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.

An Israel’s “greatest hits” tour

April 12, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Art, education 
From the Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum

From the Herod exhibit at the Israel Museum

What do Shai Agnon, Lea Gottlieb and Herod all have in common? They could all be considered “greats” in their respective fields. Shai Agnon is arguably the greatest Hebrew writer (well, he certainly was at one point), Lea Gottlieb, the co-founder of Gottex, was queen of Israeli bathing suit design, and Herod…well, who built bigger and badder than the Second Temple’s main dude?

Now you can catch a “greatest hits” retrospective of all three in Israel. Maybe not in a single day, but for themed tourism, it doesn’t get more creative than this.

Start your travels modestly, in the snug home of Shai Agnon, hidden away on a hilly side street in Jerusalem’s Talpiot neighborhood. Agnon’s house has been turned into a museum. In truth, it’s really only his dining room and his library upstairs that have been preserved, but the audio tour included in the low NIS 20 price is comprehensive, telling the Nobel Prize winning author’s history in loving detail. There is a gallery of historical photographs of Agnon with various dignitaries, and you can still see the Dead Sea from the one corner in the garden that isn’t blocked by new building construction. Plan on spending about an hour.

An hour is also what you’ll need at the Holon Design Museum, where the featured exhibit until May 4 is on Lea Gottlieb whose firm Gottex created stunning, ethnically influenced swimware that, with its Middle Eastern motifs and wrap around shirts and skirts, would be just at home at a dinner party as on the beach. Indeed, some of Gottlieb’s creations were so elaborate they never made it off the runway.

The exhibit, which takes over the entire museum except for one small room dedicated to industrial design, the museum’s usual fare, presents Gottlieb’s bathing suits on models in a single, darkened space. Signage in English and Hebrew explains Gottlieb’s influences, which ranged from Arabia to Monet. An interesting note I hadn’t known previously: Gottlieb and her husband originally set out to make raincoats when the immigrated to Israel from Hungary after World War II.  Gottlieb died last year, while the exhibition was in the making. It’s NIS 35 to get in.

As famous as Agnon and Gottlieb were in their day, Herod the Great was even more so 2,000 years ago when he ruled over Israel on behalf of the Romans. The colossal new exhibition at the Israel Museum – its largest ever undertaken – transports much of Herod’s recently excavated tomb and burial site from Herodian, south of Jerusalem, to Israel’s capital.

The story of the tomb’s discovery is as compelling as Herod’s well-known building projects. Archaeologist Professor Ehud Netzer spent much of his career searching for Herod’s tomb – mostly in the wrong place – until he finally unearthed it in 2007. Netzer was deep in the process of preparing the exhibit when he tragically fell from a construction wall at Herodian and died in 2010.

The exhibit includes what is presumed to be Herod’s tomb (it was painstakingly pieced together after being smashed to bits by Jewish zealots during the Great Revolt, less than 70 years after Herod’s death) and digital recreations of what his palace and eventual burial complex would have looked like when they were complete. It is breathtaking.

The Herod exhibit (included in the regular admission price to the Israel Museum) continues until October and makes a fitting cap to a tour of Israel’s greatest hits.

Nostalgia Sunday – Warsaw Ghetto Testimonies

Tonight Israel will mark Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day. The central theme for this year is Defiance and Rebellion during the Holocaust: 70 Years Since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. At 10:00 on Monday morning, there will be siren and 2 minutes of silence.

My personal connection to the Warsaw Ghetto is twofold. First is my Israeli mother, who came from Polish family stock, including cousin Estherka who was one of those children that survived by hiding in the sewage tunnels and came to the pre-State Land of Israel after the war.

Second is my own work as the translator of Itamar Levin’s book Walls Around: The Plunder of Warsaw Jewry during World War II and Its Aftermath. The author’s argument is that the plunder of Jews in the Holocaust was not only a product of murder, but also a tool of murder.

