Annual Docu.Text Documentary Film Festival Going Online

The sixth annual Docu.Text Documentary Film Festival will take place online from the 15th to the 25th of November, 2020

Due to the pandemic, this year’s sixth annual Docu.Text Film Festival is going digital.

Two parallel online festivals will be held November 15-25: one for international audiences and one for audiences in Israel, both of them featuring award-winning documentary films, Q&A sessions, and an array of special events.

The international festival will highlight some of the best Israeli documentary films from years past, including, among others:

Black Honey, The Life and Poetry of Avraham Sutskever, followed by a glimpse of archival treasures from the legendary Yiddish poet held at the National Library of Israel and the National Library of Lithuania;


The Jerusalem Dream, a personal story of Ethiopian immigration to Israel;


The Wonderful Kingdom of Papa Alaev, a colorful look at the internal life of one of Tajikistan’s most famous musical families, followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker;


Picture of His Life, a retrospective with renowned Israeli nature photographer Amos Nachoum, followed by a Q&A with Nachoum;


You Only Die Twice, a suspenseful thriller of stolen identity and a charged meeting between descendants of Jews and Nazis, followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker;


Golda, the story of Golda Meir’s term as prime minister, followed by a talk with Dr. Michal Asaf Kremer.


The Israeli festival will feature both Israeli and international documentary films, with a number of films and talks related to cultural and political protests, including, among others:

Meet the Censors, a first-hand look at censorship from Iran to China;


and Four Mothers, about the struggle of four women to get Israel to withdraw from Lebanon in the 1990s.


New films on female writers who have affected minds and societies will also be screened, including Margaret Atwood: A Word after a Word after a Word is Power; Worlds of Ursula K. Le Guin; Ferrante Fever; and Rain in Her Eyes, about legendary Israeli children’s author Dvora Omer, followed by a look at items from her archive at the National Library of Israel and a conversation with her son, who made the film.


The Docu.Text Film Festival is produced in collaboration with the Docaviv Film Festival. International Docu.Text is part of “Gesher L’Europa”, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to share stories and connect with people, institutions and communities in Europe and beyond.

Please Note:

  • All events are free of charge and open to the local and global public, Zoom registration required.
  • All film screenings are available for streaming by purchase only.
  • Based on the user IP address, viewers will only have access to films from the Israeli festival or the international festival.

For more information and tickets, please visit the Docu.Text website.


How a Map Torn From a Newspaper Helped Decide a Critical Battle of the Yom Kippur War

The Yom Kippur War of 1973 was utter chaos. Armored corps soldiers who joined the battle in the Valley of Tears on the Golan Heights were not familiar with the terrain and couldn't find a proper map to guide them, so they improvised…

Amnon Kafkafi during the Yom Kippur War

Sarah, 3:22 pm:

Thank you for contacting us. A librarian will be with you shortly.

Sarah, 3:22 pm:

Hello, my name is Sara. Welcome to the National Library’s live chat. How may I help you?

Amnon, 3:23 pm:

Hello Sarah, I was wondering if you might have a copy of the front page of the Haaretz newspaper, dated October 7th, 1973?

(A chat conversation between Amnon Kafkafi and Sara Yahalomi from the National Library’s Reference Department)


With four more months left to serve in the army, Amnon Kafkafi was on leave and staying at his parents’ house in Ramat Hasharon in central Israel. The year was 1973. Around two o’clock in the afternoon, an alarm broke the silence of Yom Kippur.

A few months earlier, Kafkafi had left his position as a tank commander in the 82nd Battalion of the 7th Armored Brigade, and therefore he was not called back to his unit. Nevertheless, he quickly put on his uniform while reassuring his mother that “it will be alright”. His father drove him down to the nearby highway. He then hitchhiked the rest of the way to the battalion’s base, Natan Camp near Be’er Sheva in Israel’s southern Negev region.

The base was nearly empty when he reached it. Amnon wasn’t aware that the unit’s soldiers had already boarded a flight on the eve of Yom Kippur from the local airfield to Mahanaim, in Israel’s north. He did not know that they had been assigned tanks and gear from the nearby emergency warehouses and sent to fight the Syrians on the frontline in the Golan Heights. The battalion adjutant, the lieutenant on base, ordered him and the other soldiers that arrived to stay on base and assist in various tasks.

