Deep Dive: Bringing Jewish Cemeteries to Life

British author and academic Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein spent the past year working with seven different communities across Europe to bring old Jewish cemeteries alive through new and exciting initiatives, encouraging a phenomenal revival of Jewish history

Images by Dr. Paul Darby and Piotr Banasik, for the Deep Dive Program Report by Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein

In Krakow, at the Remah Cemetery, a historic necropolis with tombstones dating back to the sixteenth century, I wandered around with a group of students taking photographs. Soon after we walked to the lesser-known New Jewish Cemetery, located near a graffiti-covered underpass on the outskirts of the old town. The gated walls of the burial ground stretched over acres of land, a quiet wild space shaded by a thick canopy of trees. The air was filled with the sound of birdsong and the smell of wild garlic. Many of the graves were concealed beneath a thick covering of ivy, which gave the place an otherworldly feel. As we walked around taking photographs, I spoke to several of the Jewish studies students, many of whom spoke fluent Hebrew and Yiddish although none of them were Jewish. One young Polish woman told me that she keenly felt the void of the Jews in the streets, the constant and continuous sense of loss. She wanted to understand more about Jewish culture, the language and traditions of a people who had co-existed with the Polish community for centuries beforehand but were now unknown to her.

My name is Dr Rachel Lichtenstein, I am a British author and academic from Manchester Metropolitan University in the U.K., who has spent the past year working with the Foundation for Jewish Heritage steering a range of different creative and educational activities at seven different Jewish cemeteries across Europe for the Deep Dive program. This project was part of an EU funded initiative with a consortium of international partners, that aimed to create ‘the broadest possible educational work on Jewish cemeteries in Europe’. The goal of the Deep Dive program was to demonstrate how Jewish cemeteries can be used as cultural, tourist, and heritage sites, as well as places of significance for educational purposes, whilst also honoring and remembering the Jewish communities who once lived in these places. We explored a variety of cemeteries and tested out a range of activities at seven very different Jewish burial grounds to encourage visitors from local communities and abroad, as well as school groups, to visit and learn more about these places in engaging new ways.

Image by Dr. Paul Darby, for the Deep Dive Program Report by Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein

Some of these cemeteries are historic sites that date back to the sixteenth century, while others remain as poignant memorials to those who perished in the Holocaust, as well as tangible remnants of the now largely disappeared Jewish communities who once occupied these locales for centuries. Others are satellite burial grounds, chosen for their ecological value, or due to partnerships with local teachers or communities already developed in those places. A few of these cemeteries are already frequently visited, mainly by religious pilgrims who come to pay their respects or pray at the graves of revered Rabbis and important figures in the Jewish world. Others are semi-abandoned, wild, and ruinous, and overgrown with trees. All are filled with thousands of stories about Jewish European settlement and life, and we can learn a great deal by engaging with them.

The Deep Dive program set out to explore how we can interact with these sites in a plethora of new ways, both educational and touristic. We tested a range of different initiatives to encourage local communities to develop heritage skills, as well as use these sites for educational, artistic, and touristic purposes. The activities we developed ranged from audio guides to heritage trails, digital mapping projects, films, and teacher’s packs. It was important for us to make sure that they were developed in partnership with local people, organizations, and institutions, whilst remaining respectful of these sites, their complex histories, their religious functions, and the participants involved.

Cemeteries by their very nature are full of stories of individuals and communities, past and sometimes present, and I strongly believe that our relationships to places are enriched and deepened when we engage with them directly. We need to have our feet on the ground, and explore them for ourselves, to learn about the layers of stories that exist there, particularly the histories of those who came before us. I cannot think of a more important and urgent project than the exploration of Jewish burial grounds in these places, which are so resonant with the tales of Jewish communities, now largely absent from these sites. These cemeteries are precious and utterly irreplaceable, both to the wider Jewish diaspora and the communities who live alongside them today. I truly hope that this project will encourage others to visit and learn from and about these Jewish cemeteries for themselves.

