4 Things You Need to Know About… Shlomtzion Hamalka

Queen of Judea

200px-Salome_Alexandra1. Salome Alexandra – or Alexandra of Jerusalem – was one of only two women to rule of ancient Judea (76-67 BCE) and the last ruler of the independent kingdom to die.

2. She became queen when her husband, Alexander Janneus, died. While he was king, she seems not to have wielded great political power. There was strife during his reign, and he actively sought to suppress the Pharisees (traditionalists) in favor of the Sadducees (Hellenists). According to Talmudic sources, she sought to protect the Pharisees from his persecution. The Talmud says she was the sister of the sage Shimon ben Shetach, a Pharisee – though Josephus doesn’t mention any such connection. In any case, upon his death Alexander Janneus left the government to the care of his wife, rather than to any of his sons.

3. As queen, she immediately set out to settle differences. She made peace with the Pharisees, thus securing the Hasmonean dynasty. The Sanhedrin – initially established by her husband –  was reorganized in favor of the Pharisees, and her eldest son, Hyrcanus II, was made high priest. Also, she reinforced protection of Judea’s borders by fortifying towns.

4. Her reign brought peace and prosperity – Shlomtzion means “peace of Zion.” Indeed, rabbinical sources relate that while she ruled the rain fell only on Shabbat, enabling working people to earn money every working day. Grains of wheat were said to have grown as large as kidney beans, and all things fared well. Who am I to say differently?

shlom zionIn Tel Aviv, you’ll find Shlomtzion Hamalca Street north of Yehudah HaMaccabi and south of Bene Dan, near the Yarkon River and the youth hostel.

In Jerusalem, look for Shelomziyyon Hamalka near the City Hall and the Mamilla Mall.

My thanks to Ido Biran, Telavivi, for his photo of the street sign in Tel Aviv.

 

 

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5 Things You Need to Know About…Nahum Gutman

Israeli artist

1. Nahum Gutman was born in Bessarabia in 1898. In 1905, his family moved to Palestine, where he attended Herzliya Gymnasium and later served, during World War I, in the Jewish Legion. He studied art at the Bezalel School before going to Europe in 1920 to study in Vienna, Berlin and Paris. He returned home in 1926.

GUTMAN m_12. Together with Reuven Rubin and Ziona Tagger [see my blogpost of 11/5/14] he pioneered a distinctively Israeli artistic style that portrayed the landscape, the light and the people of Eretz Yisrael.

3. Gutman’s vibrant use of color is a keynote of his work. He often portrayed the Arab community, depicting both the sensuousness and the grittiness of life in the Middle East. He painted in a variety of media, including oil, gouache, watercolor and pen and ink; and he produced many large sculptures and mosaics. Critics have found notes of Renoir, Picasso, Rousseau and Dufy in his work.

Gutman, Nachum4. He is notable, as well, for writing and illustrating children’s books. In 1931, he co-founded a children’s journal, Davar LaYeladim, and remained on its staff for 32 years. Among the many awards he received for his work in children’s literature was the Israel Prize, conferred in 1978.

220px-Gutman_bialik_street

 

 

5. He died in 1980. His work can be seen all over Tel Aviv –  in a mosaic mural at the Shalom Tower; in a mosaic wall at Herzliya High School; in a mosaic fountain on Bialik Street; and at the Nahum Gutman Museum at 21 Rokach St., Neve Tzedek.

 

gutman

Many thanks to Ido Biran,Telavivi, for this photo of Nahum Gutman Street, located northwest of Tel Aviv University.

 

 

 

8 Things You Need to Know About… Nathan Axelrod

Pioneer of Hebrew cinema

1. Nathan Axelrod was born in Russia in 1905 and made aliyah in 1926. Finding no film industry in Palestine, he improvised some equipment and began filming.

cropAxelrod2. He made a studio out of two wooden shacks, dubbing his creation “Eat Your Heart Out, Hollywood.” The studio began putting out films in 1927, initially as the Modelet Company. In 1934, as the Carmel Company, it began filming weekly newsreels.

3. Axelrod filmed Israeli pioneers establishing settlements, draining swamps, irrigating new farmland, developing Tel Aviv, building the land and developing cultural life. Later he filmed the founding of Nahariya, the immigration of German Jewry and the declaration of Israel’s independence. Film foot by film foot, he created a treasure trove.

4. He made some of the earliest films in the Hebrew language. In 1931, he scripted and photographed the first locally-produced feature film, a comedy set at the annual Purim carnival in Tel Aviv. It was called “Biyemei” (Once Upon a Time). He also directed films, including “Don Quishote and Sa’adia Pantsa” (1956).

