Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis
The World's Largest Collection of Herzl Memorabilia
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The World's Largest Collection of Herzl Memorabilia

And a unique opportunity to hear David Matlow, the collector, teach us about eight of the items in the 6,000 item collection
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My wife and I have close friends in Toronto, so (pre-Covid), a combination of Shalem College work and visits to friends used to get me to Canada pretty regularly. And over the years, I’d come to know David Matlow, a respected attorney at Goodmans LLP, who, I was told, owed the world’s largest collection of Herzl memorabilia.

But somehow, I’d never gotten around to seeing the collection. Until one Shabbat after, while taking a talk with another friend named David, David said to me, “that’s Matlow’s house. Do you want to peek at the collection?”

I did, and we did, but I was thoroughly unprepared for what I was about to encounter. I imagined that I would see some “cool stuff,” and I did, of course. But I was not expecting to be as deeply moved as I was … to hold Herzl’s ticket to an early Zionist Congress, a postcard with that famous photo of him in Basel gazing out-only this postcard was signed by Herzl, Nordau and others; to hold Max Nordau’s diary, complete with a lock of Nordau’s daughter’s hair that Nordau had saved. The actual invitation to the ceremony in Tel Aviv on May 14 1948 at which Israel’s independence would be declared. And more than you can imagine.

Today, Israel from the Inside is affording you a brief “private tour” of David Matlow’s one-of-a-kind Zionist museum. Our tour guide is David Matlow himself. David recently created a book called “75 Treasures: Celebrating Israel at Seventy-Five”, which he has generously made available for free download here. Through these 75 artifacts, David tells the story of Israel creation and the Jewish people’s rebirth.


David Matlow is a corporate and private equity partner at Goodmans LLP in Toronto and past Chair of the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto.  He was co-chair of Toronto's 2015 Campaign for the United Jewish Appeal and is a member of the board of the Ontario Jewish Archives and the iCenter for Israel Education. He owns the world's largest private collection of Theodor Herzl memorabilia (over 6,000 items).


Today’s posting, which is part podcast, part column (we’ve provided a machine-generated transcript of our conversation for those who prefer to read), part museum tour (images of the eight items are presented below), is being available to all readers of Israel from the Inside.

Our next episode with David, on the “Haggadah” the IDF produced for the celebration of Yom Ha-Atzma’ut, will be accessible to paid subscribers.

The audio link at the very top of this page will take you to a recording of our conversation.


If you share our desire to forge a community of people engaged in reasoned discussion and respectful disagreement when it comes to Israel, please subscribe today.


We're doing something a little bit unusual today on Israel from the inside. Maybe we should actually call it Israel from the outside, sort of. I have a friend who is an attorney in Toronto named David Matlow, who, in addition to being an exceptionally talented attorney, happens to be an avid Zionist and the proprietor of the world's largest collection of Herzl memorabilia. So, David, in a second, you'll tell us how this all came to be, but I will just share with our listeners that what we're going to do today is we're going to actually hear a little bit about how you got to be into the collecting. But more importantly, we're going to look at a number of different items and our listeners will be able to see actually on the podcast itself, the items that we're talking about, and you'll explain their importance and all of that. I'll just say that I had heard you had this collection for a long time, and we have lots of mutual friends in Toronto, so I would get Toronto fairly frequently and I'd always heard, “you should go up by David Matlow’s house. He's got this amazing collection”. And I said to myself, yeah, I really should, but life gets busy. And then one day, it was a Shabbat afternoon, I still recall very vividly I was taking a walk with a mutual friend of ours, also named David, coincidentally, and he said, “Oh, that's Matlow’s house”. And I said, “Oh my God, let's go see the collection”. We knocked on the door and you were home. And I will say, David, it was one of the most moving moments that I can recall. I got goosebumps looking at it. I was also filled with admiration that your wife let you turn your house into a museum, but that's a separate issue. But I have to say, I was expecting to be very interested, but I wasn't expecting to be so unbelievably moved.

And you've put out a book of 75 treasures from the collection, which we're actually attaching a link to with this podcast. So, anybody who's interested can go to the link, download the whole book, and see at least 75 of the items. But they're really extraordinary. And what you have accomplished in this collection, to me, is beyond moving. And so therefore, even though we're very rigid, typically about Israel from the Inside, has to be from the inside, we're getting under that gate a little bit, first of all, because you and I are having this conversation in my office in Jerusalem, so we actually are inside Israel. But this is also just one of those unbelievable exceptional cases where something that resides in the diaspora, though maybe eventually it'll reside in Israel, I don't know…. we'll find out more about it. So, David, first of all, thanks for the time I know you're very busy when you're here. Tell us all a little bit about how a Toronto attorney ends up with the world's largest collection of Herzl memorabilia.