They were far away from the critical frontline, where their battalion was deployed. Kafkafi called the Armored Corps Headquarters. The commanding officer asked if there were any tanks at Kafkafi’s base. Kafkafi replied that there was a T-54 tank in front of the battalion commander’s office, loot from the Six-Day War. The officer replied, “I’m sending a transporter vehicle for the tank,” forcing Kafkafi to admit he had only been joking, and that the tank’s frame was merely a monument and completely out of use. The officer told Kafkafi they needed tank operators on the frontline but that he could not spare a vehicle to collect Kafkafi and the others.

Kafkafi told the base adjutant that after two days of hard work, he and his friends wanted to go refresh themselves at Montana Ice Cream, within walking distance of the base. The lieutenant said, “No problem, just don’t forget to bring me back some ice cream too.” The soldiers indeed went out for ice cream, Kafkafi called his mother from a pay phone and told her he was on the base near Be’er Sheva and that there was no need to worry. Then, the seven tank operators crossed the road and began a hitchhiking journey up north, to the frontline.


Damaged Syrian tanks near the anti-tank ditch in the Valley of Tears (IDF Archives)

 Amnon, 3:27 pm

On that date, the day after the Yom Kippur War broke out, a map of the battlefield in the Golan was published. This was the only map I had when I fought in the Valley of Tears. Can I get a copy of this map or of the entire front page?

Sarah, 3:29 pm

We can send you the picture, but if you come here, you can get a copy at a much better price.

Amnon, 3:29 pm

I’m not sure if the map was published on October 7th or 8th, how can I find out before I order the page?

Sarah, 3:30 p.m.

I can check that for you.

Amnon, 3:30 p.m.

I’d be extremely grateful…

(A chat conversation between Amnon Kafkafi and Sara Yahalomi from the Library’s Reference Department)


“I was asked by a historian studying the war to put into writing everything that had happened,” says Kafkafi. “What sets my tank’s story apart in the war, is that because of the chaos of the first few days, the soldiers in my tank and I had to operate in an extremely unconventional manner. No one in the army ever thought people would go to war the way we did. Guys who had returned from leave and were no longer a part of the unit just took the initiative. Guys who had completed their service as tank operators a few months earlier, guys who chose to go to the frontline and hitchhiked all the way there. We took an unequipped tank, that could not shoot but could only be used for running the enemy over and just found the rest of the gear later [when they found abandoned IDF tanks on the Golan Heights]. We found everything we needed except for a map, because it is forbidden to leave maps behind.”


“We climbed up the hill and arrived at dawn on Monday, October 8th, at Camp Philon [on the Golan Heights]. The operations office did not know the exact location of our unit, but they said that the 7th Brigade was assigned the northern front and that the 82nd Battalion no longer existed. I figured this ‘news’ must be false, because after all we were dealing with a long day of battle. We all had in mind the commanders’ promise that anyone who hit an enemy tank would win a bottle of champagne.”

Amnon Kafkafi in a tank during the Yom Kippur War

“At Camp Philon we reunited with the four guys who traveled with us from Montana Ice Cream and together we decided we should go eat breakfast. We found the mess hall and asked the NCO in charge to give us food or at least some bread and cheese. He refused and said we were not assigned to his base and therefore were not entitled to food. We left there empty-handed. I found a newspaper from the previous day with small maps of “The Battlefields in the South and North.” I cut out the map of the Golan Heights, its size was approximately 5×9 centimeters, with a drawing of the Sea of ​​Galilee and to the right an arched line marking the border… I buried it in the pocket of my jumpsuit; it served us from that point on.”

(From the Hebrew book Ashnav 3 [“Window 3: My Yom Kippur War – The Story of a Tank Squad”] by Amnon Kafkafi)


Sarah, 3:30 p.m.

You saw the newspaper, and took it with you to war?

Amnon, 3:31 pm

I saw the newspaper and cut out the small map and kept it in my pocket. When I arrived at the emergency storage unit to be assigned a tank, there were no maps left, and so I navigated according to the newspaper clipping…

Sarah, 3:32 pm

Unbelievable …

Amnon, 3:32 pm


Sarah, 3:32 pm

This was before every six-year-old had a navigation tool on their phone.

Amnon, 3:32 pm

I am now writing a memoir and would love to attach that fully schematic map to it.

Amnon, 3:33 pm

In 1973 there were no cellphones…

(A chat conversation between Amnon Kafkafi and Sara Yahalomi from the Library’s Reference Department)

Amnon Kafkafi in the Valley of Tears, at the site where his tank was hit


“I knew I wouldn’t find the map in our digital collection of historical Jewish press and that I would have to search the microfilm collection,” says Yahalomi. “I knew he needed help here. He thought the map was published in the Haaretz newspaper and I searched and found a map on microfilm from October 8th, two days after the war broke out. I was sure it was the map from the war and sent it to him.”


