12 Things You Need to Know About…Shay Agnon

0630i2-preview.pngNobel Prize-winning author

1. Shmuel Yosef “Shai” Agnon was born Shmuel Yosef Halevi Czaczkes in a shtetl in Galicia, Austia-Hungary (now Ukraine) in 1888. His father, who worked in the fur trade, was a rabbi who aligned himself with the Chasidim; his mother came from a family of Mitnagdim, who opposed the Chasidic movement.

2. After early education in a cheder, he was schooled at home by his parents. From a young age, he wrote poems and stories in Hebrew and Yiddish. He learned German from his mother and read widely. For much of the rest of his life, he was an observant Jew.

3. In 1908 he left Europe and settled in Jaffa. That same year, he published the story “Agunot” (“Forsaken Wives”) using the surname Agnon, which he was ultimately to adopt officially (1924) – wouldn’t you, if you had his last name?

4. He moved to Germany in 1913, where he met Zalman Schocken, who took him under his wing, becoming his patron and supporting him so that he could write. He married there in 1920.

5. He collaborated with Martin Buber on a collection of Chasidic stories. His prose works were published regularly in Haaretz, in the weekly journal of Hapoel Hatsair and abroad. In 1924, his personal library in Germany burned down. Later that same year, he returned to Palestine, settling in Jerusalem. In 1929, his library was again destroyed by fire, this time in an anti-Jewish riot.

6. His place in Hebrew literature was assured when, in 1931, the Schocken publishing house published his novel The Bridal Canopy (Ha225px-Agnonchnasat Kalla) to great critical acclaim.

7. His work reflects the conflict between traditional Jewish life and language, and the modern world – on being of both worlds, but belonging fully to neither. The shtetl landscape is the background for many of his stories (notably A Simple Story); others focus on the Zionist movement and contain historical figures (notably Only Yesterday). He said his inspiration came “first and foremost [from] the sacred scriptures, and after that, the teachings of the medieval sages, and the spectacles of nature and animals of the earth.” At another time, he claimed that his primary influences were the Bible, German literature and European literature in general.

8. He employs a unique idiom, rife with terms from the traditional literature in favor of terms from modern Hebrew; critics have found in his language references to the Torah, Prophets, Mishnah, midrashic and rabbinic literature. The work is a challenge to translate, because it is full of allusions, wordplay, acrostic and anagrams. Nonetheless, he has been translated into no less than eighteen languages. He brought to literature a broadened conception of the narrator’s role.

9. These are his major works: The Bridal Canopy (1931), In the Heart of the Seas (1933), A Simple Story (1935), A Guest for the Night (1938), Betrothed (1943), Only Yesterday (1945), Edo and Enam (1950), To This Day (1952). After his death, his daughter continued to publish his work posthumously: Shira (1971), A City and the Fullness Thereof (1973), In Mr. Lublin’s Store (1974). In addition there are several collections of short stories and an edition of folk tales and rabbinic texts that he edited.

200px-50_NIS_Bill_Obverse_&_Reverse10. Agnon has had enormous influence on later writers, both in Israel and beyond. I, myself, used his work as source material for my novel Rivka’s War, to gather a sense of the daily life of pioneers in Eretz Yisrael. He won the Bialik Prize twice, and the Israel Prize twice, and in 1966 was awarded a Nobel Prize “for his profoundly characteristic narrative art with motifs from the life of the Jewish people.” His likeness, his works, and an excerpt from his Nobel acceptance speech are printed on the Israeli fifty-shekel bill. So great was his fame that in his later years the city police closed off his street to cars so that the noise would not disturb his writing!

11. His home, built 1931 in the Bauhaus style in the Talpiot section of Jerusalem, is now a museum, Beit Agnon. The synagogue in that area is named for him, as is a Jewish school in Ohio.

12. When he died in Israel in February 1970, a state funeral was held on the Mount of Olives.

In Jerusalem, Shay Agnon Street is the main drag in Givat HaPorezim. In Haifa, you’ll find Shay Agnon Street running parallel to Derech Stella Maris and Derech Allenby, between the two.