Well, first, Danny, thank you for having me here in your office in Jerusalem. We are on the inside and it's lovely to be here. I was a weird child. Let me start with that. I had a fascination with Herzl from the time I was a child. I went to the United Synagogue Day school. It's the Solomon Schechter School in Toronto and in grade seven, together with a friend, we wrote a play about Herzl and Zionism that was performed for the community. I went to Camp Ramah and had Herzl day and Herzlograms for Shabbat. But on the serious side, my grandparents moved. They were from Belarus, lived in Toronto, and their dream was to live in the state of Israel. And so, when it was created in 1948, they up and moved and arrived in 1955 in Ramat Gan. And we used to go there in the summertime in the 60s as a kid. So, I was two and three and five years old, and in their home, there was a portrait of Herzl. And when my grandmother passed away in 1991, I asked for that as my inheritance. And so that was item one in my collection. I since have 6,000 more.

And when I opened that up, it was in a very prominent place in their home in a lovely frame. But I had to open up the frame because of customs and bringing it into Canada. I learned that it was a free giveaway in the Haaretz newspaper in 1960 on the occasion of Herzl's 100th birthday. But Herzl was so important to my grandparents that they took this free cardboard picture and framed it and hung it as if it was a portrait of the royal family in their house. And so, my connection with Herzl goes back both, as I said, as an unusual and weird child, but also, it's a fascination with how the state of Israel came to be. Herzl himself, his life story and what he created is really the vehicle through which we can learn about what Herzl did and the story that is continuing to unfold.

Okay, that's really, really interesting. You have 6,000 items. We know how you got the first one and we're not going to hear how you got all 5,990 other ones. But how do you go about getting this stuff now? Where is this stuff these days? Where does this stuff pop up? I guess there must be people out there who know about the work that you do and say, “Oh, I got a Herzl thing. I should probably contact David Matlow”. Maybe. I don't know. But how do you find the new stuff?

Yeah, so the new stuff is old stuff, even though new stuff is still being made. And I can see walking around, Herzl appears on post…

I mean, how do you find the old ticket from the Zionist Congress that pops up somewhere or stuff that's 100 years old but is new to your collection. How does it get to you?

So, there are many auctions of Judaica items. It started with stamp auctions, which used to have a section of Zionist memorabilia. I'm a stamp collector, and we'll get to that in a second, I believe. But also, I've done a number of exhibits of my collection in Toronto. I just completed one in Los Angeles. Another one will be in Chicago over the in the fall, over the high holidays. So, I'm pretty prominent, pretty out there as a Herzl collector. And I'm 62 years old, so I'm not young. But in the world of Herzl collecting, I am extremely young. And so, when there are collectors who are putting their affairs in order, they reach out to me, and I purchase them. So, my collection is an amalgamation of items that I bought one at a time, and then 1000 at a time. And every now and again, at least once a month, somebody drops something off in my mailbox. They're cleaning up their house. They're cleaning up their grandparents’ house. They find a Herzl item. So, in Toronto, the algorithm for Google is if you Google Herzl, my picture comes up. And so, people know to drop things off. My collection comes one piece at a time and then thousands at a time.

There are things that we're not going to see today that are just I still remember just being chilled by them. That the admission ticket to the first or second Zionist Congress. Nordau's diary with a lock of his daughter's hair. Am I remembering that correctly?

That’s correct. Yes.

I mean, a lock of Nordau's daughter's hair. I mean, first of all, how sweet is that, that a father would have a lock of his kid's hair, whether he's Nordau or anybody else? And then you were able to get the diary and the hair was still there. There's just unbelievable stuff. And we're going to get right to it and look at a few items and ask you to tell us about them. Three of the items that are in your collection actually appear in my new book, Impossible Takes Longer, and I will therefore publicly thank you for the right to publish them. And I think in most cases, you actually did either the scanning or the photography of them. So, thank you for that.


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So, we're going to start with an item that actually is in the book and I believe is also in your 75 treasures, which is an invitation. Tell us a little bit about this invitation, what it says, what's unique about it, what's important about it, and so forth.

So, we're starting with one of the jewels in my collection, which is the invitation to the ceremony at which David Ben-Gurion declared the State of Israel into existence. And this is the most momentous event for the Jewish people in 2,000 years. And the invitation is a mimeographed folded piece of paper, nothing fancy. But the importance of it was not in the lithography or the color of the invitation. It was in the content. So, it was an invitation by the Minhelet HaAm, which it was a provisional council of the yishuv, the Jewish inhabitants. It was made up of 37 people who were ultimately all the signatories of the Declaration of Independence. Independence Day was May 14, 1948. So, this was dated May 13.

