What Did Barbra Streisand Write to Assi Dayan?

The archive of Assaf (Assi) Dayan, famed actor, poet, and son of General Moshe Dayan, was recently given to the National Library of Israel for safekeeping.

Assi Dayan

Following the death of Assaf (Assi) Dayan, just over three years ago, the iconic actor’s archive has been entrusted to the NLI for safekeeping and preservation and will soon be made accessible to the public.  From family photos to Hollywood rejection letters, Assi Dayan’s archive documents the life of an important member of the legendary Dayan family.

Moshe Dayan with his sons, Assi and Udi. Circa mid-1950s.

In a career that spanned over forty years, Dayan acted in over 50 movies and television series episodes, many of them considered to be among Israel’s most important cultural achievements.  His career included a part in John Huston’s “A Walk with Love and Death” (1969), in which he acted alongside Anjelica Huston, establishing himself as an international icon of the 1960s and 1970s.  Dayan also directed 16 films.

While the public is most familiar with the actor’s professional triumphs, Dayan also chose to preserve some of his failures.  After he auditioned for the role of Avigdor in Barbra Streisand’s “Yentl”, and Mandy Patinkin went on to get the part, Assi kept Barbra’s rejection letter for over thirty years.

“Casting a film is always a difficult task”, Barbra Streisand’s letter to Assi Dayan

Dear Assaf


Casting a film is always a difficult task, and “Yentl” was certainly no exception. The difficulty was not in finding talented actors that were right for the role – that was easy – but rather in having to decide among the several fine actors we talked to.


It was a long process, and I especially want to thank you for your time and interest. It was most valuable to me, and I hope we have the opportunity to work together at some future time.


With best wishes,



Barbra Streisand

Assi Dayan’s personal archive has been entrusted to the National Library of Israel for safekeeping and preservation and will soon be made accessible to the public. Beyond the photos and scripts he kept, his own artistic and creative processes shine through in his notes and poetry, as does the decline in his health in the last decade of his life

The responsibility for deciding about where to house the archive fell to the actor’s son, Lior Dayan.  After considering requests from many of Israel’s leading cultural institutions, including various Cinemateques, Mr. Dayan ultimately decided to entrust this important collection to the National Library of Israel, as the preserver of Israeli and Jewish culture. Lior Dayan also felt his father would have loved to have his archives dwelling alongside those of his idol, Franz Kafka.

National Library of Israel CEO Oren Weinberg said, “The quality and quantity of the material and items in the Assi Dayan Archive will enable scholars, students, and the general public to study and know his work – from his early days in cinema to his last days on earth, and so be exposed to the vast assembly of his creative endeavors, as well as to the writings and drafts that he wrote over the years, which were never published.”

Once the Assi Dayan Archive is catalogued, parts of it will be made accessible to the general public through the Library’s website.

The Greatest Fundraising Campaign in Jewish History

Eight hundred affluent men were invited to a lavish banquet. However, something was missing at that dinner that made them open their wallets.

Click here for the item in the Library

The archivist tasked with deciphering an unlabeled photograph faces a difficult challenge. It takes ingenuity to figure out an event captured in a photograph, where and when it was taken, when there is no written information to go on. This photograph, which I came across in the collections of the National Library, is one such case: a large silver print photograph documenting some important event that apparently took place in the United States.

What is this strange gathering where so many men are seated around empty tables decorated only with slender lit candles? Who are these gents in suits and ties staring somewhat dourly into the camera? The only information at my disposal was the name of the photographer and the city, “Kaufman & Fabry Co., Chicago,” visible in the photograph’s lower right corner, and underneath it, a six digit number separated by a hyphen: 21-6591. Since I am familiar with the numbering system photographers once used to write on their negatives, I had the idea that the first two numbers may stand for the year – 1921 – and the other four digits, the running number of the negatives for that year. I set off on my quest armed with the basic information of the name of the photographer, the year (which was still only a guess), the name of the city, and also the name of the person who had donated the photograph to the library.

The puzzle was solved after consulting Irving Cutler’s fascinating book The Jews of Chicago: From Shtetl to Suburb, in which the complete story was laid out, and gave the photograph even greater significance. According to Cutler, relief committees in Chicago to help the Jews in Russia had been fundraising for the better part of a decade. Starting from the middle of the First World War, they had succeeding in raising millions of dollars for Jewish communities in Eastern Europe who were suffering from persecution, pogroms and wars. Chicago’s wealthy Jews were deeply affected by slogans like “Save our dying brothers!” and contributed generously. However, for Jacob Loeb, one of the Chicago community’s Jewish leaders, this was not enough. He wanted to hold an extraordinary fund-raiser that would collect a sizeable sum all at once. Loeb decided to actually implement one of those slogans that had so moved Chicago’s wealthy: “Suppose you were starving!”