 

 

10 Things You Need to Know About… Joseph Vitkin

Educator and influential labor pioneer

1. Joseph Vitkin was born in 1876 in Byelorussia and made aliyah in 1897 at the age of 21. At first he worked as a laborer, but soon, being well-educated, became a teacher in Gedera.

2. As an educator, he promoted a love of Jewish values and an appreciation of the landscape of Eretz Yisrael. He became headmaster of the Gedera school and then headmaster at Rishon leZion, where, except for a brief hiatus at Kfar Tavor, he remained for most of his life.

3. He has been called the precursor to the Second Aliyah, partly because of the time at which he emigrated, but primarily because he so effectively promoted the pioneering movement in Eretz Yisrael.

4. In 1905, he wrote and distributed a pamphlet, “A Call to the Youth of Israel whose Hearts are with their People and with Zion.” It was written in Hebrew and signed, “A Group of Young People from Eretz Yisrael.” His words made a moving appeal that greatly influenced idealistic Jewish youth in Russia.

5. The pamphlet encouraged aliyah based on manual agricultural labor in the Jewish national homeland. Vitkin did not shrink from pointing out the immense physical difficulties facing would-be pioneers; sacrifice would be necessary, but he forecast that with patience and commitment would come success.

Vitkin“Now, dear brothers, listen to the voice appealing to you from the mountain peaks of Israel: Awake! Awake! Jewish youth, come to the aid of the people…. You are needed by the people and the Land, as air is needed for breathing.”

 

6. His pamphlet laid out the principles of the labor movement of the Second Aliyah. Vitkin was active in the founding of HaPoel HaTzair, the Young Workers Party, in 1905.

7. He was one of those who supported the campaign to have Jewish farm owners employ Jewish laborers exclusively, rather than using Arab labor; and he advocated the formation of new Jewish agricultural settlements.

8. The land he saw as the possession of the whole people, to be won through hard work and sacrifice – an “agricultural conquest” of Eretz Yisrael through Jewish settlement.

9. In 1907, he contracted throat cancer and went for medical treatment in Vienna. Six months later, he was sent by Hovevi Zion to Russia to promote emigration. He returned to Rishon LeZion in 1907. In May 1911, suffering from acute cancer, he returned to Vienna, but to no avail. He died in Tel Aviv in 1912 at the age of 36.

10. Kfar Vitkin and many streets in Israel have been named for him. Kfar Vitkin, founded in 1930, was the first settlement on the Hefer Plain and was to become, in the 1940s, the largest moshav in the land. An interesting historical note: it was at Kfar Vitkin that the Irgun arms ship “Altalena” was intended to unload its cargo of 5000 rifles and other weapons in June 1948.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Vitkin Street running parallel to HaYarkon and Ben Yehuda, just north of Arlosoroff.

Kfar Vitkin is on the coast about midway between Netanya and Hadera.

 

 

12 Things You Need to Know About… Moses Haim Montefiore

Jewish benefactor extraordinaire

1. The man who would become Sir Moses Montefiore, First Baronet, was born in 1784 in Livorno to an Italian Jewish family while his parents were on a journey in Italy. As a boy he lived in London and grew to be a physically imposing six-foot-three. He became a financier, one of the twelve “Jew brokers” licensed by the City of London.

200px-Moses_Montefiore_18182. Through marriage, he gained Nathan Rothschild as a brother-in-law; his brother married a sister of Nathan Rothschild. The two families had close financial ties, and he became business partners with Nathan. While his main business was at the London Stock Exchange, he was active as well in business ventures including gas for street lighting, life insurance and banking.

3. At the age of 40, he retired from business and thereafter spent much of his time on philanthropic projects. In 1838 he was knighted by Queen Victoria and in 1848 became a baronet in recognition of his humanitarian activism on behalf of the Jewish people. He donated large sums to promote industry, education and health, especially as regarded the Old Yishuv in Jerusalem. They were dependent on charity, living in deplorable conditions, and his aim was to make them self-supporting.