Images by Davit Mirvelashvili, for the Deep Dive Program Report by Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein

In Georgia, we developed a teacher’s pack that explores Georgian Jewish history and Jewish cemeteries in that country, which are uniquely different to other burial grounds across Europe. For example, the twentieth century Soviet-era Jewish tombstones are similar in style to Georgian gravestones and often include pictures of the deceased and the inscriptions on the graves are in both Hebrew and Georgian. This project developed out of an urgent need for information, as there has long been a gap in available material for secondary school groups on Jewish cemeteries in Georgia, and many schoolteachers have only a limited knowledge of Jewish history. The development of this educational pack bridged this gap by creating a freely available resource that enables pupils and teachers alike to explore and learn about Jewish cemeteries, and therefore also about Jewish culture, life, and history. The pack is freely available in Georgian and English and has been printed and sent to many schools in Georgia as well as distributed to various libraries. The pack includes historical information, activities such as drawing symbols from Jewish tombstones and interpreting epitaphs, personal stories of Georgian Jewish figures, a quiz for students to test their knowledge, and more.

Image by Judit Sugár, for the Deep Dive Program Report by Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein

In Hungary, we decided to take a different approach, as meaningful connections with local Jewish history already existed in the city we chose to work with, so our job was to deepen already established connections. Therefore, we developed a project with known local Jewish and non-Jewish partners in the city of Szombathely who have been actively engaged in preserving Jewish memory there. This city was chosen because of its rich Jewish history, still active community, and successful Jewish heritage projects there. The final outcome was ultimately created by the head of the local Jewish community, Judit Sugar, who wrote and directed a documentary which focuses on the Jewish cemetery and captures the stories of the many important personalities buried there. The film also features extensive material on the history of the community, and interviews with the mayor alongside other local people including schoolchildren. The documentary is in Hungarian but subtitled in English and explores the fate of Hungarian and Central European Jewry through the history of just one town.

Image by Gabriel Khiterer, for the Deep Dive Program Report by Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein

In each vicinity of the project, we set out to work with the local population, because it is they who are best equipped to tell us about the needs and values of their community. One example of this approach is the Deep Dive project that we carried out in Lithuania, where we collaborated with a local institution, a Jewish historian, and a writer, to encourage school children to develop creative writing pieces around their visits to a Jewish cemetery in Vilnius. Local Jewish school children took guided tours to a Jewish cemetery, where they learnt about the history of the Jewish cemetery, community and stories about the individuals buried there. Following these visits, the pupils took part in creative writing workshops, with an award-winning Lithuanian writer, where they were taught how to develop their ideas into poems, stories, and pieces of flash fiction, which were subsequently made into a small publication.

Images by Zuzana Martinková, for the Deep Dive Program Report by Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein

This wasn’t the only community in which we decided to focus on students. In Slovakia we developed a pack for primary school children which explored the history, biodiversity, and ecology, of The Old Forgotten Jewish Cemetery outside the city center of Banská Bystrica. This site is historically rich and has a great range of plant, bird, and insect life. The content for this pack was researched and produced by master’s students from the Department of Biology and Ecology at the local University.

Visits to Jewish cemeteries can of course provide an insight into the historical past of a community, but they can also speak to current ecological concerns, as neglected rural sites such as cemeteries often become places of rich biodiversity. This innovative project demonstrates how we can care for both our past and our future, and combat the negative effects of climate change by protecting these historically and ecologically important sites.

Images by Svetlana Kostetkaia, for the Deep Dive Program Report by Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein




In other localities, it was more important for us to develop content for the cemeteries themselves. In Moldova, we produced an AudioWalk of 10-12 minutes long, available in Romanian, English and Russian, that explores the history of the Jewish Cemetery in Moldova’s capital city of Chisinau, and stories about the individuals buried there. This project set out to create a more immersive visitor experience for those wishing to explore this extraordinary site and direct them to places of interest within the cemetery. We wanted to demonstrate how an audio guide can encourage visitors, tourists, and school groups to explore and experience a Jewish cemetery and how making a digital tool which is freely available in three different languages might expand the visitor footfall of such a site.

Images by Piotr Banasik, for the Deep Dive Program Report by Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein

Similarly, in Krakow, Poland, we developed a photographic and historical program to encourage new ways of engaging with Jewish burial sites. The innovative part of this project was to train history students in photographic and artistic techniques, to encourage them to look at familiar places and explore well-known histories in new ways. The project culminated with a launch of the resulting photographic exhibition, which showcased the history and beauty of these historic Jewish cemeteries, in June 2023.