Loeb organized a gala dinner to which the crème de la crème of Illinois Jewish society, including Chicago’s greatest industrialists and businessmen, were invited. On the evening of December 7, 1921, eight hundred men dressed in their Sunday best, gathered at the luxurious Drake Hotel in Chicago for what they were certain would be an exclusive social event at the center of which would be a lavish banquet. However, the guests were in for a surprise. As the last of them entered the hotel ballroom, the doors were locked. Jacob Loeb stepped up to the podium and began speaking: “For so many to dine in this place would mean an expenditure of thirty-five hundred dollars, which would be unwarrantable extravagance and in the face of starving Europe, a wasteful crime.  Thirty-five hundred dollars will help to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and heal the sick. What right have we to spend on ourselves funds which have been collected for them? So that this money might be saved for them, you are brought here to this foodless banquet.”

In the midst of Loeb’s admonishment, the astonished guests noticed that the tables, with the exception of the long slender candles that illuminated the strange event in which they now found themselves, were indeed bare. Their bewilderment was captured by the flash of Kaufman and Fabry’s camera, and recorded in the photograph commemorating this unique event.

The evening Loeb organized turned out to be a great success. Checkbooks were opened and fat were sums recorded for the Relief of Jewish War Sufferers Fund. That night the wealthy businessman Julius Rosenwald exceeded all others with a donation of one million dollars. This was an unprecedented sum, even for a philanthropist like Rosenwald, who later went on to establish the renowned Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

Word of the huge donation reached US President Woodrow Wilson. Well aware of the attempts of American Jewry to help its brethren in Eastern Europe, the president immediately sent a telegram to Rosenwald thanking him for his generosity and for serving the American values of democracy and humanism.

The liberality of Illinois’s Jews would help numerous humanitarian and Zionist causes over the decades. However, it would appear that the success of the fundraising at the foodless banquet at the Drake Hotel, was never duplicated.

Those Good Old New Years!

No matter how you like to celebrate New Year's Eve, somewhere there's a party for you. Whether you prefer to dance to Jazz or lose your mind in Rave, the New Year is coming your way!

As 2017 comes to a close and 2018 is just around the corner, it is no surprise that everywhere you look flyers and posters for parties are popping up left, right, and center.

It may seem a bit absurd for the residents of the Hebrew Yishuv in the 1930s or for modern Israelis in the 1950s and up until today, to celebrate New Year’s Eve on the 31st of December. After all, Jews have their own New Year that is celebrated like clockwork year in and year out. But Sylvester, as New Year’s Eve is commonly called by the locals in the Holy Land, is celebrated every year and New Year parties have been advertised throughout the last weeks of December for decades.

Today, like back in the good old days, you have your pick of party style!

Do you prefer dancing in a Viennese cafe… in Haifa?

A Special Dance at the “Vienna” cafe on December 31st, 1932. From the National Library’s Ephemera Collection

Or are you into a New Year’s Eve at the lavish Dan Hotel in the 1950s? There may still be tables available!

New Year’s Eve at the Dan Hotels. From the Eri Wallish Collection

Or perhaps a 1969 Jazz concert is more your style? Get your ticket now!

New Year eve ball at Z.O.A. House, 1969. From the Municipal Historical Archives – Tel Aviv

And of course, the underground Raves could also be trusted to lure you in, so you could say goodbye to the old year and bring in the new year with a bang!

Street Freedom Rave flyer from 2006. From the National Library’s Ephemera Collection

Happy New Year from everyone here at the National Library of Israel!

“Tropical Zion” Revealed

A rare photo album reveals how refugees from Nazi Germany made the Caribbean wilderness bloom.

Even Hitler was shocked by the lighting speed of the Anschluss, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938. The exultant hordes who welcomed Adolf Hitler concealed a terrible truth: opponents of the Nazi regime, left-wingers, and above all – Austrian Jews – began to feel the iron rod of the Nazi tyranny as soon as the occupying forces entered. Thousands of Jews knocked on the doors of the American Embassy in Vienna in an attempt to receive exit visas from the country which had suddenly been annexed to the Third Reich.

11 days after the Anschluss, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, president of the U.S.A., proposed the establishment of a special refugee committee to aid immigration of refugees from Germany and Austria. The President appeared to be interested in a rapid and full solution to the problem of refugees from the expanding Third Reich, but Roosevelt quickly clarified that no country – including the U.S. – can be expected to radically change its immigration policy. This reserved tone cast a cloud of gloom over the committee meetings from the outset until the wording of the final conclusions.

