12 Things You Need to Know About…David Pinsky

Prolific Yiddish playwright, author and editor

1. David Pinsky was born in 1872 in Mogilev – now in Belarus – and spent his early years in Vitebsk, where he attended cheder. When he was thirteen, his family moved to Moscow, where his father supplied clothing and decoration to the military. There, he began secular studies.

200px-David_Pinsky2. In 1891, he went to Vienna to study medicine, but his father was expelled from Moscow the following year (as were all Jews). The family were ruined; Pinsky joined them in Warsaw and became employed as a teacher. As a boy, he had conceived the notion of becoming an actor, and at the age of twelve had written a play for two friends, which was staged in his grandmother’s apartment. Now, in Warsaw, he became the friend of Y.L. Peretz [see my post of 9/24/14] and embarked on a literary career.

3. His first short story, “The Great Philanthropist,” was published in 1894. With Peretz, he established a publishing house with the aim of using literature to bring about a new social order for workers. He was the main contributor to two periodicals published by him together with Peretz and Mordecai Spector, publicizing socialist ideas. He joined the Bund, demonstrating his keen interest in the welfare of working people; and he became known among the elite Jewish writers in Warsaw.

4. By 1896 he was studying at the University of Berlin and writing for a Yiddish-American newspaper, Dos Abend Blatt (The Evening Paper), the official newspaper of the Socialist Workers’ Party.

5. In 1899, at the invitation of the editor of the paper, he moved to New York City, where he would live for the next fifty years. He was a contributor to, and editor of, fiction for Dos Abend Blatt, and he wrote for other socialist papers, as well.

6. He is remembered today primarily for his plays. In 1904, The Family Tsvi opened in New York – a play depicting the conflicting forces of modernism and tradition affecting Jews and decrying the passive acceptance of violence against Jews. It is said that he ducked his qualifying exam at Columbia, where he was studying for a doctorate in German language and literature, to attend the opening – thereby forfeiting the degree.

131394-003-F7ABC8DC7. In all, he was to write more than sixty plays, in addition to novels, stories, poetry and journalism. The plays were staged in the Americas and in Europe, in Yiddish or in German, Russian, Hebrew or English translations. They were performed by leading actors of the day, including Stella Adler, Menashe Skolnik, Ida Kaminska and Annie Tomashefsky.

8. His work dealt with issues of the common working man, with Jewish legends, Biblical characters, messianic figures and Israeli pioneers. He was the first president of the Yiddish PEN Club.

9. In 1916 he became a member of the central committee of Poale Zion, the labor Zionist movement. For a time he edited its journal and its two daily newspapers. He founded the Farband, a Labor Zionist organization, and served as its president from 1919-22 and 1933-48.

Pinski-Tailor10. In addition, he was president of the Jewish National Workers Alliance in 1920-22, and he served on the board of HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) through most of the 1940s. From 1930-53 he was president of the Jewish Culture Society.

11. In 1938, one of his plays, concerning the adulterous love between two people, was adapted into a movie: “The Singing Blacksmith,” starring Moishe Oysher and featuring the first film performance by Hershel Bernardi.

12. In 1949 he emigrated to Israel. He continued writing, though Yiddish was by then in great decline. His home on Mount Carmel became a gathering place for young writers. He died there, in Haifa, in 1959.

In Haifa, You’ll find Pinsky Street just west of the Haifa Auditorium.

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.

8 Things You Need to Know About…Leon Pinsker

Jewish nationalist

1. Leon Pinsker was born Yehudah Leib – or Lev – in Poland in 1821. His father was a scholar, teacher, writer and translator. The family moved to Odessa, where his father established one of the earliest Russian schools for Jews to receive secular as well as traditional education. He attended his father’s school and was one of the first Jews to attend Odessa University, where he studied law. But because of quotas on Jews, he decided to practice medicine, which he studied in Moscow. He served in the Crimean War and was decorated for his service.

2. Initially, he followed the ideas of the Haskalah, believing in Western values and holding that Jews could attain equal rights in their respective countries. Believing in assimilation, he was the founder of a Russian language Jewish weekly. Then, in 1871, came the anti-Jewish riots in the Russian Empire – followed by devastating pogroms in 1881-2 after the assassination of the tsar. Pinsker’s ideas changed radically.

pinsker3. In 1882, in Vienna, Pinsker anonymously published a highly influential pamphlet entitled “Auto-Emancipation.” Written in German, it analyzed the situation of Russian Jewry and Jewry in general. Its conclusion was that anti-Semitism was incurable throughout Europe; that Jews must organize themselves as a separate entity and establish their own national homeland, in Palestine or elsewhere.

4. He preferred the term “Judeophobia” to “anti-Semitism,” and wrote: “To the living the Jew is a corpse, to the native a foreigner, to the homesteader a vagrant, to the proprietary a beggar, to the poor an exploiter and a millionaire, to the patriot a man without a country, for all a hated rival.”

5. In 1884, with the help of Edmond James de Rothschild, he became one of the founders of Hovevei Zion. He was an organizer of a conference for the organization in what was then Prussia. Pinsker was chosen to be chair of the central bureau in Odessa, to coordinate the various groups seeking to build communities in Palestine.

6. In 1890, Russian authorities approved the establishment of the “Society for the Support of Jewish Farmers and Artisans in Syria and Palestine.” It was known as the Odessa Committee, and it was headed by Pinsker.

Pinsker_17. Though he traveled widely on behalf of Hovevei Zion, his activities and writings were more influential in Russia than elsewhere.

