Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
"If everyone knows the historical record is safe, might that create space in our collective consciousness to start thinking about how we rebuild?"

"If everyone knows the historical record is safe, might that create space in our collective consciousness to start thinking about how we rebuild?"

October 7 was the most documented pogrom in Jewish history. But who's saving the documentation? What constitutes documentation? And how will YOU have access? Enter the National Library of Israel.

By now, everyone has heard the obviously correct comment that the atrocities of October 7th were the most documented pogrom in Jewish history.

But who is collecting the thousands upon thousands of video clips, still photos, and WhatsApp conversations between parents and their children about to die? And how does one even get those WhatsApps? And who should be able to hear them? Now? What about in twenty years?

October 7th changed many things for the National Library of Israel. It was just about to open its new, breathtakingly beautiful building. The official opening ceremony was just days away. Suddenly, though, rockets were flying toward Jerusalem. What would happen to the materials in the library if it were hit? So the staff began working feverishly to take apart the exhibits that had just been set up for the opening, moving all the artifacts into the basement below. Eventually, when the rockets stopped flying, they did the opposite. Again.

That, however, was hardly the only way in which the NLI was impacted. Some of the leadership of the library recognized that there would be a flood of evidence: printed, video, stills, voice conversation, GPS data, drone footage, radio communications between helicopter pilots and ground troops who in the first day had to resort to WhatsApp because military communications were pathetic.

What would happen to all this evidence? Who would collect it? How will our children and grandchildren have access to it? What are the technical challenges of collecting material like this? Are there also ethical questions?

There are.

And we continue with that below.

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THURSDAY (04/04):  Periodically, we are told that a hostages who hasn’t been seen since October 7 is suddenly declared dead. Why and how does that happen? It turns out that there are three doctors at the heart of this painful work; today we’ll meet them and find out more about how they do what they do.

FRIDAY (04/05): The stories just keep oozing out. The horror of what happened on October 7, young Israelis who saw their parents killed, tried to save them, etc. These children are far too young to have memories like that, and a new book in Israel has collected some of their self-written profiles. We’ll read a bit of the “essay” by a thirteen year old girl who went through what no human being should ever had to endure.

Since Purim is now in the rear-view mirror, Passover cannot be far away. We’ll provide more details as the holiday grows closer, but for now, a quick note that we’ll be taking most of Passover off.

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Raquel Ukeles and Yaniv Levi Korem

To address all the questions above, we turned to Raquel Ukeles, who is the Head of Collections at the National Library of Israel and to Yaniv Levi Korem, who serves as Head of the Technical Services division at the National Library of Israel.

We got together at the library to have a conversation about the project, its origins, its goals, its progress and its vision.

Before proceeding to the conversation we recorded, you might want to take a quick look at this video that was posted on Instagram.

We haven’t translated it into English, but you don’t need the words. The video will give you a sense of the grandeur of the building—and of course, it needs to be on your itinerary during your next visit to Jerusalem!

A post shared by @nli_israel

The link at the top of this posting will take you to the full recording of our conversation; below you will find a transcript for those who prefer to read, available specially for paid subscribers to Israel from the Inside.

Among the many dimensions of the horrors of October 7th is the fact that it is, tragically, the best documented pogrom in the history of the Jewish people, and the fact that it is such a well-documented or horribly documented event poses for all of us many challenges when it comes to trying to understand it, to wrestle with it, to remember it. And in terms of remembering it, there is a fascinating new project at the National Library of Israel, a fabulous institution which we've already focused on in our podcast in the past. The NLI, the National Library of Israel, has taken on itself the responsibility, basically, for being the repository of an almost infinite amount of material about this project.