Discussions in the Evian Committee, July 1938. Source: Encyclopedia of America’s Response to the Holocaust

For nine days, from July 9th – 15th of 1938, representatives of 32 countries convened in the Royal Hotel in the city of Evian on the banks of the Genève Lake in France. The representatives raised various claims against raising the quota of entrance visas for refugees: America kept its word and refused to increase the existing immigration quotas (which amounted to 27,370 refugees from Germany and Austria per year), but promised to utilize them fully – something it had not done in previous years. The representatives of the United Kingdom vehemently refused to discuss the possibility of settling the refugees in the Land of Israel. France raised a similar argument, and added that its financial condition does not allow for the absorption of more refugees.

Belgium agreed with the general tone and also refused to raise the immigration quotas. The Netherlands offered to accept additional refugees, but added the draconian condition: The Netherlands would serve as a transit port for the refugees on their way to a final destination. The Australian representative surpassed all other members of the committee with his claim that “As we have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one”.

Will the Evian Committee lead us to freedom? A cartoon published before the beginning of the Evian Conference’s debates on July 3, 1938

The only country that agreed to take in a significant number of refugees was the Dominican Republic. The representative of the Republic, one of the Conference’s final speakers, promised that his country would allot expansive plots of land for agricultural settlement of European refugees. The tiny country kept its word. And so, two years later, the settlement known as the “Sosúa Settlement” came into being.

The Central Archives for the History of the Jewish People has a collection which documents the Jewish settlement there, which also includes a photo album depicting the life of the Jewish community in Sosúa from May 1940 – when the first Jewish refugees from Europe began to arrive – until July 1947. The only texts in the album are the words added to the various photographs, but when looking through the album one can have no doubt of its importance.

The first page of the Sosúa Settlement Album

The Sosúa Settlement Album

The city of “Sosúa”, a word which means worm in the language of the island’s original residents, received its name from the nearby Sosúa River. Prior to the arrival of the Jewish refugees to the region and Sosúa’s growth into a city, Sosúa was a tiny village – it was originally the dwelling places of the workers of the banana plantations, and after the plantations were abandoned – the village was used by the island’s wealthy residents as a summer vacation destination.


A stamp issued by the government of the Dominican Republic marking the 42nd birthday of then President Rafael Trujillo

When the Second World War broke out, the dictatorial President of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, transferred the lands in the Sosúa region to the management of James Rosenberg, one of the heads of the “Dominican Republic Settlement Association”.

James Rosenberg, initiator of the Sosúa Settlement
Signing the contract with the Dominican Republic

The first quota the Dominican Republic issued for refugees amounted to five thousand visas. Only 757 Jews managed to take advantage of them. The first settlers arrived on May 7, 1940, from countries bordering on Germany.

The first settlers arrive
The Sosúa beach

Even though the album is a publicity album published by the settling company, the photographs in the album are consistent with what we know about the development of the new community. Many of the refugees understood the need to abandon their previous occupations as doctors, attorneys and other kinds of free professions, and quickly adopted agriculture and farming. Each immigrant received 80 acres of land, together with a mule, horse and ten cows. A cooperative named Productos Sosúa was established in order to market the agricultural produce, milk and meat the settlers produced.

The children receive classes on agriculture
House and garden
The main product of Sosúa
Milking cows
Feeding chickens

The album depicts extensive construction of infrastructures: establishment of buildings, paving roads and dedicated cultivation of the agricultural crops

Work in the vegetable garden
The Surveyor

Construction work
Water infrastructure
Road construction

Though the refugees left the professions they had worked in in Europe behind, they did bring with them the Jewish traditions and culture and adapted them to their new home; they established kindergartens and schools in which the young boys and girls learned Spanish, studied agriculture and celebrated Jewish festivals.

Celebrating Channukah
Dressing up on Purim
A geography class
The kindergarten in Sosúa
Natural immigration in Sosúa

Synagogues and a Jewish cemetery were also established in the city, as well as reading rooms and a general store in the European model.

The synagogue
Reading room

After the Second World War, several thousand Jewish refugees from Europe and Shanghai came to Sosúa. These immigrants are also represented in the album.

Children from Shanghai
The Strauss family from Shanghai
New settlers from Shanghai arrive in Sosúa

Most of the members of the community immigrated to America during the 1950’s and 60’s – settling primarily in New York and Miami. It is estimated that the number of Jews currently living in Sosúa range between twenty and a hundred Jews. The current mayor of the city is Ilana Neuman, a descendant of Jewish refugees who came to Sosúa during the Second World War.