8. He died in Odessa in 1891, still unsure whether or not his vision would ever be realized. In 1934, his remains were brought to Jerusalem and re-interred in Nicanor’s Cave next to Mount Scopus. Moshav Nahalat Yehuda was named for him; built in 1913, it later became part of Rishon L’Zion.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Pinsker Street running off the north end of Allenby and crossing Trumpeldor and Bograshov. Look for Hovevei Zion St. right nearby.

Pinsker_5

Photos of Pinsker Street by Telavivi

https://www.facebook.com/telavivi1909

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.

10 Things You Need to Know About…Stephen Wise

American reform rabbi and Zionist leader

1. Stephen Samuel Wise was born in Budapest in 1874 and brought to the United States at the age of 17 months. His maternal grandfather had created the Herend Porcelain Company. When Wise’s father tried to unionize the company, it is said that the grandfather gave the family one-way tickets to New York!

2. Young Stephen was the son and grandson of rabbis, and he wanted to be one as well. He graduated from Columbia at the age of 18 and was ordained the following year, 1893. He went on to serve as rabbi to a number of American congregations, pioneering interfaith cooperation, social service and civic leadership. He and his followers founded the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in New York City in 1907.

3. He was a founder of the New York Federation of Zionist Societies and led in the formation of the national Federation of American Zionists in 1898. He served as secretary of the World Zionist Organization.

220px-Stephen_Samuel_Wise4. During the years 1916-19, he acted as intermediary to President Wilson on the Balfour Declaration and other matters and is said to have been instrumental in influencing Wilson to support the Balfour Declaration. At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, he spoke on behalf of Zionist aspirations.

5. He served as vice-president of the Zionist Organization of America, 1918-20, and as its president, 1936-38. He led in the organization of the American Jewish Congress, 1916-20, served as its vice-president, 1921-25, and as president or honorary president for another 24 years until his death.

6. During the 1920s and 30s, he was a friend of the Soviet Union, and for this he was known by the sobriquet “Red Rabbi.” In response to the rise of Nazism, he encouraged the formation of the World Jewish Congress and headed it until his death. In this role, he presented the Jewish cause to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, to the State Department and to the general public.

7. He was co-founder of the NAACP and the ACLU and was prominent in other liberal American causes throughout his life.

wise8. More about his fight against Nazism: In 1933 he urged a Jewish boycott of Germany. In November 1942, he held a press conference in Washington, DC, announcing that the Nazis had a plan to exterminate European Jewry and had already killed two million Jews. He made this statement based on a message from Switzerland that he had received in August 1942. Did the story make any front pages? No.

9. He had his share of disapprobation. He was a close friend of Franklin D. Roosevelt and was criticized for spending too much of his time trying to protect the president’s good name. And he was said to have halted relief packages to Jews in Europe, fearing accusations of providing aid to the enemy.

10. He died in New York City in 1949 at the age of 75.

In Haifa, you’ll find Stephen Wise Street in Ramat Sha’ul, west of Tchernikovsky.

10 Things You Need to Know About…Hanna Senesh

National heroine

1. Hanna Senesh (Szenes) was born in Budapest in July 1921 to a wealthy, distinguished, assimilated family. Her father was a well-known writer.

2. She, too, wished to write and, starting at age thirteen, kept a diary. She had a modern Hungarian education, but became attracted to Zionism when, in high school, she came into contact with anti-Semites.

Szenes-Hannah-23. In 1939, she went to study agriculture in Palestine. At the end of the two-year course, she joined a kibbutz at Caesarea. Working there in the kitchen and the laundry, she was less than satisfied, as reflected in her diary. During this time, she wrote poetry and a play about kibbutz life.

4. In 1943, the Jewish agency approached her about a clandestine military operation to offer aid to European Jewry. Her Hungarian background made her perfect for the project.

5. She joined the Palmach, studying first to be a wireless operator and then a paratrooper.

senesh parachuting6. In March 1944, she was dropped into Yugoslavia – one of more than thirty Jews parachuted in by the British Army to establish contact with Hungarian partisans and to aid the beleaguered Jewish populations. She crossed into Hungary in June, her entry delayed by the German invasion. Within hours, she was picked up by the Hungarian police, imprisoned in Budapest and tortured. Most of her fellow parachutists also were captured within days; only one managed to survive the war.

7. Her mother was arrested and brought to the same prison in an attempt to break her. To no avail: she would not give up the wireless codes that her enemy wanted. In November 1944 she was tried for treason and sentenced to death. Age twenty-three, she faced her firing squad.

szenes8. Her mother survived the war, and it was through her mother that her diaries were brought to public attention. In 1950, her remains were transferred to Israel and buried in the parachutists’ section on Mount Herzl. That same year, Kibbutz Yad Hannah was established, named in her memory.

9. In 1993, a Hungarian military court officially exonerated her.

Hanna S10. Here are four samples of her writing; some you may have seen set to music (please forgive the spacing in the poetry):

There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.

 

In my life’s chain of events nothing was accidental. Everything happened according to an inner need.

 

My God, my God, I pray that these things never end

The sand and the sea,

The rustle of the waters,

Lightning of the Heavens,

The prayers of Man.

 

Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its breath for honor’s sake

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

 

In Haifa, you’ll find Hanna Senesh Street south of the Municipal Theatre, running parallel to Sederot Wingate.

 

 

8 Things You Need to Know About… Laurence Oliphant

Christian proto-Zionist

1. Laurence Oliphant was born in 1829 in Cape Town, 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.