And we're meeting today with two people at the National Library, Raquel Ukeles, and Yaniv Levi-Korem, who are both going to tell you about themselves and their work at the library in a moment. And we're here to hear about how did it come to be that the National Library took upon itself this responsibility for cataloging and maintaining all of the information that we have. What are some of the both ethical and perhaps technological challenges? What are they going to include? What are they not going to include? What are the various organizations and institutions with whom they're partnering? It's an enormous project. And of course, I guess perhaps most importantly for our listeners, when is this going to be available for people to hear and see and learn from and how much of it has to wait for X amount of time, and I'm sure there's many questions that I can't even begin to imagine yet.

So first of all, Raquel, thank you for coming back on the podcast, and Yaniv, thank you for joining us for the first time. Tell us each a little bit about yourselves, what your job at the library in general is, and then we'll come to the cataloging of October 7th.

RU: Thank you, Daniel. So I'm Raquel Ukeles, Head of Collections at the National Library of Israel. I've been at the library for 13 years. The first 10 years, I was the curator of the Islam and Middle East Collection, and for three and a half years now, I've been head of collections and means that I lead a team of content experts, curators, we call them and we're responsible for the overall development of all the main collections in the library across all formats. We are ambassadors for the collections in many different contexts, whether it's conferences or building partnerships with other institutions or meeting people who are interested in the library from all walks of life. Thank you, Erika.

YL-K: Thank you. I'm Yaniv Levi- Korem. I'm head of technical services, and my team is responsible for processing the material. In a way, Raquel decides what we collect, and we make sure that we collect it, we make it available, accessible. But the library doesn't collect, people tend to think the library collects only books, but we don't collect only books. We collect books, newspapers, ephemeral materials, but also archives, drives posters, music.

You're talking generally not only about October 7th.

YL-K: Exactly.

And so, you have a team of about how many people here working with you?

YL-K: A hundred and twenty people. Some of them are for projects, but most of them are regular people who deal with the materials that we collect.

How many employees are there at the library?

YL-K: Altogether 400. Around 400.

So, you have a very big chunk of them?

YL-K: Yes.

Because technology and library work are now the same thing. I mean, it's an almost completely overlapping Venn diagram, basically.

YL-K: Yeah. And we try to combine between how to collect and how to also inject technology in the collection. And we'll talk about when it comes to October 7th later on.

Okay. So first of all, thank you both very much once again. So, Raquel, if you would ask somebody five months ago, this horrible thing happened, who's going to collect all of this? A person might not have been crazy to say, well, the National Archive of Israel, the State Archive is going to do that. And I'm sure they're doing some stuff, and I'm sure you're in touch with them and all of that. But it's not entirely obvious that it would be the National Library of Israel that would become the main collector of all of this, and eventually the main repository of all of it. It's not crazy, but it's not the natural thing that someone might think about.

So, tell us a bit about... We're all recovering from the horror of October 7th, and at what point does the library begin to say to itself, it’s got to be us. Here's what we're going to do. How does this project come to be?

RU: So, the National Library of Israel is the institution for the collective memory, both of the state of Israel and the Jewish people worldwide. And so, collecting the highlights and the traumas sits at our core mission. As Yaniv said, we don't just collect books here. Our special collections document Jewish, Israeli, and other cultures, the histories, the communities, the daily walks of life. And so, I understand why people might not think immediately of the National Library, but from our perspective, it's very clear, and it's mandated by law that this is our job, this is our responsibility.

The State Archive, the National Archive of Israel, by law, is mandated to collect material related to the government and classified material with all the different channels of government activity, including security establishment. And so that's the division of labor. And we work closely with them. And when we come upon classified material, we immediately reach out to them and vice versa. And so, they, of course, are collecting and building probably what will be a massive archive related to October 7th, but they are dealing with the classified side, and we are dealing with the non-classified side. You asked when we started…

Or how the idea came to be.