So, the invitation went out, just so everybody gets it. The invitation went out the day before the event.

That's correct.

Tell us why.

Well, because there was great well, there was a lot of debate as to whether and when the State of Israel would be created. The British mandate was to end on the 15th. It was a final shot by the British to end the mandate on Shabbat. And so, the state couldn't be created on a Saturday. So, before sundown on the Friday, David Ben-Gurion decided to declare the state into existence because the British were leaving the next day. There's a whole story about whether to declare it the vote that took place by the Executive Cabinet, the pressure by the United States to declare, not to declare. But David Ben-Gurion, of course, decided we may never get another chance. We have to do it now. So, it was on the Thursday before the Friday that the invitation went out to about 200 people. So, this is one of 200 or so. It was delivered by a bicycle courier. And essentially, it's an invitation to the moshav haachrazat haatzmaut, to the meeting for the Declaration of Independence of the State. It was at the museum in Tel Aviv

Which is now Independence Hall.

Correct. Being renovated to give greater luster to the importance of the event that took place there. And it was at 4:00 because it had to take place before Shabbat. And you were asked to be in your seats by 3:30 and to keep this a secret.

Right. So, let's just for people that are looking at the actual image, the middle two-line paragraph says “anu mvakshim lishmor bsod et tochen hahazmana ve’et moed kinus hamoitza”. We ask you to keep secret the content of this invitation and the time of the gathering of this assembly. Why?

Because there was concern that the Arabs, who were neighbors and internally who were already trying to stop the state before it came into existence.

Right, the War of Independence, everybody should understand, is already underway. It doesn't start when Israel is declared. It starts, really with a November 29 vote.

So, there was concern that if the enemies knew that this was going to happen, they would try and interrupt it. And one of the reasons that the ceremony itself took place at the Tel Aviv Museum downstairs because it was a fortified area. So, they were worried that the ceremony would be interrupted by bombing from the air by the Egyptians.

And the Egyptians did bomb Tel Aviv during the War of Independence. So, it wasn't a completely far-fetched idea.

And what's interesting is it says the invitation is personal. So, you could not put this up on the equivalent of stub hub of 1948, whatever that was. And please wear dark, festive clothing. So, this was designed… this ceremony was designed, we are familiar with the picture of David Ben-Gurion reading the Declaration of Independence under a portrait of Herzl with two long Israeli flags. This was a ceremony that was designed by a gentleman named Otto Valish who was a graphic artist and a stamp designer. And we'll talk about one of his stamps in a moment. And interestingly, if you've been to meetings and I'm sure, Danny, you've been to many, many in Israel, there's always food, drink, fruit, grapes on the table. And David Ben-Gurion said, this is important. This picture is going to last forever. No food, no drink on the table. David Ben-Gurion was very mindful of what image this ceremony would give to the world, serious, important business, which it was the most important event for the Jewish people in 2000 years. And I'm proud to own one of the invitations.

No, it's really amazing. By the way, I point out in the book something that I learned from Martin Kramer, a colleague of mine at Shalem College, that we all see that same video of the Ben-Gurion saying “anu maharizim bazot”, we hereby declare, but we don't see the video of the whole thing. And I never asked myself why. But Martin asks the question, “why?” And what he explains is that there was actually only one copy. There wasn't enough film to film the whole thing because they decided just a couple of days before to film it. And the guy that had the movie camera in Tel Aviv at that point only had four minutes of film. But even those four minutes to go back to your point about how this was really for international consumption, not for internal consumption, that film was cut up and it was sent to various embassies around the world to make the point that this is what we're doing. So, we're left with a little piece that we hear all the time because you couldn't duplicate film back then so easily and we were a very short supply. So as your point about there being no food, no water, no drink, even though you're right there's, I don't think ever an Israeli meeting that does not have soda bottles, water bottles and grapes on the table. This notion that it was for international consumption is something to think about when you see how bare that the table is there. Super interesting and super important. And you pointed out that at the bottom left-hand corner it says “tilboshet” - dress code. “bigdei chag kehim” - dark holiday clothing. That's actually fascinating, too. First of all, it's Palestine of the 1940s. You have to tell people, basically, you can't come in shorts and T shirts from working in the fields. Israel is still a relatively informal country, relatively speaking, but then certainly if you wanted people to show up dressed nicely, you had to tell them. And you and I both know, by the way, that Herzl sent Nordau home from the First Zionist Congress, because Nordau showed up not in coat and tails the way that he was supposed to, and Herzl sent them back to the hotel and said, get dressed to come back when you look like a mensch. So, there's this whole history of people at the helm of these events wondering how it's going to appear to the outside world. Herzl was also “why do we care what people are wearing?” Because he was trying to say to Europe, this is a real movement. This isn't a bunch of a couple hundred Jews in a place in Basel. This is the beginning of something important.

