8 Things You Need to Know About…David Yellin

Advocate for the Hebrew language

1. David Yellin was born in Jerusalem in March 1864. He was educated at the Etz Hayim Yeshiva there, but in 1882 enrolled in the Alliance Israelite Universelle. At age eighteen he became a teacher, and eventually he headed the Lamael School.

2. In 1903, he was one of the organizers and also first president of the Teachers Association.

yellin3. In 1913, Yellin resigned his position as director of the Lamael School over the issue of using German as the dominant language. He was a firm advocate for Hebrew.

4. He founded a Hebrew teachers’ seminary at Beth Hakerem, where he served as director until his death. The David Yellin College of Education still exists today.

5. He helped establish the nucleus of the Jewish National Library, now housed at Hebrew University.

6. He served in many political capacities, including the Jerusalem Municipal Council, Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem and president of the Jewish National Council.

7. A member of the Ottoman parliament, he joined the Zionist movement (1913), one of the first public figures to do so openly. During World War I, he was exiled to Damascus by the Ottomans. While in exile, he served with the American Palestine Relief Committee. When the war ended, he was a member of the Jewish Committee to the Paris Peace Conference.

8. David Yellin died in Jerusalem in December, 1941.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find David Yellin Street just north of Jabotinsky and west of Kikkar HaMedina. In Jerusalem, look for him in Mahane Yehuda north of Kikkar HaHerut.

10 Things You Need to Know About… Moshe Sharett

Second Prime Minister of Israel

1. He was born Moshe Shertok in October 1884 in Kherson, Ukraine, then part of the Russian Empire. In 1906, he made aliyah with his family, living first in an Arab village, thus learning Arabic and becoming familiar with Arab customs.

2. In 1910, his family were among the founders of Tel Aviv. He was in the very first class to graduate from Herzliya High School. He went on to study law at Istanbul University, but his academic career was cut short by the advent of World War I. Fluent in Arabic, Turkish and German (and ultimately five other languages), he served as an interpreter in the Ottoman Army.

220px-Sharet223. After the war, he became an agent for the Yishuv, working in Arab affairs and land purchase. He joined the labor party Ahdut Ha’Avoda and later Mapai. Between 1922-24 he attended the London School of Economics, where he was active in Poalei Zion. He edited their periodical Workers of Zion and later worked on Davar, Histradut’s daily newspaper, editing its English language weekly from 1925-31.

4. Upon returning to Palestine after his studies in England, he became secretary of the political division of the Jewish Agency. After the assassination of Arlosoroff in 1933 [see my post of May 8, 2013], he became head of the division, a position he was to hold until 1948.

5. He was the key negotiator with the British Mandatory during the critical time of the thirties and forties. In 1944, he was instrumental in establishing the Jewish Brigade, doing all he could to encourage Jewish volunteers.

6. In 1947, Sharett appeared before the United Nations General Assembly with regard to the partition of Palestine. He worked tirelessly to mobilize international support for the plan and was one of the signatories to the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

7. During the 1948 War of Independence he served as Foreign Minister for the provisional government. He led the Israeli delegation to the cease-fire negotiations during and after the War of Independence. He was elected to the Knesset in the first Israeli election (1949) and served as Minister of Foreign Affairs until 1956, establishing the diplomatic service and embassies, forging diplomatic ties with many nations and helping to bring about Israel’s admission to the United Nations. In 1952, he signed a reparations agreement with West Germany.

sharett8. Sharett was eager to stabilize relations with the Arab nations and opposed any use of harsh tactics against border incursions [cf. my post of March 19, 2014]. In this, he came into conflict with his old friend and colleague, David Ben-Gurion. In December 1953, when Ben-Gurion retired from politics – though only temporarily, as it turned out – Sharett became Prime Minister and held the position for two years. During his tenure, a scandal arose (the Lavon Affair) over a covert operation in Egypt run (poorly) by the IDF; Sharett, unaware of it, publicly denied the espionage. This and his disagreements with Ben-Gurion caused his political downfall and retirement.