RU: How the idea came to be. So, October 7th, I was in synagogue, and I'm observant, so I actually didn't know what was going on. October 8th, I actually don't remember that day. October 9th, we realized we had to get working. And the first thing we did was that we understood that so much of this material was on the internet and on social media. So, our first act was to start archiving the Internet and social media. Because as I think we've all learned, the acts were barbarically physical, but almost all documentation has been digital. From October 9th onward, we noticed that we were not the only ones who were collecting. And one of the interesting aspects of this complicated work is that overnight, developed grassroots efforts to capture what happened. And I think a lot of that had to do with seeing already on October eighth and ninth, that people around the world started denying what was happening. And that motivated a lot of people, regular folk, who walked off their jobs and started collecting, whether they were connected to the Gaza border communities or they were one of the many soldiers that that walked out of their homes and ran to the south, or people who were involved with already documenting the protest movements and were already in position with camera crews and professionals the roles involved, they pivoted. So many of them pivoted to collecting. And so, the work we've been doing since then is both direct collecting with our team and also working in partnership with over 100 different collection efforts, in addition to all the major institutions in this country who are involved in heritage, archives, and libraries, and even museums.

And so, it's been a very interesting and also challenging project navigating all of this work. The library has become the long-term home for all these different efforts, and that's our role, and that's what we can offer. A corollary of these partnerships is that everyone is doing what they do well. And so, what the library does well is we know how to collect and process huge amounts of material for the long term. And we also can be very agile and flexible about what we can open, what we open now, access, and what we can open in 10 years, in 50 years, in 100 years. There aren't a lot of institutions that can say that. And so that's what we bring to the table.

The reason that you have to wait is because it's classified or just because...

YL-K: It's a combination of things. First of all, we need to wait, our first goal in this project, in a way, is first to collect, to make sure that the materials doesn't disappear. You need to understand that most of these initiatives are volunteering people. So, it's not organizations that have been here before. It's something that was ad hoc established for the war, for documenting the war or documenting what happened. We felt that we are in a position to provide them with the long-term solution to store the materials. Our first goal is to collect, collect, collect from all these initiatives before they disappear.

So, give people an example of the kinds of things you're collecting. I mean, some of it's obvious, the videos that people have, the videos I'm assuming that Hamas put up on Telegram. I don't know if you're collecting that or not, but I'm sure you're collecting documentation of all of the memorial ceremonies that have been taking place. I'm going to just give you an example. For example, we're recording this a few days after Purim. I know that at the hostage family tent outside the Prime Minister's house, the megillah, right, so Megillat Esther was read in the melody of Eichah, the whole thing, not just the occasional verse that we normally do. They did this one thing. Is that the kind video that would make it into this documentation, or are you only looking at what happened in terms of the horrors and not so much the responses to the horrors?

RU: So, the short answer is yes. The longer answer is that we are collecting everything related to October 7th, everything related to this period, which is challenging because we don't know when this period ends. And we're also collecting material from Israel and in Jewish communities around the world. Now, let me go back and I'll give you examples of each type. We are collecting videos and photographs and WhatsApp messages from the day itself, from October 7th.

Okay. Now, how would you, Yaniv, get that? If I had WhatsApp somebody on October 7th, my phone was also off because of obvious reasons, but had I done that, I'm interested in knowing how the library would get the WhatsApps off my phone, but we'll talk about that later. Okay.

RU: The next circle, we think in terms of concentric circles. Just one second about the material from October 7th itself. Three weeks after October 7th, we were given 200,000 videos from this extraordinary effort called the Civic Headquarters, hachamal haezrachi. They were the ones that gathered about 400 cyber and AI experts right after October 7th, to download Hamas videos from Telegram, to get body cam videos from Israeli soldiers, from eyewitnesses, and they mined these materials to figure out what happened to people. Who was taken hostage, who was killed. And after three weeks, Karine Nahon, who's a phenomenal woman who directed this effort, she reached out to us.

She also was very instrumental in the protest movement against the judicial reform. And that's when she really got notoriety originally.

RU: So, she gave a copy to the State Archive, and she gave a copy to us because she wanted it to be accessible.