4. He first visited Palestine in 1827, after which he became an observant Jew, going so far as to travel with his own shochet (ritual slaughterer). He attended synagogue for the torah readings on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and in 1831 purchased adjoining parcels of land in Ramsgate, on the southern coast of England, where he had a private synagogue built, in addition to his lodgings. He was to travel to Eretz Yisrael at total of seven times – again in 1827, ’38, ’55, ’57, ’66, and the last time in ’75, at the age of 91.

200px-Sir_Moses_H_Montefiore5. He became president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews in 1835 and served in this capacity until 1874, a period of 39 years. Notably, in 1841-2, he corresponded with Charles Henry Churchill, the British Consul in Damascus, concerning the resettlement of Jews; their letters are seen as pivotal in the infancy and development of early Zionism.

6. In 1840, he prevailed upon the Sultan of Turkey to liberate ten Syrian Jews who had been jailed in Damascus for a blood libel. In Rome, in 1858, he tried to free a Jewish youth who had been baptized by his Catholic nurse and kidnapped by church functionaries. In 1846 he traveled to Russia, succeeding in getting the Tsar to rescind the decree of expulsion against Jews from the border areas of Russian Poland. In Morocco 1864, in Romania 1867, and again in Russia 1872: he became widely known as the champion of East European and other diaspora Jews, effectively protesting their persecution.

7. As executor of the will of Judah Touro, who died in 1854, Montefiore used the estate to fund projects of Jewish residential settlement in Eretz Yisrael. In 1855, he purchased an orchard on the outskirts of Jaffa to offer agricultural training to Jews.

8. In 1860, he funded the first Jewish residential settlement and almshouse outside the walled city in Jerusalem – today known as Mishkenot Sha’ananim. It was the first settlement of the New Yishuv. Other settlements were built south of the Jaffa Road: Ohel Moshe for Sephardim and Mazkeret Moshe for Ashkenazim. Perhaps his best-known project today is the Montefiore Windmill, built in Yemin Moshe to provide cheap flour to the poor. It operated for about nineteen years and is today a beloved landmark. He helped finance several Bilu agricultural colonies and a textile factory, and it was he who provided a new printing press for Yisrael Bak [see my blog post of 4/30/14].

200px-Montefiore1009. He commissioned censuses of the Jewish community in Palestine in 1839, ’49, ’55, ’66 and ’75, thus furnishing a trove of information that is still of value today. In 1874, on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday, he established a fund that became instrumental in facilitating Hovevei Zion settlements in Palestine.

10. Jewish philanthropy was his major, but not his only, interest. He campaigned for the abolition of slavery and in 1835, with the Rothschilds, raised a government loan that made possible the abolition of slavery in the British Empire by enabling the government to compensate plantation owners.

11. He was known for his sharp wit. A story told about him, perhaps apocryphal, since the same story is told of Israel Zangwill [see my blog post of 5/3/13], concerns a well-known anti-Semite who was seated next to him at a dinner party. The man said, “I’ve just returned from Japan, where they have neither pigs nor Jews.” Montefiore promptly replied, “Then you and I should visit there, so they will have an example of each!”

150px-Montefioretomb12. His hundredth birthday was celebrated as a national event in Britain and by Jews worldwide. He died in 1885 and was buried alongside his wife at his synagogue in a mausoleum modeled on Rachel’s Tomb (outside Bethlehem). Among the many institutions named for him are the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, a branch of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the Moses Montefiore Academy in Chicago, and synagogues in Illinois, Maryland and Texas.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Montefiore Street running northeast off Nahalat Binyamin; in Haifa, just northeast and parallel to Sederot Eliyyahu Golomb. The Montefiore Windmill in Jerusalem is in Bloomfield Park on David HaMelech.

 

7 Things You Need to Know About… Karl (Charles) Netter

Father of Jewish agriculture in Israel

1. Karl Netter was born in Strasburg in the mid-1820s. As a young man he traveled within Europe, doing business in London, Moscow and Lille, and finally settling in Paris.