It's as my mother used to say to me, “if you want to be taken seriously, dress seriously.”

Right. But also notice by the way, they didn't say wear suit and tie. What they said is wear festive holiday clothing. Because in the Jewish community, everybody knew what that was. You didn't have to sort of say, now, today you get sort of spring casual, festive casual, and I always find myself Googling it like, what am I actually supposed to wear to this wedding? I never have any idea. But back then, “bigdei chag, kehim,” dark festival clothing, that was the equivalent of suit and tie, but a very Jewish way of saying it. And as you point out, also, it says at the bottom, on the right-hand side, it's a personal invitation, can't be transferred. No StubHub back then. So, we're going to go back to the second item that our listeners and viewers can see on the podcast itself. And we're looking at a stamp. Tell us about the stamp, what's unusual about it, what's meaningful about it, and so forth.

So, the stamp gives you an indication of all the things that needed to happen to bring this country into existence. Think of a country that did not exist at 03:59 P.M. on May 14, 1948, and at 4:00 P.M., it did. So, what does a country have? Has a national bank. It has police force, army.

A flag.

A flag and coins and stamps and everything. And so, in the lead up to the proclamation of the state, the provincial council started to think about the postal system. It was previously administered by the British under the British Mandate. And by April of 1948, the British said, we're leaving. We can't be responsible for mail that's being mailed after a certain date. I think it was April 15. Post offices are closed, we're done, we're out of here. So, there was an interim period before May 14. So, in fact, the JNF stamps were used as postage stamps. That's elsewhere in the book. But this particular stamp is part of the first stamps issued by the State of Israel, and it's the first time in history that stamps were printed for a country before the name of the country was known. The name of the country was not known until David Ben-Gurion read it in the Declaration of Independence.

Right, there was some debate about what the country should be called. People wanted to call it Zion, people wanted to call it Judea, Israel. There was a whole array of reasons that some people wanted to call it different things. We won't get into that. But you're right. Everybody knew there was a country coming, but not everybody knew what its name would be. So, what does it say at the top of the stamp?

So, there was a conundrum, what do we put? Whose stamp is it? So, somebody came up with the idea to call it “Doar Ivri” or Hebrew post. And so, the first nine stamps are the Doar Ivri stamps. By the time the next stamp came along was after the state was created. So, these had to be printed before the state was created because they went on sale in the post offices on Sunday, May 16. The declaration on the Friday, it's Shabbat on Saturday. By Sunday, the post offices were in operation selling these Doar Ivri stamps. But there's a story behind these, because it was illegal under the British mandatory law to overtly prepare for the day after independence. So, these stamps were created in secret. So, there was no printing press for stamps within the Jewish community of Palestine at the time. So, they had to borrow a press from the Haaretz newspaper. They had to move it in secret to Sarona, which is the area in Tel Aviv, now a lovely shopping area, a former British military base. And in order to do trials to see if it was working, they couldn't print trials of the stamp. So, they printed cigarette packages, Broadway brand cigarettes was the testing for these stamps. And for a stamp collector, these stamps create a field aid first, because they're so unique and so historically important. But also, where do you get the machine that puts the little holes in the stamps? And there was like millions of these stamps were printed. It's a real country that starts with mail on the Sunday. So, there's whether it's eight dots to an inch or nine or eight and a half, and there's all kinds of combinations because it was done in a great scramble. This stamp was designed by Otto Valish, the same gentleman who designed the Declaration of Independence ceremony. And it has ancient Judea coins from the time of the revolt, the Judean revolt against the Romans from 66 to 70 CE. And this was on purpose to draw a connection between the ancient Jewish civilization that lived here and its resurrection and its modern iteration in the state of Israel. Now, people couldn't read paleo Hebrew on the coin, so they didn't know what it said. And so, at the bottom row of each stamp is a blank white area where there was an explanation of the stamp. So, this one says “shekel kesef”, a silver coin from the second year of the revolt. And what it says on it, “Jerusalem the Holy”. And so, this was the beginning for people who are stamp collectors, one talks about tabs, mint with tabs. The tab is the bottom row to give additional explanation to the stamp started with this very first stamp, the Doar Ivris in 1948.