9. In retirement, he became Chairman of Am Oved publishing house and of Beit Berl College, both Histradut institutions. He represented the Labor Party at the Socialist International. In 1960, he became Chairman of the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency. He died in Jerusalem in 1965 and is buried in Trumpeldor Cemetery in Tel Aviv. In the Ynet 2005 poll, he was voted 150th on the list of 200 greatest Israelis.

220px-20_NIS_Bill_(polypropylene_and_paper)_Obverse10. The Prime Minister’s Office lists several books written by Sharett, though I have been unable to verify this information elsewhere: Oar in Asia  (1957), At the Time of Nations (1958), Booklet of Poetry Translations (1965) and Fading lights (196-). It is certain, however, that after his father’s death, Sharett’s son published Sharett’s diaries, making an important contribution to historical scholarship. A new edition of the diaries came out in 2007, with passages that had been left out of the earlier editions.

In Tel Aviv, Sharett Street circles around HaMedina Square, intersecting with Arlosoroff, Jabotinsky and Weizmann, among others.



8 Things You Need to Know About… Micah Joseph Berdichevsky

Journalist and scholar

1. He was born Micha Yosef Berdichevsky, August 1865, in the Ukraine and into a family of Chasidic rabbis. His father was the rabbi in a town of impoverished Jews. He was to grow up to speak for a generation that was trying to navigate the rocky straits between traditionalism and modernism.

2. An early prodigy in Talmud, he began reading mystical writings and other materials that brought him into conflict with his teachers. He was married while still in his teens to the daughter of a wealthy, pious merchant. But when his father-in-law discovered that he’d been reading works of the Haskalah (Jewish enlightenment), Berdichevsky was forced to divorce his wife.

Berdichevski3. He ran away to Volozhin, to the yeshiva there, but again ran into difficulty because of his unorthodox reading. He was nineteen. A few years later, he published an article about these difficulties in the Hebrew language newspaper Hamelitz. The impassioned language he used – expressive of the conflict within him between tradition and assimilation – was to become a hallmark of his writing.

4. In 1890 he went to study in Germany and Switzerland, studying philosophy, notably the works of German philosophers, and earning a doctoral degree. His thought was deeply influenced by the works of Nietzsche and, to a lesser extent, Hegel. These were years of enormous productivity: between 1890 and 1900, Berdichevsky published ten books as well as articles and stories in Hebrew journals.

5. In 1900 he married and returned to his home in the Ukraine, where he was struck by the deterioration of traditional ways of life under the harsh conditions there. He returned to Germany in 1911 and lived there the rest of his life. The outpouring of stories, essays and novels continued, expressing always the ambivalence he felt between the wish to preserve Jewish tradition and the wish to live according to secular European culture. His aim, he said, was to repair the rent in the heart of the Jewish nation, making it possible to be both a Jew and a man in the modern world.

6. Berdichevsky’s essays included literary criticism and polemics against what he considered the dead weight of Jewish tradition, which he thought emphasized history over life. He spoke for a “rebellion of historically suppressed individualism.” Jews, he thought, had been detached from nature and physicality, their culture ossifying in exile. He hearkened back to ancient Israel – a time of political sovereignty and physical heroism – as a model; and he argued for a Hebrew literature that would become a means for Jews to retain their cultural and spiritual coherence while embracing the phenomena of modern life.

7. His fiction portrayed the difficulty of navigating a break from the immediate past while still continuing Jewish tradition. The characters in nearly all of his stories are either attempting to escape the weight of tradition or to survive within it, both with equally futile results.

8. In 1914, he began using the name Micha Yosef Bin-Gurion and continued to do so until his death in Berlin in 1921. In these later years, he devoted himself to collecting Jewish legends, myths and folktales, which he rewrote in a modern idiom, using a sparse, lyrical Hebrew, a kind of old-new tongue. This remarkable collection is perhaps, in the long run, his greatest contribution to Jewish literature.

 Berdichevsky“It is upon us to choose in ourselves that which is good and beautiful, that which is righteous and lasting. Free men are turned into slaves if they close the path before themselves, if we open our windows – freedom arrives from the distance.”