Image by Taras Kovalchuk, for the Deep Dive Program Report by Dr. Rachel Lichtenstein

Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, we collectively decided that we were unable to conduct activities on the ground there, so we chose to create a digital outcome for this project. Building on the work of historian Tetiana Fedoriv from the town of Zbarazh, we developed a digital memory map of the cemetery there, which visitors can explore remotely. This interactive digital map brings the stories of 15 individuals buried there vividly to life through a combination of historical research and photographic images. We used emergent technology to geolocate Tetiana’s research before making it widely available to international scholars and other digital visitors to the site.

Our groundbreaking program bought so many kinds of people together, institutions, and organizations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, across seven European countries, among them educators in all fields, students, schoolteachers, tour guides, historians, university departments and lecturers, as well as museums, local community representatives and politicians. In total approximately 500 individuals have taken part in the program so far, as participants, collaborators, and partners, and many more are expected to engage with the multiple outcomes of this project. The full report of the Deep Dive program and all the outcomes are available here along with the names of all those involved in the program, including funders, organizations, partners and participants:


This article was composed as a collaboration between Rachel Lichtenstein and Mia Amran. 

When Abraham and Plato Met in Barcelona

Medieval Barcelona was a unique meeting spot of Eastern and Western culture. A place where Jews, Muslims and Christians could mix. It was in Barcelona that the "first Jewish scientist" and one of the great Christian translators of the day conceived an ambitious plan to bring the wisdom of the Islamic and ancient worlds to an awakening Europe

The solar system according to Abraham Bar Hiyya, "Tzurat Ha'Aretz VeTavnit Kadurei HaRekia" (The Form of the Earth and the Pattern of the Heavenly Spheres), 1494, the National Library of Israel

There is an ancient Chinese curse that says: “May you live in interesting times”. Abraham Bar Ḥiyya indeed lived in interesting times. Yet, he managed to turn that curse into a blessing.

In 1065, around the time of Abraham Bar Ḥiyya’s birth, most of the Iberian Peninsula (today’s Spain and Portugal) was an integral part of the Islamic world, and had been for centuries. During his lifetime, the peninsula’s northern Christian kingdoms began conquering large swaths of territory from the Muslims. The Crusades taking place at the same time in the Middle East further spurred the “Reconquista” – the Christian re-conquest of Iberian lands from the hands of the infidels. Armed with the power of religious fervor and the sword, they managed to conquer all the cities in the north and center of the Iberian Peninsula.

One would assume that in a period of religious wars, Jews would suffer persecution. Images of the Inquisition, expulsion, forced conversion and Jewish martyrs being forced to hide their Judaism come to mind.

However, during Abraham Bar Ḥiyya’s own lifetime, very little of this came to pass. The Christian kingdoms remained relatively tolerant towards the Jews. The Muslims on the other hand, now the losing side in the conflict and on the defensive, began persecuting Jews and legislating strict regulations against them in the territories they still controlled.

Abraham Bar Ḥiyya grew up in a still-tolerant Muslim world and pursued higher studies in Zaragoza, which was a flourishing cultural center. But like many Jews living in those turbulent times, he eventually had no choice but to bid farewell to the world of Muslim culture and science and relocate to one of the nearby Christian kingdoms.

Abraham chose Catalonia, settling in its capital, Barcelona. There he met many Jews who were unfamiliar with Arabic and the rich world of Islamic science that also preserved the wisdom of ancient Greece and Rome. He decided to undertake the task of making the realms of science, geography and astronomy accessible to Jews. He began composing scientific essays in Hebrew, in which he combined his own knowledge with translations of ancient and Islamic sources. Yesodei HaTvuna U-Migdal Ha’Emuna (“The Foundations of Understanding and the Tower of Faith”) was an encyclopedic scientific work that summarized all the accumulated knowledge from the ancient and Islamic worlds relating to mathematics, geometry, astronomy, optics and music. Unfortunately, only the introduction and the first few parts have come down to us.

Drawing of Barcelona in the Early Modern period (1563), by Anton van den Wyngaerde

In Ḥibbur HaMeshiḥa VehaTishboret (“Treatise on Measurement and Calculation”‘), which was intended as a reference book for land surveying and contained complex formulas of arithmetic and geometry, Abraham not only included a basic collection of sources for the novice, but, in a first for the European reader, also the complete solution to the quadratic equation. The many and varied books of Abraham Bar Ḥiyya rightly earned him the accolade – “the first Jewish scientist”.