What was striking about this plunder was the methodical way in which Jews were initially forced into the Ghetto, (a walled off area that did not exist prior to the Nazi occupation), and then systematically stripped of their possessions, from large items (real estate, cash holdings) to medium-sized (furniture, furs, etc.), and then — once the ghetto inhabitants had been transported to Treblinka and other extermination camps and killed — the small: clothes, shoes, glasses, teeth and hair.

Yad Vashem – The Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority has prepared a new online exhibition, Voices from the Inferno. This exhibition presents video testimonies given by the survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and former combatants in the uprising. This unique oral documentation sheds new light on the fate of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, with a special focus on the uprising in which 13,000 Jews were killed (some 6,000 among them were burnt alive or died from smoke inhalation). Of the remaining 50,000 residents, most were captured and shipped to concentration and extermination camps.

In the new Yad Vashem video series, the speakers describe the atmosphere in the Warsaw Ghetto following the Great Deportation of the summer of 1942: continuing aktions, certainty of death, preparing bunkers for the rebellion and storing food. Below is the first video in the series and more videos can be viewed here.

The official Opening Ceremony for Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day will take place on Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 20:00, in Warsaw Ghetto Square, Yad Vashem, Mount of Remembrance, Jerusalem.

The ceremony will be broadcast live on television on Channels 1, 2, 10 and 33, and channel 9 in Russian, and for the first time on JLTV in the United States, and by radio on Kol Israel and Galei Zahal. It will last about one hour and a quarter.

There will also be a national gathering at the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum at Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot.

Yad Vashem calls on the public to fill in Pages of Testimony to commemorate the names of Jews murdered in the Holocaust. Volunteers are available to help Holocaust survivors fill out Pages of Testimony (Call: +972 2 644 3111).

At the same time, Yad Vashem is continuing the Gathering the Fragments campaign in an effort to rescue Holocaust-related documents, artifacts, photographs and art. To donate material: or call (from outside Israel) +972-2-6443888 or (in Israel) 1-800-25-7777).

The oral history department continues to film survivor testimonies. Yad Vashem personnel travel to interview and film survivors in their own homes; the testimonies are housed in the Yad Vashem Archives. To coordinate a visit: or call (in Israel) +972 2 644 3752/3.

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.

Foto Friday – Haifa outdoor photo exhibition

Art took to the streets of lower Haifa this week, with the opening of an outdoor photography exhibition of graduates of The Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education — a.k.a. WIZO Haifa.

WIZO Haifa is an institution of higher learning in design that integrates cutting-edge in professional skills with a teacher-training program. WIZO Haifa awards academic degrees in five main disciplines: Graphic Design – Visual Communications, Architecture, Photography, Fashion Design, Non-Fiction Film, and Cultural and Educational Management.

The school also hosts cultural events, fairs and exhibitions throughout the year, and its Art Gallery is open to the public every day of the week.

This week, in time for the Passover holiday break, the school launched the outdoor exhibition of photographs by outstanding graduates from 1990 onward, including photographers specializing in art, editorial, fashion, architecture, travel and more.


Haifa-outdoor-photo-exhibition_Romy-LenelPhoto by Romy Lenel (Class of 2009). Model: Vanilla Queen.


Haifa-outdoor-photo-exhibition_Orly-Perel-NirPhoto by Orly Perel Nir (Class of 2010)


Haifa-outdoor-photo-exhibition_Gilad-SasportaPhoto by Gilad Sasporta (Class of 2004)


Haifa-outdoor-photo-exhibition_Fiona-Yaron-FieldPhoto by Fiona Yaron Field (Class of 1991)

Haifa-outdoor-photo-exhibition_Yael-IlanYael Ilan (Class of 1998)


Haifa-outdoor-photo-exhibition_Stas-KorlovPhoto by Stas Korolov (Class of 2009).

The WIZO Haifa Outdoor Photography Exhibition will run through May 30, 2013. Click here for a map of the outdoor gallery. More photos can be viewed on the school’s Facebook page.

For more information about The Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education, visit their website.

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