peres, has a mutual admiration society going with Israel’s president, and they met last year when Peres was in Hollywood.

Streisand hasn’t visited the country since 1984 when she came for the Israeli premiere of the film Yentl and in order to dedicate the Emanuel Streisand Building for Jewish Studies at the Hebrew University in memory of her father.

Despite the dodgy aspect to the report, it hasn’t prevented breathless Streisand fans in Israel from tweeting and posting queries about ‘buying tickets for Streisand’s concert.’
Even super tenor David D’or, an acclaimed performer in his own right, told me this week that one of his career aspirations would be to duet with Streisand when she comes on the Yom Kippur classic, “Aveinu Malkeinu,” which both have performed. Peres is known particularly to be a fan of Streisand’s rendition of the liturgical lament.

Whether the unsubstantiated reports prove to be true, or just another exercise in wishful thinking and creative news reporting, Barbra Streisand fever has taken over Israel, even making people forget that a certain US president is due to land in a few days.

Here’s Streisand peforming “Aveinu Malkeinu.”

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