The book Tzurat Ha’Aretz VeTavnit Kadurei HaRekia (“The Form of the Earth and the Pattern of the Heavenly Spheres”) presented for the first time in Hebrew the geographical sciences of both the Islamic and ancient worlds, including the earth’s relationship to other stars and to the moon and the sun. Abraham Bar Ḥiyya went on to write many more books, including works on the Hebrew calendar, astronomy (which included the first appearance of trigonometric functions in Hebrew), philosophy and Judaism.

Illustration of a solar eclipse, from Tzurat Ha’Aretz VeTavnit Kadurei HaRekia (“The Form of the Earth and the Pattern of the Heavenly Spheres”) by Abraham Bar Ḥiyya, Switzerland, 1546, the National Library of Israel

And now we come to the second hero of the story.

The name of Abraham Bar Ḥiyya eventually spread to the Christian world that was then taking its first steps in the field of science. An Italian mathematician and astronomer by the name of Plato of Tivoli heard about the wisdom of Abraham Bar Ḥiyya and wanted not only to learn the basics of Islamic science from him, but also to disseminate his knowledge to the Christian world. Their meeting in Barcelona led to a longstanding friendship and collaboration. It is likely that Plato of Tivoli came to the city especially for this purpose. The Italian moved to Barcelona and lived there for about twenty years, where he continued to learn from the Jewish sage. Together, these two men, a Jew and a Christian, conceived a particularly daring and ambitious plan.

Abraham Bar Ḥiyya knew Hebrew, Arabic and Catalan, the language spoken in Barcelona. Plato of Tivoli knew Italian, learned to speak Catalan, and was of course fluent in Latin – the language of science and of European literature of the Middle Ages. And so, the two scholars embarked on a collaboration to translate into Latin the scientific writings of the ancient and Islamic worlds. Abraham would translate and explain to Plato in colloquial Catalan what was written in the Arabic sources, and Plato would translate and write it down in Latin. Together they compiled precious texts that became seeds of scientific knowledge, soon to spread across Christian Europe.

The duo translated a famous work by Ptolemy of Alexandria into Latin – the Tetrabiblos (Τετράβιβλος) or Quadripartitum (90–168 CE), which deals with philosophy, astrology and the constellations. This translation was studied for hundreds of years – in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance – in universities all over Europe. The book’s positive reception allowed other works by Ptolemy to be accepted, thus indirectly contributing to further developments in the fields of science and medicine in Europe.

Imaginary portrait (1584) of the astronomer and geographer Ptolemy of Alexandria (90–168 CE), whose book Tetrabiblos, on philosophy and the constellations, was translated into Latin by Abraham Bar Ḥiyya and Plato of Tivoli

Plato and Abraham worked together on other translations from Arabic of mainly astronomical and astrological writings, including the work Kitab al-Mawalid (“The Book of Birth”) by the scholar Abu Ali al-Hayat (770–835), the works of al-Battani (858–929) and much more. It’s worth bearing in mind that astronomy and astrology, which at that time were inextricably intertwined, contained a great deal of geographical information, complex calculations of angles, volume and area, as well as rich and valuable mathematical information.

But Plato of Tivoli was not satisfied with just translating other sources. He also wanted to share Abraham’s own wisdom, which he had written down in Hebrew, with the Christian world. Relying on the Hebrew he had learned during the years of their joint work, Plato of Tivoli, apparently after his friend’s death, translated the Treatise on Measurement and Calculation into Latin, thus bringing to the Christian world the basics of geometry, trigonometry and the science of algebra. The chapters dealing with division, including the complete solution to the quadratic equation, which were studied by many European scholars, greatly influenced the development of mathematics in Europe. Liber Embadorum, the Latin translation of Treatise on Measurement and Calculation, was one of the direct sources of inspiration for Practica Geometriae, by the well-known mathematician Fibonacci (Leonardo of Pisa, 1170–1250).

Abraham and Plato, a Jew and a Christian living in a war-torn region in 12th-century Spain, sat together and distilled the best of the Jewish, Islamic and European-Christian worlds of knowledge. What might have been a curse became a blessing in the form of a meeting of cultures and scientific progress. Indeed, the Middle Ages may not have been so dark after all.

In the Edelstein Collection for the History and Philosophy of Science at the National Library of Israel, there are a number of books by Abraham Bar Ḥiyya, including the Treatise on Measurement and Calculation, The Form of the Earth and the Pattern of the Heavenly Spheres and the Quadripartitum, Plato of Tivoli’s and Abraham Bar Ḥiyya’s joint translation of Ptolemy’s book. 21st century readers of Hebrew are in for a thrill when they realize that they can open up and read books on science and geography that were written over nine hundred years ago by one of the wisest and most prolific Jews who ever lived.