5. In the 1960s he produced the film “The True Story of Palestine,” comprised mainly of excerpts from the Carmel newsreels. In the 70s, “The Pillar of Fire,” about the Zionist movement, was created by Israeli TV largely from Axelrod’s documentary footage.

axelrod head shot6. Axelrod’s film archive is a priceless compilation documenting the years 1927-58. It includes roughly 400,000 feet (two hundred hours) of film: 150,000 before the founding of the State of Israel and 250,000 after. The story of its conservation, duplication and transfer to the Israeli State Archives is a saga in itself, covering the years 1959-87.

7. The original films are in France at the National Film Institute. The Israeli State Archive has a full set of duplicates; you can see some of them online at YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCOH_oW31tWhVFHwreAxhIgA

8. Nathan Axelrod died in 1987, leaving the largest and most comprehensive collection of documentaries of Israel’s early years. The full collection is described in The Nathan Axelrod Collection, first published in 1994.

N_L_DSC01979You’ll find Natan Akselrod Street in north Tel Aviv running east off Sderot Levi Eshkol, not far from Arnold Schoenberg Square.

Thanks to Ido Biran facebook.com/telavivi1909 for the street photo.

12 Things You Need to Know About… Menahem Begin

Warrior and peacemaker

1. Menahem Begin was born in Brest-Litovsk in 1913 to a mother who came from a line of rabbis and a father who was a timber merchant and ardent Zionist. He studied first in cheder and then in schools associated with the religious Zionist movement. In his teens he was sent to a Polish government school, where he gained a secular education; he studied law at the University of Warsaw, graduating in 1935.

2. From an early age, he was a member of the Zionist movement. A follower of Jabotinsky [see my post of 12/31/12], he joined the youth branch of the Betar movement, rising quickly to become head of Betar Czechoslovakia in 1936 and of all Poland – the largest branch, with 100,000 members – in 1938. In this capacity he traveled frequently to regional branches.

200px-Begin0013. He escaped Warsaw for Vilna three days after the Nazi invasion began in 1939. In 1940, he was arrested by the NKVD, tortured and sentenced to eight years in the gulag. In 1941, he was permitted release to join the Polish army, which in 1943 was evacuated to Palestine. There he was given a leave of absence to stay and fight. He joined the Irgun though he was voluble in his criticism of their leadership as being too cooperative with the British.

4. In 1944, he assumed leadership of the Irgun, proclaiming a revolt against the British – a move that was opposed by the Jewish Agency. When in 1946 he ordered the bombing of the King David Hotel, the British placed a bounty of ten thousand pounds on his head.

Menachem Begin5. After the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the Irgun was disbanded. Begin founded the Herut (Freedom) party in opposition to the labor party, Mapai, and was elected to the first Knesset, with a nationalist agenda.

6. In 1977, after three decades of labor dominance, Begin became the sixth Prime Minister of Israel as a founding member of Likud, which was a consolidation of Herut and other parties.

SadatCarterBegin325__325x2447. As prime minister, he signed a peace treaty with Egypt and shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Anwar Sadat. Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula in the wake of the Camp David Accords. In exchange for recognition of Israel’s legitimacy, Begin gave up land. (Is it only a great warrior who can accomplish such ends? I hate to think so.)

8. During Begin’s term in office, impoverished towns and neighborhoods – occupied primarily by Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews – were upgraded; many of the measures he took moved the economy away from socialism and toward capitalism. With the prime minister’s blessing, many new settlements were built in the West Bank and Gaza, quadrupling the Jewish population there.

9. In June 1981, Begin authorized the bombing of a nuclear plant in Iraq; in 1982, the invasion of Lebanon to fight PLO strongholds – resulting in a protracted war that sucked at the life and soul of Israel’s self-identity.

10. His wife, Aliza, died in 1982, and he resigned from public life in 1983, spending the remainder of his life in seclusion. Begin died in 1992 and was buried on the Mount of Olives. An estimated 75,000 mourners turned out for his funeral.

10. His written works include The Revolt, about his days in the Irgun; and White Nights, about being a prisoner in the Soviet Union.

12. Visitors to Jerusalem may wish to visit the Menachem Begin Heritage Center. A museum of his life and legacy, it also awards an annual prize to a person or organization that has done important work for the benefit of the State of Israel and/or the Jewish people.

In Jerusalem, Sederot Menahem Begin runs from north to south just west of Hebrew University.

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.

10 Things You Need to Know About… David Wolffsohn

Zionist leader

1. He was born in Kovno, Lithuania in 1856 to a financially struggling family. His father was a Talmudic scholar, and he had a traditional Jewish education.