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Berdischevsky Street running eastward off the northern end of Rothschild Blvd., between Marmorek and Cremieux.

The moshav Sdot Micha, founded in 1955, was named for him, as well. It is located in central Israel near Beit Shemesh.

10 Things You Need to Know About…Emile Zola

Journalist, author, man of conscience

220px-ZOLA_1902B1. Emile Edouard Charles Antoine Zola was born in April 1840 in Paris. He was a French writer, an exemplar of the naturalist school, but this blog will concentrate on the reason why an Israeli street is named for this non-Jew who never set foot in Palestine.

2. Captain Alfred Dreyfus, a French artillery officer, one of the army’s General Staff, was a Jew. When French intelligence discovered evidence of military secrets being smuggled to the Germans, Dreyfus was accused, court-martialed, convicted of treason, and sentenced to life-long penal servitude on Devil’s Island in French Guiana. At the court-martial, Dreyfus was not permitted to examine the evidence against him. A handwriting expert testified that the very lack of resemblance between Dreyfus’ handwriting and the document in question was evidence that he had written it.

3. Dreyfus was publicly humiliated, his insignia torn off and his sword broken in half; he was marched around the parade grounds as the crowd spat at him and cried out “Jew” and “Judas.” Herzl, a young newspaperman at the time, was present, and the experience crystallized his conviction that Jews had no secure home in all of Europe.

4. When evidence emerged that the real culprit was another officer, Ferdinand Esterhazy, a military cover-up ensued. The issue was raised in the French Senate, but the government refused to consider new evidence in the case. Esterhazy was tried, but acquitted.

170px-J_accuse5. Enter Zola. On January 13, 1898, the morning after Esterhazy was acquitted, Zola, who was editor of the newspaper Aurore, risked his career and his freedom by publishing “J’Accuse…!” in bold letters on the front page. In an open letter to the French president Faure, he accused the top levels of the French army of obstruction of justice and anti-Semitism. The letter named names and offered evidence of Dreyfus’ innocence. It accused the handwriting experts of submitting false reports. It accused the courts-martial of violating the law and committing judicial crime. It accused Esterhazy of espionage. Zola wrote, “[Dreyfus] is the victim of…the ‘dirty Jew’ obsession that is the scourge of our time.”

6. Zola’s intention was to be prosecuted for libel so that new evidence could be brought and made public. His letter was to prove the turning point in the case; because of his stature among the intelligentsia, his stand was enormously influential, both in France and abroad. Zola was brought to trial for criminal libel on February 7, 1898, convicted on February 23, and removed from the Legion of Honor.

7. To avoid imprisonment, Zola fled to England, arriving in July of 1898 with only the clothing on his back. A year later, he was offered a pardon – as opposed to exoneration – which he accepted, saying, “The truth is on the march and nothing shall stop it.”

8. Nothing did. In 1899, Dreyfus was returned to France, retried, found guilty and pardoned. Then in 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated by the French Supreme Court. The guilty verdict was annulled; Dreyfus was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honor as “a soldier who has endured an unparallelled martyrdom.”

9. Zola did not live to see this happy conclusion. He died in September 1902 of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a blocked chimney. Thousands attended his funeral, at which he was eulogized by Anatole France as not just a great man, but “a moment in the human conscience.” Suspicion remains to this day that the blocked chimney was deliberate, a murder by an anti-Dreyfusard.

10. For an excellent article summing up the ins and outs of the case, see Adam Gopnik’s “Trial of the Century: Revisiting the Dreyfus Affair,” published in The New Yorker of September 28, 2009. It should also be noted that in 1998, on the hundredth anniversary of Zola’s statement, France’s Roman Catholic daily, La Croix, apologized for its anti-Semitic articles during the Dreyfus Affair.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Emile Zola Street just west of Dizengoff and south of Ben Gurion.