For all of Abraham Bar Ḥiyya’s books in the Edelstein collection at the National Library of Israel, click here.

Protestant Lord George Gordon, AKA Reb Yisrael Ben Avraham Avinu

Eccentric politician Lord George Gordon spent most of his peculiar life rallying against Catholics and exasperating the King of England, until he decided, after his first stint in prison, to convert to Judaism. Thus, protestant Lord George Gordon would come to be known as the holy Reb Yisrael Ben Avraham Avinu.

Lord George Gordon, The Birmingham Moses, printed by: William Dent, Published by: J Dickie, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum, via Wikimedia Commons

The “malicious, seditious and libelous Lord George Gordon” (in the words of Australian Rabbi Ronald Lubofski) may not have immediately caught the attention of the National Library of Israel. After all, what does a Protestant politician, who spent most of his life rallying against Catholics and being labelled as a madman and a nuisance to the King of England, have to do with us? The answer would probably have been nothing at all, had he not decided after his first stint in prison, to, of all things, convert to Judaism. Lord George Gordon would come to be known as Reb Yisrael Ben Avraham Avinu, and live his final years as a faithful(ish) Jew. This is his wild story.

Born in London to rich parents of Scottish nobility and a long line of dukes, George Gordon had every privilege available to a young boy, except for a sane family. His parents were first cousins, and both considered to be a screw short of a toolkit. Only a year after George was born in 1751, his father died, leaving him alone with his peculiar mother and a step-father not much older than himself!

But at least he didn’t spend too long in his bizarre childhood home. By age 11, he was enrolled in boarding school at Eton, but soon ditched the studies for a sailor’s life in the Royal Navy. It was here that he was first considered to be an eccentric, as he petitioned for something wholly unsavory to the upper class at that time: better rights and working conditions for working-class sailors. This penchant for human rights meant that Gordon was never promoted to anything beyond the rank of lieutenant, and he eventually decided to hand in his notice upon finding out that his regiment would be shipped (literally) off to America to fight for the British colony. A believer in American independence, another view which made him liable to claims of insanity, Gordon had no wish to fight against his beliefs, so he quit his maritime role.

The Australian Jewish News (Sydney), 29 October 1993, ‘“Lord George Gordon (Israel ben Avraham ha-Ger)”, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

George Gordon thus found himself a rich and unemployed bachelor in London in the early 1770s, and like many other men of his stature, he turned to a career in politics. Rich white Protestants in those years were reaping the benefits of a system totally in their favor, but our 22-year-old protagonist set out to campaign predominantly for the black community, slaves, and better social conditions for the poor. The working class obviously adored him for this, but his fellow politicians thought him strange indeed. Regardless, feeling nostalgic for his Scottish past, he set out to run for MP (Member of Parliament) of Inverness-Shire, a working-class county in which he was most popular. Unsettled by the competition, the existing MP for Inverness-Shire put some hefty financial pressure on the Gordon family, promising that if George pulled out of the race for this seat, he would make sure that he won a seat in another borough instead. And that is how George Gordon became Lord George Gordon, MP of Ludgershall, South England (If you aren’t familiar with UK geography, this is about as far away from Scotland as you can get!)

But George Gordon was not particularly adept for the House of Parliament. He roused the support of his fellows by berating the opposition party with rousing speeches, but would just as eagerly rain down thunderous criticisms of his own party! He was fiercely opposed to the American War of Independence raging at the time, and spoke out against the King on more than one occasion (a crime for which the punishment would have been death if he was believed to have been sane). The good news was that for all of his theatrics, people didn’t take Lord George all too seriously, and he got away with his antics with nothing more than eye-rolls and head-shakes.

Elsewhere in England, by the 1770s, the once-persecuted Catholics had been regaining their freedoms after some years of anti-papal discrimination. As such, Parliament proposed repealing the law which banned Catholics from fighting in the British Army. Lord George, however, may not have been as crazy as we might think, for he saw through these supposed pro-Catholic sympathies and knew that this bill was just a rouse to enlist more soldiers to fight against the Americans. With this in mind, he started campaigning to entrench the law which stripped Catholics of their rights. These anti-Catholic campaigns, paired with his background as a member of a vehemently Protestant family, resulted in him being elected as the President of the Protestant Association in 1779.