2. In May 1860, in Paris, he became one of the six founders of the Alliance Israelite Universelle [see my blog post of February 19, 2014]. He served as its general secretary, and for a long time its offices were housed chez Netter (ie, in his home).

220px-Charles_Netter3. He visited Palestine in 1868 as a representative of the Alliance Israelite Universelle for the purpose of studying the needs of Jews there. He recommended that an agricultural settlement be founded there with an agricultural school. Toward this end, he obtained an audience with the Sultan and was awarded 250 hectares near Jaffa. Mikveh Israel was founded on this land in 1870, the first modern Jewish agricultural settlement in Eretz Yisrael.

4. The school taught the many branches of horticulture, including viniculture, and grew asparagus, artichokes and other promising crops. Netter managed it personally until 1873, when he was forced to return to Europe for health reasons. He continued to raise funds for its support and to be involved in its activities from afar.

5. He worked tirelessly, too, on behalf of the rights and protection of Jews in the “eastern lands:” submitting memoranda to AIU conferences (1876 and -8), arguing the rights of Moroccan Jews at a European conference in Madrid (1880), arranging passage to America for refugees from the Ukraine (1881) and working on a special committee in Paris to help other refugees from the pogroms in Russia.

6. In October 1882, Netter made a return visit to Palestine and died there. He is buried in Mikveh Israel.

7. Kfar Netter, a moshav near Netanya founded in 1939, commemorates him; several Israeli cities have named streets in his memory, as well.

In Tel Aviv, Netter Street runs south off Montefiore, just north of Rothschild.

6 Things You Need to Know About…Dov Hos

Ardent Labor Zionist

Dov Hos1. Dov Hos is not well known or widely documented, but he was among the leaders of labor Zionism, the founders of the Haganah, the pioneers of Israeli aviation, and the Jews who worked to establish a nation in the interwar period.

2. He was born in Byelorussia in 1894 and emigrated to Ottoman Palestine with his family in 1906.  From 1909, he was part of the group that organized guarding of the new city to become Tel Aviv. He was among the first graduates of Herzliya High School (1913).

3. During World War I, the Turks sentenced him to death for aiding Jewish settlement in Palestine; he managed to slip through their hands and flee south to the zone newly captured by the British.

4. By 1920, he was a member of Haganah’s central committee. From 1931-40, he served as a member of the Haganah command center. In 1935, he became deputy mayor of Tel Aviv. He served, as well, in the Histradut.

Unknown5. He was CEO of Aviron, the company that trained pilots and established flight lines in Israel and beyond, and also is said to have served as a cover for the Haganah. On his way to a meeting at Aviron, Dov Hos died in a car accident in December, 1940. Sde Dov Airport in north Tel Aviv is named for him.

6. In the aftermath of World War II, the famous ship Dov Hos galvanized world attention on the plight of European Jewish refugees.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Dov Hos Street running north from Frischmann, parallel to, and east of, Ben Yehuda.

 

 

8 Things You Need to Know About… Laurence Oliphant

Christian proto-Zionist

1. Laurence Oliphant was born in 1829 in Capetown, the only son of Scottish landed gentry. His father was Attorney General of the Cape Colony. Though he was indifferently educated, he managed to wedge into his life a variety of occupations and adventures, traveling widely and writing prolifically.

2. Among these: he was first secretary of the British legation to Japan, where he sustained permanent injury to his hand in an attack in Edo; was a war correspondent in Paris during the Franco-Prussian war; served as a Conservative Party member in Parliament; and published travel writings, novels, essays and a biography. In 1868, influenced by a spiritualist prophet, he moved to the small community of Brocton on Lake Erie and worked as a farm laborer within the brotherhood.

Oliphant3. Out of his intense religious convictions – apparently, in the hope of fulfilling Christian prophecy and bringing about the end of days – Oliphant developed a plan for Jewish colonization of Palestine. The plan was well received, both in England and in the Ottoman Empire, where it was accepted by the Turkish ministers, but turned down by the sultan, who feared that it was part of a British intrigue. That was in 1878-9.