12 Things You Need to Know About…Moshe Dayan

Israeli warrior and politician

1. Moshe Dayan was a military leader who played key roles in four wars–and then worked effectively for peace. He was a sabra, born May 1915, the second child born on the first kibbutz to be established in Palestine, Kibbutz Degania Alef, near the shores of Lake Kinneret. His parents were immigrants from Ukraine. They moved to Nahalal, the first moshav, when Dayan was young; he attended agricultural school there.

2. His career as a warrior began in 1929, when he joined the newly formed Haganah at age fourteen to help guard Jewish settlements. During 1936-9, he was with the special police force in the Jezreel Valley and Galilee. In 1938, he joined the Palestine Supernumerary Police, serving under Orde Wingate in the Special Night Squad operations [see my post of March 12]. In October 1939 he was imprisoned in Acre along with other Haganah members, serving a ten-year sentence; all of them were released in 1941 after intervention by Chaim Weizmann. He then served in a small Australian-Palmach-Arab reconnaissance task force, infiltrating Vichy French Lebanon in preparation for an Allied invasion. It was there, in 1941, that he was shot by a sniper who had caught the glint from the binoculars he was using; he lost his eye and extraocular muscles.

dayan3. Following the war, he made his way quickly up the ladder, appointed to the Haganah general staff in 1947 to work on Arab affairs, including espionage and distribution of abandoned Arab property. In 1948, commanding the Jordan Valley sector, he stopped the Syrian advance. He was first commander of the 89th Battalion, appointed June 1948, and in July of that year became Military Commander of the Jewish-controlled areas of Jerusalem. He was a controversial figure, narrowly escaping court-martial a number of times for disobeying orders. Nonetheless, by October 1949 he was promoted to Major-General and made head of the Southern Command, replacing Yigal Allon [see my post of March 12], much to the dismay of the officers, many of whom resigned. To curb Palestinian infiltration of the borders, he instituted harsh policies, including strafing, raids, mines, and “collective punishment,” against the Arabs by harassing nearby villages and bedouin camps. He considered this policy effective, though not justified or moral. The Arabs were hostile, and he considered terrorism as a stage of war, a way of gaining time while they built up their military strength.

4. In May 1952, after attending a British Army Officer school, he was appointed Operational Commander of the Northern Command; seven months later, Head of Operations (G) Branch, the second-most senior position on the General Staff. A year later, he became Chief of Staff. He reorganized the army, strengthening combat units, revamping mobilization plans, starting a military academy for officers, and emphasizing air force capability. Over the next several years he approved a number of cross-border operations in which civilians were killed. Having carried out operations to instigate an attack by Egypt, in 1956, during the Suez Crisis, he commanded the Israeli forces fighting in the Sinai. He retired from the IDF in 1958.

5. The following year, 1959, he joined the Mapai party and was elected to the Knesset for the first time. He served as Minister of Agriculture from 1959-64. In 1965, with those loyal to Ben-Gurion [see my post of 10/9/13] he formed the Rafi (Alliance of Israel’s Workers) party. He served as Defense Minister  (1967-74) and later Foreign Minister (1977-79).

6. During the Six-Day War (1967), he oversaw the capture of East Jerusalem. He was hawkish and did not want to return the occupied territories. A popular hero at that time, he was blamed in 1973 for the ill-preparedness of the IDF at the start of the Yom Kippur War – and for his negative view of Israel’s chance of success following the losses of the first two days.

7. His work as a peacemaker began as early as 1948-9, when he was involved in negotiations with Jordan for a cease-fire in Jerusalem and an armistice; at the same time, though, he urged Ben-Gurion to use the army to open the road to Jerusalem and gain access to the Kotel and Mt. Scopus. As Foreign Minister, he began talks with Egypt in May 1977. The negotiations continued for eighteen months, until finally the Camp
David accords were agreed upon and signed, and the peace agreement with Egypt was a reality. At the end of his life, he advocated unilateral disengagement from the occupied territories.

8. Ariel Sharon said of him,”He would wake up with a hundred ideas….Ninety-five were dangerous; three more had to be rejected; the remaining two, however, were brilliant.”