Right, and it’s called the mered rishon or the first rebellion back in Bar Kokhba‘s day. But people who were then alive would also hear the residents that Begin had declared the “mered”, the revolt against the British. So, this was a way of saying that what we've done to the British, we've done in this land before, and this was a continuation of Jewish settlement in Palestine. It wasn't really the creation of the Jewish state, but it was in many ways the recreation of the Jewish state. I'm just curious, do you know where they got the machine to make the little holes?

I have no idea. It's a perforator. So, for coupons, now our stamps are adhesive, so you don't have to do that. So, there must have been things in 1948, coupon books or whatever movie tickets, whatever, lottery tickets.

We don't know where they got the machine.

Correct.

Okay.

And I mentioned previously that the ceremony was a secret. The Declaration of Independence ceremony was a secret. Of course, if you see pictures, you know that you would see hundreds or thousands of people in front of Independence Hall, so they knew it was coming. But inconsistent with my statement that it was a secret, on that Thursday, May the 13th, there was an announcement that these stamps will go on sale starting on Sunday. It was the first tangible evidence for the people living in Palestine at the time that the state was about to be declared.

So, they were not allowed to say when the ceremony would be held. But it was openly acknowledged that on Sunday there was going to be a Jewish state.

That's correct.

Fascinating.

And stamps would be available for sale.

Okay, we go on to Hayim Nahman Bialik, who adorns this next piece. It's an old ten lira Israeli bill. Tell us about this particular piece. Tell us about the people who are on Israeli currency to this very day. There's a whole story here.

So, this is a bill from 1970, and the set of bills from the 60s and 70s had characters, people, and it gives an indication of who was important at the time. So, Hayim Nahman Bialik, on the ten lira note, the lira preceded the Shekel, which preceded the New Israeli Shekel. So, one lira is 110 thousandth of a new Israel Shekel, I believe. The five-lira note was Albert Einstein. The 50-lira note was Chaim Weizmann, and my favorite, the 100-lira note was Herzl. And Hayim Nahman Bialik was the national poet of the Jewish people from Ukraine. And you describe him beautifully in your book. Not that I'm giving a plug for your book…

Feel free, that’s fine.

But he wrote a poem called “City of Slaughter”. He was sent by an organization to Kishinev, after the Kishinev pogrom of 1903 to report on it to tell people what was happening. And he wrote this poem “City of Slaughter”, which was both descriptive of how devastating and terrible it was, and also critical of the Jewish residents of Kishinev for being passive and not fighting back. And so, this was the impetus, and I learned this in your book for the various defense groups as a result of that kind of criticism that the Jewish people should not just be passive victims but are able to fight back. That was the antecedent to the Haganah paramilitary organization and the Israel Defense Forces. So, this gentleman was able to articulate in other poems, at works and essays, the dream of the Jewish homeland. He came to live here in 1925. He died in 1934, but he was at the opening of the Hebrew University. He gave the inaugural address at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1925. And so, it's quite a testament to the state of Israel that a poet and an author would have the privilege of being on one of Israel's early banknotes.

Zionism always was a very literary revolution, and poets and authors still to this day, I mean, people who are onlookers to Israel, most people know who Amos Oz is, and many people know who David Grossman is. They may not, by the way, be able to mention or think of the name of a prominent Canadian author or a prominent American author, but they know Amos Oz's name, he passed away a few years ago. They named David Grossman's name. People who know a little bit more about Zionist history know about the poetus Rachel and so forth. So, these authors played a really, really important role in Zionist movement, and their prominence on these bank notes is testimony to that. I think it's actually really interesting that Einstein got one because he was a kind of an edgy character when it came to Zionism. He was offered the presidency of Hebrew University, which he probably quite wisely declined because it was a very difficult job back in the day. But he was not a huge fan of the idea of a Jewish state until it was declared. And then he wrote in his diary, he said, well, it's done. Now we got to defend it. I wouldn't have done it, but now we've created it, we have to defend it. So, it's just interesting that his stature was so unbelievable in the Jewish world and he did become a spokesperson for Israel and Zionism at a certain point, but not like Bialik. I mean, Bialik really was unique. And we have another person who we could put into that same category of poets and writers and so forth. Tell us about this guy on the 200 New Shekel bill, which is, of course, a modern currency.