YL-K: Because also remember that, again, this is a good example of an initiative that had the beginning and the end. Their goal was to identify what happened to each person, who was kidnapped, who was killed, et cetera, who was murdered. And once this effort, huge effort, has ended, they had this block of videos, and they were looking for a home to put it and store it for future generations.

I guess you have to catalog it so that it's somehow meaningful. Nobody has the time to look through 200,000 videos if they're looking to find... I guess you'll tell us more about how they... Okay, so there's an AI effort that's going on along with... We did an episode about the chamal, the civilian command centers. But there we focused on giving out food, giving out blankets, getting people from doctors to clinics and schools for children and toys for children. So, this is a whole other side of what they did, which we didn't talk about in that episode, which is they collected all of this gave it to you and the state of the archive.

RU: If we go back to these concentric circles, I think it just helps understand all the different kinds of material. So, besides documentation of what happened that day on October 7th, we're collecting material related to October 7th, and that includes over 20 different oral testimony collection efforts. We've already gotten to contracts with about 1,300 testimonies, and we anticipate there being thousands more over the next few years. We've also collected materials related to eulogies, the funerals, prayers and songs around October 7th, posters, documented October 7th, and all sorts of original writings, diaries, and written stories.

The third circle is this period, and that's even more challenging because how do you get your hands around civic discourse, the protest movements, the tents, religious discourse, cultural discourse? And so there, our goal is not to collect every single thing that gets out there, but to try to document as much as possible all the different trends, all the different perspectives as broadly as possible to tell all the different stories that need to be told. And then the final circle…

YL-K: No, I think it's important to remember that the library doesn't just collect. You asked about whether the library collects just the war or the whole everything after. We are not documenting the war.

No, I meant the events of October 7th.

YL-K: Yeah, but we're not documenting the events. We're documenting Israeli society. And from that perspective, yes, you need to document what happened on October 7th, but you need to also document what happened to Israeli society and the Jewish people after October 7th. And this is our goal. Our goal is, yes, to document what happened on October 7th, but then to see how it affected Israeli society. That's the role of the National Library, like Raquel talked about it earlier, to document what's happening. We don't know yet how October 7th will influence or affect the Israeli society, but it's clear that this is, I don't know, a game changer. Is that the right word? But it's a huge thing.

RU: So, just to go back before the last concentric circle, and the reason why I said that we anticipate getting thousands of more testimonies relates to what Yaniv just said. And that is we're interested, first, we want to get what happened on October 7th, but in most cases, oral testimonies are taken a year or two or five or 20 years after the events. And so, we're building this project as a five-year project in order to circle back to some of these people in a few years to understand how it affects their lives and how they see October 7th with a little more distance.


RU: So just to complete the circles. So, that fourth circle is actions and reactions of Jewish communities around the world. And we have projects that have started in Europe, in North America, in South America, and we're starting also in Australia. And here we want to incorporate into the archive how this affected Jews, both how did they respond to October 7th, the unbelievable philanthropic efforts and also solidarity efforts, collecting ceramic vests all over the Jewish world and solidarity missions down to what was the itinerary of Jewish groups when they came here in order for scholars to understand these relationships. But also, the anti-Semitism, debates around anti-Zionism and Israel on campuses, and in Jewish organizations. And again, here we're also working in partnership with cultural heritage institutions in these places. So, we're doing it with local partnerships because the library, as the institution for collective memory, we feel it's our responsibility, but we aren't going at it alone. We want to work as much as possible in partnership in order to make sure that all the different aspects are covered, and then we can provide that long-term historical record.

YL-K: You also need to take into account that this 7th of October caught the library at a very exciting moment…

It was moving to your new home.

YL-K: Exactly. We were supposed to have the ceremonial week on the 15th of October. It was like for us, we were gearing up towards opening a ceremonial week with a lot of parties, et cetera, and then suddenly this comes over. I came here on the 7th of October because everything was ready with the exhibition, and we wanted to make sure that all the exhibits go down back to the cellars.

