Nostalgia Sunday – Pre-state Passover

Rishon Le-Zion is a fast-growing metropolis and Israel’s fourth-largest city. As home to a newly-opened IKEA — the largest in the Middle East – as well as a dizzying array of malls, mega-markets and movie multiplexes, we sometimes forget the important role Rishon Le-Zion plays in our country’s history as the second Jewish farming settlement.

Fortunately, the municipality of Rishon Le-Zion does remember. It has restored and preserved some of the scenery of its past in a unique open-air museum. Located in some of the oldest buildings of the settlement (the moshava), the exhibits retell the story of the city’s pioneer past and the beginnings of modern Zionism

One permanent exhibit, “Jewish Holidays in the Moshava” is a lovely presentation of domestic life in pre-State Eretz Israel. Many of the first families came from Eastern Europe with fine porcelain place-ware and tea sets. These were not used every day, but were reserved for special occasions and holidays, and handed down from generation to generation.

“Despite difficult living and economic conditions, most [settlers] did not abandon the household customs considered acceptable in their countries of origin,” writes curator Yona Shapira.

Afternoon tea was one such custom. Michael Pohachevsky, who arrived to Rishon in 1886, described being hosted at the home of Berta and Yosef Feinberg (the family is pictured left): “The tea was set in European style, in every detail and feature, and for a moment, it was possible to forget that you were in a young colony just being established in an ancient land.”

In 1890, Haim Hissin described a holiday meal at the Drubin household: “[the table] was set not at all in country style and was set with separate plates, forks and spoons, napkins, wine-glasses, pitchers of water and wine. The courses were, naturally, simple and few but prepared well and served in good taste.”

The exhibit also includes three monogrammed pieces from a set belonging to the Baron Edmond de Rothschild, patron of Rishon Le-Zion and other early settlements.

By the way, the connection between the Passover holiday and Rishon Le-Zion is long-standing as it was for over a century the home of Matzot Rishon Le-Zion. In 2008, in a grand upset for the bread-of-our-affliction sector, the veteran company was purchased by Matzot Yerushalayim.

Although one major industry might have been lost, the city can take heart in the fact that it still headquarters Carmel Wineries, long-time producer of crap sweet wine (what we in Israel call yayin patishim or “hammer wine” because of its effect both on the palate and the brain). And Carmel can take heart in the fact that in the past few years it has shaped up and begun producing some very decent fine wines.

Rishon Le-Zion itself continues to be forward thinking. Take, for example, this video clip produced by the College of Management R&D Institute for Intelligent Robotic Systems, where even the machinery celebrate in style. Here’s wishing a chag sameach to them — and have a happy and kosher one yourselves!

Nostalgia Sunday – The Womens Corps

A new exhibit has gone up at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv: Women in the Service of the British Army. The exhibit tells the story of the women in the pre-State Israel Yishuv who served in the British Army during World War II.

Curator Batya Donner writes, “The volunteers, who were called to enlist into the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service, and the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), may have marked a turning point in historical decision-making.

“The national question whether to enlist into the British Army, like the men who served in the Jewish Brigade, revived deliberations on helping the British, who initiated the White Paper in the war against the common German enemy, or enlisting into the nascent Israeli organizations. The central issue of stormy discussions focused on the enlistment of women into the British Forces, was gender-oriented – would it be right to allow the Yishuv’s women to serve in uniform side by side with British soldiers?

“The act of enlisting women into the British Forces was unprecedented in the Jewish or Eretz Israel context, and in hindsight perhaps heralded the enlistment of the women of the Yishuv in World War II and the establishment of CHEN – the Women’s Corps – in the IDF, whose first commanding officers were a group of women trained in the ATS.”

The exhibit shows posters encouraging women to join the British army, insignia, badges of merit and other medals given to the women, service books and discharge books, as well as video interviews with some of the surviving volunteers.

There are also photographs depicting the variety of their roles in the British army: they worked mainly in hospitals, served as clerks, cooks and nursing auxiliaries, and worked in the quartermaster’s store, etc. Some were also jeep drivers, such as Sonia Peres, the president’s wife, and Sarah Stern, legendary proprietor of Cafe Tamar.

An excellent essay about the ATS by former MK and diplomat (and my mother’s boss at the Israel Consulate in the early 1950s) Esther Herlitz, who herself served in the corps, is available online at the Jewish Women’s archive.

Herlitz also mentions the book by Zivia Cohen, entitled We Volunteered for the British Army: Jewish Women from Palestine in World War II, which was published (in Hebrew) in 2005.

The ATS has a permanent collection on display at Beit Gdudim Museum, Moshav Avihayil near Netanya. Beit Gdudim is devoted to the history of the Jewish volunteer brigades in both World Wars, and the women’s corps finally received its due credit a few years ago.

Some more great posters from the era are on view at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs website.

Nostalgia Sunday – Commercials Go Way Retro

We are awash in a flood of nostalgia that shows absolutely no sign on abating. As part of that trend, our commercials and TV shows are populated by the stars of yesteryear, trying today to earn some of the cash-o-la they couldn’t back in those modest days.

Take, for example, singer-songwriter Mati Caspi, seen lately endorsing Bituach Yashir direct insurance. Other unlikely singing insurance pitchmen include David Broza and Boaz Sharabi.

And here, just to remind you of why we loved them — Riki Gal and Mati Caspi in concert televised by Channel 2, then in its infancy. (Check out Riki’s single lace glove!).

Gal, by the way, is still a force to be reckoned with (she judged the first two seasons of Kohav Nolad, the Israeli version of Pop Idol), and will be performing in Jerusalem on Monday night this week at a benefit for Tsad Kadima, the Israeli organization dedicated to the rehabilitation of children, adolescents and young adults with cerebral palsy and other motor dysfunctions. (Tickets are still available. Contact anat@tsadkadima.org.il or call 02-6540062).