Right. I got these from the bank machine, the kaspomat, the ATM just this morning. So, this is Natan Alterman. He was an editor; he was a columnist for newspapers in Israel or Land of Israel, Palestine in the 1940s. The reason he's included in the book is because of being the author for one of the most famous poems repeated annually many times on Israel's Remembrance Day, which is the day before Israel's Independence Day. And it's called “Magash Hakesef”. The Silver Platter. And there's a backstory to this. The poem was first published on December 19, 1947. So that's three weeks after the UN partition resolution of November 29, 1947. And when the vote took place, there was great excitement and parties and celebrations and Alterman was at some swanky bar, and he overheard two military officers talking to each other saying, this is going to cost at least 10,000 lives. And 6,000 Jewish residents of the state of Israel died in the war of Independence. So, 1% of the population, but Natan Alterman, was frightened and and shocked by this and he was moved to write this poem. So, The Silver Platter was also a response to a comment that Chaim Weizmann made at a UJ fundraiser in Atlantic City sometime in December, where Chaim Weizmann said, “the Jewish state will not be delivered to us on a silver platter.” Which I think he meant that we need funds to help create and defend the State of Israel. And Natan Alterman, in his poem The Silver Platter, is a description of the day when the fighting stopped in the war of Independence. There was a national ceremony. It's all, allegorical but there's a national ceremony. And from the back, two characters, a young man and a young woman clearly coming from battle with grime on their shoes, fatigued, dirty. And everyone stops the ceremony and looks at them and says, “who are you?” And they say, “we are the silver platter upon which the State of Israel was delivered”. So, that talks about the sacrifice of the soldiers, who their sacrifice created, defends, and sustains the state of Israel. And so, he's really saying, these are the jewels, these are the dear ones in our society. This is the silver platter. The cherished people, their sacrifice has created this state.

Natan Alterman, many people say, really became the poet laureate of first Zionism and then Israel when Bialik died in 1934. Bialik went to Vienna in ‘34 for surgery. The surgery was not successful, and he died there. Alterman, was at that point, I think, about 24 years old or so forth, but already getting to be known. And he really assumes, he fills Bialik's shoes in a certain way. And throughout the book, by the way, I mentioned other poems by Alterman. One is called “Al Zot”. For This. He writes a very painful poem about a young Hebrew, again, go back to that stamp… A guy that takes out a gun, sees some Arabs and says, oh, I'll try the gun. And then he doesn't say what happens, but he says the jeep drives away and there's blood on the wall. There's an implication there. Now, did he see something? Had he heard something? Was he worried about the potential abuse of Jewish power? We don't know. But what we do know is that David Ben-Gurion, who's then the prime minister and doing his very best to hold this country together, writes Alterman a note, not a scathing note, but actually requesting permission to reproduce the poem so that every Israeli soldier would have that poem in his or her pocket during the war. It's a statement about a sense of consciousness, or conscience early on in Israeli military life. Obviously, every military has a checkered past, and Israel's does, unfortunately, as well. But Alterman is a larger-than-life figure. He had a column called “hator hashvii” or the 7th column, which appeared throughout his life, really, until he dies in 1970. And at that point, I would say the mantle probably goes not to a poet but to a novelist. It's probably Amos Oz at that point who picks it up and carries the torch forward. But again, the appearance of all these people on these notes, as you point out, says so much about this whole project called Zionism and so forth. We're going to go to a different kind of a document. Tell us what we're looking at here.

So, this is a debenture certificate for the Anglo Palestine Company Limited. So, this is dear to me because the Anglo Palestine Company was a subsidiary of something called the Jewish Colonial Trust, which was the vision of Theodor Herzl, he talked about at the Second Zionist Congress in 1898 and created under the laws of England in 1899. Herzl understood that a country is not just an idea. It needs tangible things to make it happen. Like the stamps we talked about and coins and everything. Army, of course. And so that the state that he envisioned would require a fiscal system. So, he created this bank that raised money from Jews all around the world. My great grandparents who lived in Belarus, bought shares. People bought it one share at a time, one shilling at a time, whatever the local currency was. This certificate represents the funds that were raised to buy the land that became the city of Tel Aviv. And this was the Anglo Palestine Company Limited, which was a bank, got a loan from the Jewish National Fund created these debentures which the JNF was able to kind of syndicate and distribute and this money bought the land that became Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv was a strip of sand outside of Jaffa and was created in 1909. Tel Aviv, just another plug for Herzl, is named after Herzl’s book, Altneuland because of the newness of the spring, which is Aviv and Tel being an archaeological site, many layers, which is old. So, this is just reflective of all the work, all the structuring and the land was purchased. I once did a presentation talking about this very certificate and the Jewish National Fund and buying land in Palestine and someone said, “what do you mean buying land? I thought the Jews just came and took it.” And so, there's huge misunderstanding and so just having shares, debenture certificates for loans that were used to buy the land that became Tel Aviv is quite meaningful. We mentioned before the stamps, the first postage stamps… This Anglo Palestine company became the Anglo Palestine Bank was the initial issuer of the currency of the State of Israel until the bank of Israel was created in 1952. So, the very first bank notes issued by the State of Israel are from the Anglo Palestine Bank which was just a different name for this company. And in fact, the first currency in the State of Israel were Palestine pounds because these banknotes were printed like the stamps before the name of the country was known. So only in the early 50s did those become Palestine Israeli pounds which we saw on the Bialik banknote.