2. In 1872, he was sent to East Prussia, where his brother lived, in order to avoid conscription in the Russian army. He continued his Jewish studies with Rabbi Isaac Ruif, also learning German and mathematics. Later, he met David Gordon, editor of HaMaggid. Both men influenced his commitment to Jewish nationhood, which had begun with his father.

3. After a number of failed business attempts, Wolffsohn became successful in the timber trade and settled in Cologne. In 1894, with Zionist Max Bodenheimer, he founded the Association for the Development of Agriculture in Israel,  a German branch of Hovevei Zion.

4. In 1896, having read and been transfixed by Herzl’s Der Judenstaat, Wolffsohn sought out Herzl in Vienna. They soon became fast friends. Wolffsohn was a loyal friend and a diplomatic one, standing by Herzl even when he disagreed with him. With his unassuming nature, he mediated between the political and the practical Zionists (explained below), and he stood by Herzl in the Uganda crisis while generally soothing ruffled feathers. The character of David Littwak in Herzl’s Altneuland is said to be based on Wolffsohn.

"Ever since I learned to think and feel, I was a Zionist."

“Ever since I learned to think and feel, I was a Zionist.”

5. As the moving spirit behind, and first president of, The Jewish Colonial Trust, Wolffsohn ensured its solvency. He became the director of all the financial and economic institutions of the Zionist movement, serving in this capacity until his death.

6. In 1898, he accompanied Herzl to London, Constantinople and Palestine. He was present during the audience with Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II, taking photographs that unfortunately did not come out (haven’t we all, at some important moment?).

7. When Herzl suggested seven gold stars on a white background for the Jewish national flag, Wolffsohn lifted his tallit and said, in effect, why re-invent the wheel? We have our flag right here. Thus was conceived the banner with a white field, two blue stripes near the margins, and a six-pointed Star of David in the center. Wolffsohn also introduced the shekel for the payment of Zionist members’ dues.

8. In 1907, after Herzl’s death, Wolffsohn was appointed leader of the World Zionist Organization, its second president. He took a typically moderate stance on the issues roiling up between the practical and political Zionists, all the while maintaining that all WZO programs were being carried out according to Herzl’s plans. The main issue between the political and practical Zionists was this: the political Zionists remained faithful to Herzl’s view that a charter of some kind was necessary prior to organized settlement in Palestine, while the practical Zionists (many of them from Russia, where conditions for Jews were dire) emphasized immediate local activity in Palestine.

9. Wolffsohn carried on with political efforts while allowing practical colonization. Under his watch, an office was opened in Jaffa to foster agricultural settlement; a JNF loan was granted to the founders of Ahuzat Bayit, the settlement that was to become Tel Aviv; the WZO’s official newspaper, HaOlam, was founded; and Wolffsohn traveled widely – to South Africa, Turkey, Russia, Hungary – in furtherance of Zionist efforts.

10. In failing health, he resigned leadership of the WZO in 1911, though he continued as financial director until his death in Hamburg in 1914. His estate provided the means for the National and University Library to be built in Jerusalem. In 1952, his remains were brought to Israel and buried on Mount Herzl.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Wolffsohn Street just west of the Central Bus Station.

 

 

8 Things You Need to Know About…Yisrael Bak

Pioneering Hebrew printer

1. Israel Bak was born in 1797 in Berdichev, Ukraine, where he became a printer and published close to thirty Hebrew books.

2. In 1831, he made aliyah, settling in Safed his family, two printing presses and tools for casting letters and for bookbinding.

Loc111a3. No Hebrew book had been printed in Eretz Yisrael for 245 years. In 1832, Bak printed a Sephardi prayerbook, reviving a moribund industry. The next year, he published the Book of Leviticus, the first book of the Pentateuch ever to come from a printing press in Eretz Yisrael.

4. After a peasant revolt in 1834 that destroyed his press and injured him, he began farming land on Mount Yarmak, overlooking Safed. His was the first Jewish farm in modern times.

5. He continued publishing, as well, the press employing 30 people at its height. But ill fortune continued to plague the people of Safed – an earthquake in 1837 and a Druze revolt in 1838. Again, his press was destroyed. In 1841, he moved to Jerusalem and established himself there, the first Hebrew press in Jerusalem. He continued printing books, some 130 in all, for 33 years.

6. He was a close correspondent of Moses Montefiore, who gave him a new press for his shop in Jerusalem.

7. In 1863, he founded the newspaper Havazzelet, but this venture was closed down by the Ottoman government after only five issues. After his death it was revived by his son-in-law and, though continually troubled, became an important organ for the Chasidic community.

8. With his son Nisan, he was a major force in establishing a central synagogue in Jerusalem for Chasidim. He died in 1874.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Yisrael Bak Street near the Ayalon River at Shekhunat Montefiore.