9. Ambassador Gideon Rafael said of him, “Rocking the boat is his favorite tactic, not to overturn it, but to sway it sufficiently for the helmsman to lose his grip or for some of its unwanted passengers to fall overboard.”

10. His published works include: Diary of the Sinai Campaign, Living With the Bible: A Warrior’s Relationship with the Land of his Forebears, Story of My Life, and “Breakthrough: A Personal Account of the Egypt-Israel Negotiations.

11. Suffering from cancer, he died of a massive heart attack in October 1981 in Tel Aviv. He was buried in Nahalal cemetery.

12. In 2005, Dayan was voted seventy-third on the list of greatest Israelis of all time.

In the Tel Aviv area, you’ll find Moshe Dayyan Street east of, and parallel to, the Ayalon River, and south of Derech HaShalom.

12 Things You Need to Know About…Yigal Allon

Israeli warrior and labor Zionist

1. His father had made aliyah in 1890, and he was born Yigal Pelkowitz (or Palcovitch) at Kfar Tavor in the lower Galilee in October 1918. Shortly after graduating from Kadoorie Agricultural High School in 1937, he became one of the founders of Kibbutz Ginosar, also in Galilee.

2. During the Arab revolt of 1936-9, he commanded a field unit of the Haganah and then a mobil patrol. He was part of a hand-picked unit that included Moshe Dayan, working alongside the British in the counter-insurgent Special Night Squads under Captain Orde Wingate, who taught and favored ruthless tactics.

180px-Yigal_Allon3. World War II broke out. In 1941, Allon became one of the founding members of the Palmach, the elite strike force of the Haganah. In 1941-2, he was a scout with the British forces against the Vichy French in Syria and Lebanon. In 1945, he became Commander-in-Chief of the Palmach. In 1947, he approved an attack on the village of al Khisar in which homes were destroyed and civilians killed.

4. In June 1948, following the establishment of the State of Israel, he commanded the troops ordered to shell the vessel Altalena in Ben-Gurion’s confrontation with the Irgun.

5. That same year, in the Israeli War of Independence, Allon led several operations on all three fronts – the Galilee, the Center and the Negev – driving out the invading Arab armies and capturing many prisoners of war. He retired from active service in 1950.

6. He studied at the Hebrew University and at St. Anthony’s College, Oxford, reading philosophy and history. He became prominent in the Ahdut HaAvodah (Labor Unity) party and in 1955 was elected for the first time to the Knesset. He was to serve until his death twenty-five years later.

7. He held many prominent portfolios in the cabinets of David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir. From 1961-7 he served as Minister of Labor; from 1967-9, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Immigrant Absorption; interim Prime Minister, briefly, in February-March, 1969; Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education and Culture, 1969-74; Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1974-77.

220px-Yigal_alon8. He was the architect of the Allon Plan, a proposal to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank by negotiated partition of the territories between Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, plus a Druze state on the Golan Heights. The plan was presented to the cabinet in July 1967, at the end of the Six-Day War. It was not accepted by Jordan’s King Hussein.

9. In 1974, he served as a member of the Israeli delegation to the separation-of-forces agreements signed with Egypt and Syria.

10. He was Chairman of the World Labor Zionist movement from 1978-80.

11. He authored Shield of David, 1970, an account of the development of Israel’s defense forces; and My Father’s House, 1975, an autobiography. (He is listed, as well, as the author of The Making of Israel’s Army, 1970, but I believe this to be the British edition of Shield of David.)

12. He died unexpectedly of heart failure in February 1980. His funeral was attended by tens of thousands of mourners. President Yitzhak Navon said in his eulogy that Allon dedicated himself to three matters: Israel’s quest for a just, secure peace with its neighbors; strengthening ties with diaspora Jewry; and finding new paths for Israeli youth. He was buried on the shore of Lake Kinneret in the cemetery of Kibbutz Ginosar, where there is a museum named in his memory.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Yigal Allon Street just east of the Ayalon River, running north-south in the vicinity of Derech HaShalom. In Safed you’ll find the Yigal Allon Cultural Center, named in his memory.