Because of the rockets that were flying.

YL-K: Exactly. For us, it was a big...

So, just to give it context, you've spent months before October 7th bringing everything up, first of all, over from the old library and then up to display it. And as soon as the rockets start flying, you have to do exactly the opposite, which is to get everything down into the basement and the protected levels of the garage so that, God forbid…

YL-K: Exactly. So, for us, it was like from the high levels to the bottom of the pit. I think what we felt, to continue what Raquel was talking about, is that we can give the long-term preservation for all these initiatives that are amazing initiatives that are sprouting around us, and we can help them and give guidelines. We don't have to collect ourselves only, but we need to help all those initiatives around Israel and around the world to make sure that the material that they collect will be preserved for future generations. And that's our goal as the library.

Just to give us a sense of the enormity of the project. I don't actually know the answer of this question, obviously, or I wouldn't be asking it, but you said it's a five-year project-ish. Obviously, you don't know. But if you got to guess, in five years, how many items are going to be in this thing? How many videos are going to be in it? What's the size of this collection look like in your mind five years from now?

YL-K: It depends how you count, but I believe that hundreds of thousands to millions of items related to the 7th of October.

All of it digital or most of it digital?

YL-K: Most of it digital. We are in a digital era, and it changes also. It requires us to collect new materials that we haven't collected before. You mentioned WhatsApps, videos that we've done before, but not in the same scale. Podcasts. Things that we didn't think or not used to collect this is challenging us, but we're happy to take this new challenge. But I believe that most of the materials will be digital.

RU: There are material that we are not collecting, and we're relying on partners to do that work, and that is physical items, artifacts.

Who collects those?

RU: Yad Ben Zvi is doing a project called Eretz Hefetz. It doesn’t translate so well.

No, but it's very clever in Hebrew.

RU: Right, it's the land of things, but with a play on words about hefetz being also about things one wants. And so, they are collecting artifacts, and we hope to get digital images of those artifacts. We are also collecting digital images of artwork that we've never done before because we see them as texts, interpretations of what's happened. And there are many efforts going on. The Heritage Ministry, who is a major supporter and partner to this work for us and to the other efforts. So, they divide between tangible and intangible heritage. And in the tangible heritage, they're doing extensive planning right now about preserving all the different buildings in the south and what happened to them. And then they're going to work with individual communities to figure out how they're going to restore, what they're going to create as memorial places, but also to restore. And so, they're building their own archive, which also, hopefully, a copy will come to the library. And so, the library will have documentation of all these different efforts, but these are our dividing lines.

So obviously, this is a whole world, right? There's going to be books written about this project, I'm sure.

RU: There are books that have already been written about the 7th of October.

No, I mean, there'll be books written about your work.

RU: There are scholars who have reached out to us and are accompanying us in their writing research as we do this work.

So, it's an endless sea. For the sake of our listeners, though, I think it'd be fascinating to hear about, I can't even imagine what they are, but there have to be ethical complexities that you come across. I have no idea. You'll tell us in a minute. But what are some of the things, not the technical side, we'll get to that in a second, but in terms of the ethics of collecting the decisions you have to make, what are some of the more fascinating issues that you've had to grapple with, well, it's about five months now, almost six months, in the last five or six months?

YL-K: It’s complicated, like many things in this project. But you need to understand that we are encountering things, okay, copyright, that's something that we're used to handling. If someone created a video, how do you get his permission? How do you make it accessible? Because, again, we're collecting not for the good of the library, but we are collecting for people to use the materials in the future.

But the issues that we are also encountering is privacy. I've been in a meeting with the families of the Nova Party, and it's difficult because different families want different things. One family wants the video of their kid to be presented, and the other family feels that they don't want that because they feel it's not respectful. So, you have to be very... We're not there yet, but the whole handling of the material. It has to be very careful. We need to make sure that we respect the families, we respect the people, and on the other hand, we make as much as possible accessible because we want people to know what happened, and we want people to be able to use the materials. So, this delicate balance between privacy and respect of the families and of the victims, on the other hand, making sure that it's not all closed.