Gordon while head of the Protestant Association, Adamsk commonswiki, via Wikimedia Commons

His following grew rapidly, and aroused the sympathy of Protestants around England and Scotland, and on June 2nd 1780, he led a demonstration, 60,000 strong, to protest Catholic emancipation. As Gordon entered the Houses of Parliament, the huge crowd rioted outside. Gordon ran in and out of Parliament, alternatively delivering stirring speeches about the misplaced loyalties and anti-nationalism of the Catholic Church, and reporting on the internal proceedings to the eagerly waiting crowd outside. With all this excitement, “The Gordon Riots” began in earnest, with shouts of “no popery” heard all over London. Catholic chapels were burnt, houses pillaged, and politicians beaten up. It was days until the army restored command with their shoot-to-kill orders, but by then close to 500 people had died in the riots and exactly a week later, when the ruckus had quietened somewhat, Lord Gordon was arrested for high treason against King and country.

Artist’s depiction of the Gordon Riots, from King Mob: The Story of Lord George Gordon and the Riots of 1780, Christopher Hibbert, World Publishing Company, Cleveland and New York, cover image by R. Bran

Author Lloyd Paul Stryker wrote that Gordon had acted “most wickedly, maliciously, and traitorously did ordain, prepare, and levy public war against our said lord, the King”, but Gordon hired the phenomenal lawyer Thomas Erskine as his defense, who argued that Gordon had not intended to insight treason and could thus plead not-guilty. The jury also considered Gordon fit for an insanity plea and thus found him innocent. But in the 9 months of waiting that had proceeded the trial, George Gordon had seemingly done some teshuva, and was now reconsidering his lifestyle.

Lord George Gordon, The Birmingham Moses, printed by: William Dent, Published by: J Dickie, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum, via Wikimedia Commons

There is no known reason that Lord George Gordon decided, in these 9 months of uncertainty, that Judaism was the path for him. But The Australian Israelite newspaper posits that the violent rifts within Christianity led him to seek a religion which was less divided, and that the “uniformity” and rigidity of Judaism may have been a safe-haven for him at a time of such uncertainty. We do know that Gordon exchanged some letters with other Jews during those months, seeking to learn more about the religion. He also started practicing Hebrew and petitioned the London Jewish community for political and financial support. Some actually say that his conversion was done purely out of greed. His main electorate had until now been the working class, and he possibly hoped to raise funds within the Jewish community to help secure a more affluent borough in the next elections.

Either way, by the end of his 9-month trial, he had written to Rabbi Tevele Schiff of Duke Street Synagogue, the Chief Rabbi of London, asking to be accepted as a Jew. He was declined. Rabbi Schiff was unclear about Gordon’s motives and turned the eccentric former MP away. But this didn’t deter Gordon. He instead traveled north to Birmingham, where another large Jewish community resided. After donating 100 pounds, a significant amount of money in those days, to the Singer’s Hill Synagogue, he was given the honor of reading a misheberach (benediction) in synagogue, and Birmingham’s Rabbi Jacob agreed to convert him. Gordon underwent Brit Millah, learned Torah, started praying daily, grew a beard, donned a kippah, and started keeping the laws of Shabbat and kashrut. Once an accepted member of the Jewish community, he returned to London where he attended synagogue services and again brought community acceptance with some generous financial contributions.

Tevele Schiff (Chief Rabbi of London), original oil painting in the possession of the Chief Rabbi of Britain, Rabbi D Rabbi Yosef Herman Hertz, the Avraham Shwadron Portrait Collection, the National Library of Israel

He renamed himself Yisrael Ben Avraham Avinu, dressed in traditional Hasidic clothing, and took off with his tefillin in tow, to Paris. In France, he spent his free time getting on Marie Antoinette’s nerves and making enemies with the French ambassador Jean-Ablthazar d’Adhemar, who sent out a warrant for his arrest. Instead of accepting defeat, Gordon fled to the Netherlands, but they didn’t particularly want him either and dispatched him back to England with a second warrant on his head. Returning to the UK, he pledged to keep a low profile, but in 1786 he was called to bear witness in a Christian legal trial which was taking place on Shabbat. Gordon plainly refused his civic duty to travel to the court on his sabbath and after so long spent dodging the law, he was finally sentenced to five years of incarceration in Newgate Prison.