The point that you made before, by the way, about the land having been purchased just can't be stressed enough. The first time that Israel gets land that it did not purchase is in the War of Independence when it's attacked and then when it doesn't lose, it captures what we would call today the middle of the Galilee, more or less. But until that point all the land that was part of the yishuv was purchased. Those pushkas that many of us remember from our own families or our grandparents’ families, the little blue and white JNF boxes that people had in their kitchen or on the windowsill and where they would put coins in, lots of families did it right before Shabbat. That was the money that actually went to buy this land. It's in itself an amazing story. I didn't realize that the Bank of Israel wasn't created till ‘52. Do you know why? Why did it take four years to create the National Bank?

There was lots to do at the time. It's my guess. I don't know in a granular way. But fighting the War of Independence, bringing in the people from the DP camps, bringing them all this, you know, you don't need me to tell you that…

There’s probably a story…there's got to be some story because they got around to doing a lot of things. Not fashioning a national bank. I never realized until right now that it was them done until 52. So, it's something for me to figure out and learn about down the road, which is always great about these things. Okay, let's move right along to the next document here. What is it?

This is a different kind of loan certificate for the B'nai B'rith Palestine House Building Funds. So, the B'nai B'rith is a fraternal organization, was created in the United States in New York in 1843 and then developed a number of branches in Palestine in the 1880s. And this organization was very important in creating kindergartens, building houses for immigrants through the late 18 hundreds and the early 19 hundreds. Created the first free public library which is the predecessor to the new National Library. The new grand fantastic building is going to be opening in October. And so, this house building fund the proceeds from this bought a 25,000 dunam area of land outside Jerusalem, which became by the Bayit VeGan…

Which is a very religious neighborhood inside Jerusalem, but a very pretty neighborhood also.

And translated to house and garden. It was a utopian vision of a community where people would have a house and their own garden, and it was a worker's community. So, one wouldn't if you were a worker from Europe who came to Palestine at the time, you wouldn't in your wildest dreams believe that you would have your own house and a garden. And so that was the nature of this utopian residential area, being created because this was all about… and Herzl envisioned it in Altneuland, that this was not just a place for Jews to live. Yes, it was that. But try and fashion a new society and bring your new ideas and innovations to create a better society than the one you left. It's Jewish and something else. So that's just a little an example of many there's hundreds of banks and institutions that invested in the creation of the infrastructure of what became Israel.

Right. It was an international project. I mean, one can talk a lot about the conflicted feelings that some people in the diaspora had even back then. But the state of Israel would not have come to be and would not have survived if it was not an international project of the Jewish people. Which is worth thinking about today because of all sorts of reasons. We're going to come quickly to our last two. They are both posters. Tell us something quickly about each of these posters.

So, this is actually the program for an event called “The Night of Stars”, which took place in Madison Square Gardens in New York in November of 1948. And “The Night of Stars” was a fundraiser for the United Palestine Appeal, the predecessor to the United Israel Appeal or the UJA or Combined Federation philanthropies in your various home communities and this was where the greatest stars of Hollywood and Broadway would come and create a fundraiser. It went on for hours and hours, if you can imagine. But I'm sure it was a fantastic show.

If you could have given online and skipped the ceremony back then, you probably would have.

Correct. But this had Morey Amsterdam, this particular show, who we would know from The Dick Van Dyke Show, Milton Burl, Red Buttons, Duke Ellington, Mickey Rooney went on and on that stars at the time were prepared to lend their time and their stature towards fundraising for the state of Israel. As you can imagine, the UJA campaign in 1948, which was a campaign for the destiny of the Jewish people, and this was not hyperbole, this was serious stuff. And so, this program is about the size of a LIFE magazine. So, it's a large format. And this is on the cover of the book. And I just love this image because it just says so much. This is a pioneer with a shovel and a gun over his shoulder. We're going to build the land. We're going to create it. But if we have to defend ourselves in order to do so, in order to be safe and secure, we're going to do so. And there's a quote from the book of Jeremiah “and Jacob shall return, and none shall make him afraid”. As you talk about in your book, this was about a project for Jewish safety and security, a new kind of Jew, a new future that we don't have to be afraid. This is three years after the Shoah, after the Holocaust. We don't have to quake in our boots anymore. We don't have to hide in attics and coverage. We don't have to worry about someone knocking at the door and taking us away. This was a whole new vision. And this image of this pioneer is why I put it on the cover of the book. I just love this picture.