So that are challenges that we'll have to handle. It's not that we haven't handled them in the past, but not on this grand scale. So, some of the materials will be probably accessible only in the building. Some of the materials will be all probably accessible only to researchers. Some of the materials will be open. Our goal, of course, is always to make as much more accessibility to the materials as possible. But again, we need to take into account all these things.

RU: Just to continue what Yaniv was saying, another facet of this is how do we allow families and people to change their minds over time. We've already encountered a little of that.

In both directions, I assume.

In both directions. And again, that's the logic of coming back to these people after a year. We have a few examples. I can go back to the WhatsApps. So, I'm working closely with an organization called Memorial 7/10, founded by someone named Yaniv Hegyi, from Be’eri, the Kibbutz Be’eri. And his family miraculously survived, even though all his neighbors suffered losses. And so, he's dedicated himself to memorializing October 7th. And because he's an insider, so he has access more than we do in order to get WhatsApps. When you ask about WhatsApps, the focus is on the Gaza border communities where October 7th happened rather than everyone in this country. But in order to get someone's WhatsApp, you need to get their permission to export their media, and you also need to get the permissions of all the other people on the chain. And so, it's very painstaking work. For now, in our agreement with Memorial 7/10, they want to give us the material, but they want us to block out all names at this point. And we've agreed that we're going to revisit this conversation in a year, and it might be too soon. We might have to do this in three years.

But we're all aware that we're moving through stages of grief, and people are going to change. And so, the library, as Yaniv mentioned, has a lot of experience about being agile, but this is an extra level of agility that we are developing.

I wanted to just add one more aspect of this. And that is when we talk about what our role is, the National Library of Israel, in addition to collecting and working with partners and guiding and offering guidelines, as Yaniv mentioned, we have taken on the role of trying to guide this whole field to creating as much as possible one archive. Whether it's one archive where digital copies sit in the National Library, or it'll be interoperable so that you search from our platform and you get to other corporal. And we're doing that in order to facilitate research 20 years, 50 years out, because a lot of these efforts are going to disappear. So, we created a consortium of the major organizations and collection efforts. And now we're working in groups, working groups to resolve some of the basic issues in order to create this unified path. One of them is metadata, is the cataloging, so that the cataloging can talk to each other and can be basically the same or simply with overlapping cataloging.

And the second is ethics. One of the projects that we are doing right now is to write a basic ethical code for October 7th documentation that takes on some of the issues that Yaniv mentioned and also issues around how do we present this material to the public? How do we provide enough disclaimers so that a high school student or younger who goes onto our website doesn't find herself face to face with horrifying images. So, there's ethics between the documenter and the documentee, and there's ethics between the archive and the public.

When you write this ethical code, I'll come back to Yaniv in a minute, when you write this ethical code, are you bringing in ethicists from other institutions who've dealt with this thing in the past?

RU: Sure. The basic work is being done by two oral testimony collections experts in the field. We work very closely with this phenomenal group of six oral collection experts who built something called the Joint Forum for Leaders of Collection Initiative.

What are their nationalities? Just out of curiosity. What are their nationalities?

Right now, they're all Israelis. But we are in touch with oral history experts from other places around the world because there are others, we can learn. I was just listening to a podcast this morning about this 89-year-old expert who continues to work on oral history collection around World War I and World War II in Europe. So, there's a tremendous amount to learn from other experts.

But as you mentioned from the very beginning, this project, this work is unprecedented, both in terms of the scale and also the fact that we started collecting two days after, and there were others who started collecting that day. Whereas in other pogroms or other catastrophic events in history, often the bulk of the testimony collection happens significantly after the event.

