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.

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: collect@yadvashem.org.il 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: testimonies@yadvashem.org.il 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.

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!

Nostalgia Sunday – Zvi Oron in the service of the High Commissioner

Zvi OronA new exhibit of wonderful old photos by Zvi Oron (Oroshkes) of pre-State Israel opens on March 21 at the Eretz Israel Museum in Ramat Aviv.

The exhibition displays Oron’s perspective of the British Mandate years, through photographs that show the construction of Jewish settlements, state and military events of the British administration, and the lifestyle of the traditional Arab population.

Photographer Oron came to the Land of Israel in 1918 with the Jewish Legion. Curator Michal Ben-Tovim writes: “Having already acquired his photographic skills in Poland, he opened his first photography studio in Tel Aviv in 1920.

“Initially, most of his photographic work was commissioned by the information department of the Jewish National Fund. In 1925 he began working for the British administration.

“In 1929, High Commissioner John Chancellor officially appointed him as provider of photography services to the British administration in Palestine. Thanks to this position he was able to move without difficulty between British military facilities, and stay outdoors during curfew hours.

“Because the British trusted him, Oron managed to establish professional ties with the Arab population, and was on friendly terms with Emir Abdullah. He thus became one of the few photographers who were able to photograph the different populations that inhabited Palestine during the British Mandate.

“In a letter he wrote in 1938 to Moshe Sharet, his friend from the Jewish Legion and then head of the Jewish Agency Political Department, Oron described his impressions of the situation in Eretz Israel as reflected in his photos:

“‘…When I went over the collection of the photos I published in the press in the past two years, I had the impression that the English were making extraordinary efforts to calm down the situation; the Arabs were revolting, and the Jews were weeping at funerals.’”

“Oron, a sworn Zionist, made an effort to convey a standpoint as objective as possible in his photographs.”

“His Jewish origins, his ties with British officials, and the trust he had among the Arabs yielded an outstanding photographic archive, which documents objectively the life in Eretz Israel of that time.”

If you can’t get to Ramat Aviv in time, there are some lovely examples of his work — including celebrated persons of the time such as High Commissioner Arthur Grenfell Wauchope — on Wikimedia Commons. Enjoy.

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