It's very powerful. And I would just remind our listeners and viewers, again, if you see all those flags in the background, just Google the protests in Israel from these last few weeks, the flags in the background, it's almost exactly the same thing. And the issues are different, and the country is a very different place. But the love of the project is what has been consistent throughout. And of course, as you point out, 1948, this was a serious business because the Jewish people had come very close to the precipice. And this was part of that narrow window in human history when the world felt a certain amount of, I wouldn't necessarily say guilt, but a certain amount of responsibility. That window closed very quickly, and it slammed shut since then. If the UN were to vote today on the creation of a Jewish state, we don't even have to wonder what this story would be, but it's a very, very powerful image. Which brings us to the last one. As I mentioned before, the book has 75 images. We're linking to it so people can go and see all the 75 images. It's only 75 out of the 6,000. I guess the 6,000-image book will be a rather large PDF, but in any event, tell us about this last image.

So, this is Hagadat Hatzmaut. We read the Haggadah on Pesach, and this was an idea in the early 50s as to how to commemorate properly Independence Day. And it seemed like a good idea at the time, but in, I guess reflective of the tension about a secular state and religion and how it all fits together. This is an early example and there are many before and many since about that tension because this particular book, and it was official issue of the Israel Defense Forces, was to create a booklet modeled on the Passover Haggadah that you would sit down and use to commemorate Yom Haatzmaut. And it had the structure of a seder, four cups of wine, ten events that are being described and this particular copy, and there are very few of them left, it was about the role of the military in creating this miracle. The likelihood of the state of Israel winning the War of independence was pretty low when it was attacked by armies of five nations. But of course, there was no choice for the soldiers and the citizens of the state of Israel, so they had to win. There's no choice. It's a great motivator.

So, this Haggadah is filled with the heroics of the soldiers and instead of saying how God vanquished the Egyptians in the Passover story, it was how the army victorious… So, this was created, it was distributed, 10,000 copies were made and then it created quite a ruckus because members of the religious community were saying this is heresy, it doesn't mention God. How do you create a new holiday? How do you take the Haggadah and repurpose it? And so, David Ben-Gurion ordered them all to be destroyed. And luckily, of course, not everyone listened to the requirement to destroy. And I guess those that were still in warehouses were destroyed, but some leaked out and I have the privilege of having one of them. And so, this is the Haggadah of Independence, tells the story of Israel's independence, immigration and the British mandate and the War of Independence and the victory in the structure of a Passover seder.

Really fascinating. I mean, the traditional Haggadah doesn't mention Moses, one time in passing because it quotes a verse, but basically, by the way, try to tell the Passover story and not mention Moses. It's not an easy thing to do. But the traditional Haggadah doesn't mention Moses and the Israeli Yom Haatzmaut Haggadah doesn't mention God. And that tension between the two is actually a tension that we still see playing out in Israeli society today, people who see Israel as a fundamentally theological project and people who see Israel as a fundamentally human project. People who are open to a mixture, people who are not open to a mixture.

David, this is really, really fascinating. First of all, I learned from something that you said about each one of these images, even though I've seen them all before, hearing you talk about them, I've learned a lot. But what you've also shown us is that there's no such thing as just looking at these images. If you really study these images and you're guided through them by someone like yourself who really knows this history so deeply, what looks two dimensional becomes three dimensional, four dimensional, five dimensional. It becomes a living, pulsing story of a country, of a people, of a dream, which, of course, was the dream that Herzl himself created for all of us. And as you said earlier, it's not an accident that his face is over Ben-Gurion as Ben-Gurion declares the state, it's not an accident that your grandparents had that picture of Herzl in a frame. It's not an accident, actually, that here at Shalem College, we have an original oil painting of Herzl, from you. He is an extraordinarily transformative figure in Jewish history, and there's really nothing like your collection to bring him and the story that he's all about alive. So, thank you so much for taking the time to teach us. Thank you for making this book available to everybody who wants to click on the link. And I would love to have another conversation down the road about some of these items in greater detail, like the Yom Haatzmaut Haggadah, and others. Maybe we can do that someday too.

It would be my pleasure. It would be my honor. Thanks so much for having me.


Share Israel from the Inside with Daniel Gordis


Impossible Takes Longer is now 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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