The Australian Jewish News (Melbourne), 22 August 1969, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

In prison, Lord George Gordon remained religious, putting on his tallit every morning, and creating a minyan from the prison’s selection of Polish Jewish immigrants. He hired a Jewish maid to cook kosher prison food for him, ordered kosher meat, wine and Challah for Shabbat and often invited the other prisoners to feast with him. But Gordon was still far from being a nice Jewish boy. He was also hugely judgmental, saying that Jews who didn’t grow a beard were “shameful” and refusing to give charity to anyone who he didn’t consider pious enough. He wouldn’t interact with any Jew who didn’t keep the mitzvot to their fullest extent, and looked down upon those less religious than him.

The Australian Jewish Herald, 4 February 1937, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

But overall, this fanatically Jewish inmate fared well, and when five years were up, he was finally set to be freed. He was summoned to court for release, but this release depended on two conditions: a promise of future good behavior, and a bail fee. On January 28, 1793, Lord George Gordon was marched into court. In polite society in those days, hats were only to be worn outdoors, and to wear a hat inside a courtroom was an obnoxious insult. The issue was that Gordon was wearing his hat as a kippah, and refused to part with it for even a moment. When the guards eventually removed it by force, Gordon pulled a nightcap and handkerchief out of his pocket. He stuck the nightcap on his head and secured it under his chin with the hankie. For a man trying to prove his sanity, this was not a good look.

Then came the issue of the bail. Despite having more than enough wealth, he refused to pay. “To sue for pardon is a confession of guilt” read the court transcripts. His friends and family tried to step in and pay the bail on his behalf, but again Gordon refused, saying that he was innocent and would therefore not allow a penny to be given in his name. Gordon therefore found himself back in his Newgate cell. What Gordon didn’t know was that this decision would not just determine his freedom, but also his life.

This was because a horrid case of Typhus was sweeping through the prison, claiming many lives, and Gordon was not immune. By October he had caught the disease and on November 1,1793, Lord George Gordon, otherwise known as Yisrael Ben Avraham, died, allegedly while reciting the Adon Olam prayer. Gordon’s burial was left to his family, who ignored his newfound religious persuasions and chose a church ground as his final burial place.

The Westralian Judean, 1 March 1931, and The Australian Jewish Times, 19 February 1970, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel

Soon, the name Lord George Gordon was forgotten by most. If mentioned at all, it was almost invariably because of the Gordon Riots, or his anti-colonialist campaigning. His eulogy was simple, and reads as follows: “The leader of the no-popery riots, Lord George Gordon eventually became a Jew and died a madman – his sudden accession to greatness must have turned his head.” Rest in Peace Protestant Lord George Gordon, otherwise known as Reb Yisrael Ben Avraham Avinu.

Curate and Create: The Poster Competition That United Kids Worldwide With Israel

As Israel turned 75 years old, the National Library of Israel wanted to celebrate with a new and exciting project. Thus, Curate & Create was born, a poster competition for children from all over the world, complete with educational resources and primary sources. With over 600 participants, read about how this NLI project came to be so successful!

Curate & Create logo, Curate & Create Yom Ha'Atzmaut Program and Poster Competition, the National Library of Israel

In 1984 a competition was inaugurated in Israel for children worldwide to design a postage stamp for the upcoming Jewish New Year.  At the same time, a little girl named Shuvi Hoffman was living in New York, and was excitedly looking forward to her sixth birthday. For her birthday party, Shuvi decided to invite her friends to join her and design a stamp to submit for the competition. The children congregated around the posterboard and spent the afternoon making a stamp which represented their connection to Israel, not knowing that this art activity would leave a lasting impression on the little girl.

Nearly 40 years later, Shuvi, now an adult, sat around the meeting table with her colleagues at the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, brows furrowed together as they brainstormed ideas. This year, the National Library had a big task: Israel was turning 75 years old the NLI wanted to celebrate Israel’s significant birthday with a new and exciting project.

Curate & Create logo, Curate & Create, Yom Ha’Atzmaut Program and Poster Competition, the National Library of Israel

After throwing around many ideas, Shuvi thought back to her sixth birthday party and how excited she had been to take part in an art competition which connected her to Israel, and a metaphorical light bulb flicked on over her head: Before long she was suggesting that the NLI host its very own competition. The idea would be to challenge kids all over the world to make a poster, much like the ones in our own archives, and send them in from around the globe for judgment, and the chance to win a trip to Israel. The team knew a great idea when they heard one and got to work almost immediately.