But back to nostalgia: even stars who no longer walk this earth are getting into the game. Israel Discount Bank revived a commercial from the 80s that starred the late great actor Shaike Ophir.

The ad’s revival highlights the fact Discount Bank was Israel’s first to offer telebanking-a revolutionary concept back then, especially in light of the poor quality of our phone service (“poor” being a polite substitute for the other four letter word I was considering using). Ophir actually offers the cop an asimon phone token so he can make the call. The commercial has proven so popular, there’s a follow-up where today’s comedians pay homage to Ophir:

Even Maccabi Health Services has climbed on the retro bandwagon, launching a radio campaign that employs the use of this catchy jingle for powdered orangeade Zip. The connection between HMO and beverage is tenuous — something about “We’re not in the Eighties anymore, so why should your health organization be?” — but it’s fun to revisit the era and that peculiar but sweet Israeli institution of the family whistle. Enjoy the original.

Nostalgia Sunday – Purim Parties Past

February 28, 2010 - 2:05 PM by · 1 Comment
Filed under: General, History and Culture, Holidays, Nostalgia Sunday, Pop Culture 

One of the hard truths of life in Israel is that it always rains on Purim. It is as if the weather conspires to prove that we Jews can never hold a joyous celebration without breaking a glass or making a little baby boy cry.

And events conspire as well. A few days ago, Magen David Adom issued a stern directive against dangerous masks and costumes, in particular warning against Avatar-wannabes who might paint their bodies using blue chalk or charcoal. Spoilsports. And just today, the Homefront Command announced that the new gas mask distribution project has commenced. What impeccable timing.

Today is particularly stormy which makes it that much harder to get into a festive mood. But party we must! Even under the most difficult of conditions, Purim has been celebrated and documented — just see Yad VaShem’s online exhibition Purim – Before, During, and After the Holocaust) which is historic, not nostalgic, but important to know. And check out these photos of Purim kindergartens from the pre and post-State period, courtesy of the PikiWiki Israel project. (Click images for large version).

Kibbutz Sarid kindergarten – 1930s

Szold kindergarten, Netanya – 1935

Kindergarten in Tel Aviv’s Montefiore neighborhood – 1941

Purim celebration on Moshav Beit Itzhak – 1956

And check out these mini-hippies from Quneitra-Merom Golan, circa 1967!

Nostalgia Sunday – Netanyahu’s fixer upper

February 22, 2010 - 12:01 AM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: General, History and Culture, Israeliness, Movies, Music, Nostalgia Sunday, Politics 

The members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet went on a little trip today up to visit historic Tel Hai in the Galilee. Going on tiyul is quite common this season — dozens of people are hiking Shvil Yisrael, the Israel National Trail this month — but it’s unusual for members of Knesset to move en masse out of their comfort zone and into the periphery.

However, this was a special occasion. Today being the 90th anniversary of the battle at the Tel Hai compound — itself refurbished thanks to the efforts of The Society for Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites (SPIHS) — it was selected as an appropriate time and place for a cabinet meeting to approve a comprehensive plan, the largest ever, to “strengthen the national heritage infrastructures of the State of Israel”.

What is a national heritage infrastructure? As set out in Netanyahu’s plan (called TAMAR which in Hebrew is the acronym for “national heritage infrastructure”) it consists of about 150 “tangible/material cultural resources” (archaeological and historic sites) and “intangible/nonmaterial cultural resources” (archives and collections of literature, poetry, philosophy, arts, crafts, music and song, dance, theater, film, traditions, holidays, festivals, ceremonies, etc.) all in need of rehabilitation and/or enrichment. TAMAR will cost almost NIS 400 million, and will be funded by private donations to be matched by allocations from the budgets of 16 government ministries.

The list of sites — which is not yet finalized — includes 37 archaeological sites, 39 museums and collections, and 62 sites relating to Israel’s Jewish and Zionist heritage — many literally crumbling to bits, such as the magnificent painted ceiling in Jerusalem’s Meah Shearim Yeshiva. There are also 13 projects in the “intangible/nonmaterial” category that would restore cultural resources like the backlog of yet-uncatalogued movies still in cartons at the Israel Film Archive – as well as upgrade the archive building itself.

Two additional trails will be created in addition to Shvil Yisrael, promised Netanyahu, one a historic trail of archaeological sites from the biblical, Second Temple and other eras in the history of the Land of Israel, the other a trail tracing the places and events that gave rise to the modern-day State of Israel.

Netanyahu couldn’t have given a better example than this one: dowdy, dingy Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. “It is good that the city is open to the world and good that the city is alive and moving forward. But at 16 Rothschild Boulevard, there is a small auditorium in which the State of Israel was declared. There, David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister, declared the State of Israel.

“The hall is run-down. I am not saying that it is about to fall over but as far as the many young people and others, who flock to the street, to Rothschild Boulevard, are concerned, they do not know it. They do not visit it at all. And therefore, we will rehabilitate Independence Hall.”

The long-term payoff for TAMAR, say the plan’s authors, will be NIS 630 million in annual tourism revenue, job creation in the amount of 3,500 permanent positions plus 800 more during the 5-year period of the plan’s execution, and development of tourism to the Negev and Galilee regions. Later this week, the cabinet is due to approve the national transportation plan joining the Galilee and other regions to an accessible national transportation grid.

The cabinet also made a separate decision today on a new building for Israel’s National Library, funded by a donation from Yad Hanadiv (the Rothschild Foundation).

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