4. In 1880, he published Land of Gilead, in which he laid out the details of his scheme for large-scale Jewish settlement in Transjordan at the upper end of the Dead Sea. He emphasized the economic and political advantages of his proposal, outlining development of railroads, residential and agricultural areas, and trade with neighboring countries.

5. In the wake of the 1881-2 pogroms in Russia, he renewed his efforts in Constantinople. There, he negotiated tenancy rights and a concession for settlement – to no avail, for again the sultan rejected his proposal.

6. The following year he settled in Haifa, where he led a contemplative life, nonetheless aiding the first Jewish settlers. His secretary was N.H. Imber, author of the poem “Hatikvah.” He died in 1888.

Oliphant House

Oliphant House

7. A recent Israeli film, “Gei Oni,” has Oliphant and Imber as two of its characters. His house in Haifa is now a memorial to the Druze soldiers who fell fighting for Israel and a museum displaying the history of the relationship between the Druze people and Zionism.

8. Oliphant’s book Haifa; or Life in Modern Palestine was published in 1887; it is available free online at https://archive.org/details/haifaorlifeinmodOOolipuoft.

 

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Oliphant Street running east off Yehudah HaLevi between the intersections with Balfour and Sheinkin. In Haifa, look just south of the Haifa Auditorium.

8 Things You Need to Know About… Louis D. Brandeis

American Jurist and Zionist

louisbrandeis1. Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941) was a distinguished American jurist, the first Jew to serve as a justice on the Supreme Court. Nice, but why would that make him worthy of having a street named after him in Israel?

 

2. Born in Louisville, Kentucky, to affluent parents who were universalist in outlook – not strong advocates of Judaism – he grew up to be a prominent lawyer for social justice, but not one with a strong interest in Jewish affairs.

3. Prior to 1914, most American Jews did not actively support establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine. Some opposed it, fearing they would be accused of divided loyalty. Others – the more traditionally orthodox – felt that a Jewish state would come in God’s time, not man’s. Brandeis was strongly influential in changing these attitudes, convincing American Jews that a Jewish state was essential not only for saving Eastern European Jews, but also for reviving American Judaism.

4. He was introduced to Zionism sometime around the 1900 by the English Zionist Jacob de Haas, and later by Aaron Aaronsohn, the internationally renowned botanist and founder of the Jewish espionage group NILI. In 1910, he learned that his uncle Louis Dembitz, for whom he had been named, had been a Zionist. This prompted him to learn all he could about Zionism. Then, as part of his work as a mediator of  a strike, he met with Russian immigrant garment workers, who he found to be full of the spirit of democratic idealism.

5. In 1913 and -14, he stuck his toe in the waters of Zionist leadership, and by 1915 he was serving as Chairperson of the  Provisional Executive Committee for General Zionist Affairs; he raised millions of dollars for Jews in war-torn Europe, and he improved the organization and its finances, dramatically increasing American membership in the Zionist movement.

Brandeis stamp6. He resigned from this office when President Wilson appointed him to the Supreme Court. He was nevertheless influential in convincing Wilson of the justice of the Jewish cause in Palestine.

7. After the war, and during the Paris Peace Conference, Brandeis came into conflict with Chaim Weizmann over the aims of Zionism and the means to achieve them. In brief, Weizmann saw Zionism as a political movement with funding from abroad, while Brandeis believed that an economic basis was necessary in Palestine; he was critical of the choices that European Jewry had made, in that they favored political activity in Europe over practical improvements in Palestine. Nonetheless, he retained an interest in the Zionist project and continued to support the efforts of American Jewry in this regard.

8. His contribution at a critical time was to affirm a Zionism born out of the American context, affirming a commitment to Eretz Yisrael as part of the American Jewish identity.

Brandeis“To be better Americans, we must be better Jews, and to be better Jews, we must become Zionists.”

 

You’ll find Brandeis Street running north of Pinkas Street, north Tel Aviv.