Like Bialik going back to Kishinev. When he goes back, we have these notebooks, which interestingly enough, I didn't know this, he never opened them again in his life. He went to Kishinev…

YL-K: But even the Holocaust. The Holocaust, most of the testimonies are much later, much, much later, not from the time of the Holocaust itself.

Both because of technological reasons and war and all of that stuff. So, Yaniv I cut you off before. So, you were going to add something, and then I want to hear something about the technological challenges here.

YL-K: So, I wanted to add something to what Raquel said. I wouldn't call it one archive. I would call it one story, and I'll explain. Because I think our goal is to take all these initiatives and all these pieces of information and connect them together because we want to create one story of what happened. We want, in a way, a 360 dimension of what happened. It's a combination. That will lead me also to the technology that we'll have to be involved. But we want to take a video of a place of what happened from that day, but then a testimony that talks about the same place and connect them together. Because this is the initiative of collecting videos from the day, but this is an initiative of having oral history of people talking what happened, and then maybe bringing a WhatsApp conversation of what happened in that building. But then we have also a team, not our team, but a team by the Heritage Ministry that is going and documenting the place, 3D, of all the buildings. So, being able to see the place, hear or read the WhatsApp, and then hear the testimonies, and that will allow us connecting all these different initiatives.

And at the end, when we talk about accessibility or how do we provide access to this material, I think that we want to tell the story of what happened. And I think that by connecting all these initiatives, and this is why having standards, metadata standards, and things like that, that every initiative works and follows the same guidelines, and the same standards will allow us in the future to make it easier to connect the things.

When you talk about technology, we want to harness technology to help us doing that. Assuming that we're talking about millions of pieces of materials, and we want to connect, we see three axes that are connecting the materials one to another. One axis is the people, different people, different families that have been there. They moved away, they were murdered, they were victimized. That's one axis. Then we're talking about another axis, which is the place. You have people from the Nova Party that ran away to Be’eri. There's an issue of what happened in a specific place and stories connect and disconnect and connect again because they might meet again in Eilat, where they were evacuated. And we want to tell that story. And again, the story doesn't end on the 7th October. It continues onwards. And the third axis is time. So, we're talking people, places, and time because they met here and here and again here over a timeline. So, we want to extract all that information from the different materials that we have. And beyond the challenge of all the new materials that we are handling here at the library, we want to use AI tools…

I was just going to ask about AI. I was literally just going to ask.

YL-K: So again, we mentioned the Chamal HaEzrahi effort of identifying people. So, face recognition in videos, so they can quickly know what happened to each person. But we want to use things like face recognition, things like identity management to connect with speech to text. So, if someone does an oral history and talks about what happened, we'll convert it to text, and then we'll take out the text the name, the time that he's talking about. And that will enable us to create a story out of that oral history using AI tools. We're working with different technological companies in Israel to help us to think how we can extract that information and make that accessible to do a better storytelling.

Well, it's unbelievable. So, there's obviously an infinite amount to talk about here. But for the listener who is probably saying to herself or himself, when do I get to mind this? Some of it we've already heard, they'd have to actually come to the library. We're sitting in the library, and I would heartily encourage them to come to the library, which is... no, but I'm serious because in this era, which is such a heartbreaking, soul-shattering period of Jewish history on so many levels. I have it every time I walk into this building. There are hardly any seats left in the reading room. I mean, it's packed with people. And it's just such a wonderful thing for the Jewish soul to see the new library just exploding with people. But they're saying to themselves, okay, how do I get this? Some of them will have to come to the building because of security reasons and privacy. We'll have to access here. But let's say they're sitting in Melbourne or they're sitting in Chicago, they're sitting in London, and they want to start seeing what you've collected. When are they going to be able to start seeing some of this? What would they do to go see it?

YL-K: It's never going to be one day…

Well, obviously.

YL-K: It's a process.

Is anything available now?

YL-K: We have some things available, but a very small amount at the moment. Our focus now is collecting. I believe my goal is that in probably four to six months, we'll start opening materials and making them accessible. And as we move forward, more and more materials will be accessible on the different levels that was that we discussed before.