It was early in the summer of 2022 at this point, so they had almost a year to pull off the competition. The idea was complex but manageable: they would collate 75 archives from the National Library collections – mainly posters but a few photographs and adverts too – and upload them to a specially-made website. Next, they would formulate 6 unique lesson plans which educators could utilize to teach their students about Israel. Finally, a special portal was to be set up for students to submit their posters to the NLI, and within a few months the project would be ready to go live!

Some of the 75 primary sources, Curate & Create Yom Ha’Atzmaut Program and Poster Competition, the National Library of Israel

And soon enough the entrees started pouring in. As the competition went on, the whole National Library watched on with awe as a whopping 153 submissions came in. They had managed to reach 12 countries with a total of 5 languages, 28 schools and a massive 644 participants! Far and wide, the competition had taken root in the hearts of students and educators from Columbia and Estonia, Argentina and Canada, and so many other far-flung places.

Map of places from which submissions were received, Curate & Create Yom Ha’Atzmaut Program and Poster Competition, the National Library of Israel

As the posters were uploaded, an interesting trend could be seen: the posters were not just works of art but also commentaries on the society that they had come from, and how that specific student viewed Israel.

These elements considered, the winning posters were eventually chosen for their beautiful meaning, the tremendous efforts put in by the children, and their aesthetic and artistic quality. The winners, spanning four countries, each chose to focus on a unique part of Israel’s identity. From a love for Jerusalem, to Israel’s famous landmarks, the diverse and vast range of people who live in this special country, to the symbols and elements that make Israel spiritually elevated, these winning posters show how varied each student’s connections to Israel really are. It’s truly remarkable to see how different students relate to the State with different lenses – something which is worth diving deeper into.

Poster Competition Winners, Curate & Create Yom Ha’Atzmaut Program and Poster Competition, the National Library of Israel

Something that can be immediately noted is whether students related to Israel on a cultural, political or spiritual level.

Romanian 11th grader, and budding artist Rață Ionuț, drew an impressive poster of Einstein and David Ben-Gurion alongside other political leaders of Israel, explaining how Israel “champions democracy and freedom of expression. By showcasing these figures conversing with reporters, the poster suggests that Israel values open dialogue and transparency and strives to uphold these principles in its governance and society.” Alternatively, 6th grader Abraham Murciano Cohen-Henriquez from Panama who made a poster about Israeli dates, or Maya, a German 5th grader’s poster about Bissli, an Israeli snack, “convey the message that [Israeli food] turns you into a superhero.” Finally, Margie Pol, a 6th grader from Panama, showed that she relates to Israel via Judaism, as expressed with her poster of the Jewish holiday of Passover: “I chose Pesach for my poster to show why this Holiday is important for Israel.”

Abraham Murciano Cohen-Henriquez, Colegio Isaac Rabin, Margie Pol, Colegio Isaac Rabin, Maya, Heinz Galinski School, Rață Ionuț, Colegiul Național “Spiru Haret” – Tecuca, Curate & Create Yom Ha’Atzmaut Program and Poster Competition, the National Library of Israel

Whether it is the awesome food, the divine spirituality, the political discourse, or something else entirely, everyone has something that they can love about Israel or at the very least use to connect to Israel on some level. These students have proven this theory with their posters – some youngsters connect to the cultural elements of Israel, some the religious aspects, some the culinary, and some connect to elements not even shown here! But no matter what stands out for you, Israel is at the epicenter of it. In the original 75 primary sources, all of these elements are depicted via the various posters and images. Some educators taught their students from a more religious standpoint as is evident in their student’s posters, while one teacher had her entire class dedicate their posters to Israeli food! But ultimately all of these aspects were similarly used as vehicles to open discussion, teaching, and closeness to Israel.

The whole point of the poster competition was to meet educators where they were at and help them open the discourse on Israel. To encourage them to build connections between their students and our amazing country. To help them understand that Israel is a global project – one that we can all relate to, care about, have opinions about, and love. It is so evident that this goal has been achieved: just look at the gallery of posters and see how over 600 young people across the globe have found unique and beautiful ways to give meaning to this country which may even be thousands of miles away from them. Now that, is truly something remarkable.