And that'll be off of the website of the library?

YL-K: Yes. But we'll also cooperate with different institutions and different organizations that will also want to make the materials accessible. So, as you mentioned, we are the repository, and we'll make it accessible from our repository. But the same way we're cooperating now, we want to cooperate in the future also with other institutions that might want to also make the material available.

Wow. Look, it’s one of the things that I think about a lot of us as Israelis have experienced is that in the aftermath of this, it just feels good for the soul to be doing something proactive as opposed to reactive. I was just mentioning to Raquel before that I was just at a meeting a few days ago, not in Israel. But a group of people that are getting together to try to see if a constitution could be written for this country. I don't know if anything will come of it or something won't come of it, but just to sit around with people of all different backgrounds who care enough to say, okay, we're going to talk about the possibility of doing this, even if nothing comes of it. Just being proactive about something felt really great.

And for you to be saying to the Jewish people, as much as this is a horror, there is actually an opportunity here to contribute, to contribute to Jewish memory preservation, to Jewish memory making, to greater Jewish understanding. It must feel very satisfying, I would imagine, to be in your place, although it's terribly sad and horrifying material, to be, again, not just reacting to it, but to be playing a critical role in how the Jewish people is going to remember this has to be very satisfying, I would imagine, on a certain level.

RU: The work is very, very meaningful, and especially we say to ourselves, this is what the library is for. The library is for capturing, preserving, and making accessible as much as possible the history of this country, the history of our people. I'm very clear that October 7th is entering the annals of Jewish history forever. I think about on Tisha B'av, we read these poems, keynotes about the crusades. It's very clear that in 100 years, Jews will say kinot about October 7th. And so that makes our work very, very meaningful.

I would also add that my hope is that if we do our work well and the material is collected broadly and preserved, and everyone knows that the historical record is safe, then it might create space in our collective consciousness to heal and to start thinking about how do we repair? How do we repair the society? How do we repair our broken souls going forward? And so, there's a little bit of a therapeutic role that I think we're playing, again, if we do our work well. And that's on us. That's our responsibility. And that's what we can contribute to society right now.

That's a beautiful way to wrap this up. The repairing of souls is the work that we all have to be involved in, no matter what we do in life, whether we're individual citizens or we're national leaders or anything in the middle, we need to heal and we need to repair. There's a tremendous amount to repair, as I'm sure everybody listening knows. A lot of people have suggested, I think it was originally Ari Shavit, but I'm not sure, but people have suggested calling this Milhemet Atzmaut HaShnia, I don't think that's what's going to happen, but we don't have a name for this war yet. But some people have suggested calling it the Second War of Independence because it is in a lot of ways about rebuilding and starting over in some ways and thinking about what this place is going to be in the future. And what this place is going to be, but more importantly, even at this moment, how people are going to think about what this place was, is, and will become is going to be influenced in an enormous way by the work that you and your colleagues are doing.

So, for giving all of our listeners around the world an opportunity to hear what's happening in this brand new building, in brand new ways with a tragically brand new event, I think is a really important insight to one of the many dimensions of what's going on in Israel. To both of you, Raquel and Yaniv, thank you very much for your time. And when it goes live and it goes public, we have to get together again and talk to people about how they can actually begin to access the fruits of the labor that you and your colleagues are making. So, thank you very much once again.

RU and YL-K: Thank you. Thank you.

Impossible Takes Longer is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble and at other booksellers.

Music credits: Medieval poem by Rabbi Shlomo Ibn Gvirol. Melody and performance by Shaked Jehuda and Eyal Gesundheit. Production by Eyal Gesundheit. To view a video of their performance, see this YouTube:

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Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside is for people who want to understand Israel with nuance, who believe that Israel is neither hopelessly flawed and illegitimate, nor beyond critique. If thoughtful analysis of Israel and its people interests you, welcome!