2017-01-01 18:02 GMT + 02: 00 Sara Yahalomi:

Hello Amnon,

We spoke last Wednesday about the Golan Heights map you were searching for in the Haaretz newspaper.

I am happy to inform you that it was found on the second page of the newspaper printed on October 8th, 1973 (I hope this is indeed the right map).

It is attached to this email in two formats – pdf and jpg.

I must admit I was deeply touched by your story and it was an honor for me to find the map that served you in battle.

(I just wanted to clarify, so as not to create false expectations in the future, that this is not a standard service provided by the Library.)


Sarah Yahalomi | Librarian

The Reference Department, Public Services Branch


Hello Sarah,

It is very pleasant to meet (even if only on chat) someone who keeps their word, someone who is willing to go out of their way; someone who is simply moved by a simple story that took place 43 years ago.

Thank you so much for your help.


Did you check the Haaretz newspaper dated October 7th, 1973? I think there was an even less-detailed map published there, that did not specify the location of the Syrian attack. I’m not sure this is indeed the map I had back then. Maybe I was wrong altogether and the map in question was published in Yedioth Ahronoth or Maariv. Anyway, I think it was published on the front page on October 7th.


I have no doubt, Sarah, that what you have done for me is exceptional and not a standard library service, and for that I am truly grateful.

Please send my regards to your tank-operator nephew and wish him well.


Amnon Kafkafi


Yahalomi continued to search for the map in the computerized archive of Yedioth Ahronoth, to which the National Library system is linked; she found a map that fit the description and sent it to Amnon Kafkafi.

The maps published in Yedioth Ahronoth on October 7TH, 1973


2017-01-12 18:15 GMT + 02: 00 Sara Yahalomi:

Hello Amnon,

I’ve attached a photo of a map published in Yedioth Ahronoth on October 7th, 1973.


Sara Yahalomi, librarian

The Reference Department, Public Services Branch


Hello Sara,

You are the best!

This is the map just as I had remembered it. Granted, it is not in Haaretz nor is it on the front page – after so many years, memory can be deceptive. In any case, this is without a doubt the only map I had and with which we navigated our tank the whole time we were in the Golan, until our tank was hit and destroyed in the last holding action in the Valley of Tears.

I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your efforts.


Amnon Kafkafi.


And Sara Yahalomi adds: “It was an especially moving request. Can you picture the situation? Four guys in a tank with no map! Today, we use Waze for every little thing. They fought with a map they found in a newspaper! It was so surreal and unusual that I decided I wanted to help. Finding the map was exciting as was getting Amnon’s confirmation that it was indeed the map he was looking for.

“I have a nephew who is a tank operator, so the story touched me on a more personal level,” says Yahalomi. “The work of the Reference Department is oftentimes technical, but what’s exciting is that behind the technical searches are people to whom the information we find means a great deal. Amnon contacted us via chat but each of us here responds to about 800 chats every year; yet there was something special about this request.”


Kafkafi and the other tank operators barely knew the terrain of the Golan Heights. They were trained in the deserts of the Sinai Peninsula. Before he joined the army, Kafkafi spent a few years in Washington D.C. where his parents worked at the Israeli embassy.  He was therefore not familiar with the Golan, which had been conquered by Israel only a short while earlier.

“The size of the map I clipped from the newspaper (which you were so wonderful in helping me find) was a few centimeters; it was totally schematic,” says Kafkafi. “It outlined and marked the Sea of Galilee and the border. It was almost worthless, but still it was the only map available. So, I cut it out and put it in my pocket.”

“Aside from the nostalgia – for 43 years I remembered that map we carried around with us – it is an indication of how unready and disorganized we were. Heading out with a tank that wasn’t intact, with ex-tank operators who took the liberty and initiative to go out to war, reached the frontline and took part in the most significant and critical battles of the Yom Kippur War in the Golan Heights. The fighting in the Golan Heights was literally a battle for the borders of the country. The Syrians reached almost as far as the Sea of ​​Galilee.”


“The Battlefields in the North” – The map torn from the newspaper

Kafkafi in an interview with Israel Hayom from September 12th, 2013, on reconnecting with Shmulik Zemel, who was with him in the tank during that same battle: “We had a very brief but intense experience together. We didn’t know each other before the war and spent only two days together, but we were there in the most difficult battles of the war. At the end of the last holding action in the Valley of Tears, our tank was hit. One of our tank-mates was killed and a fourth tank operator was killed shortly after, while on his way to a memorial ceremony in memory of his brother who was killed in action. Zemel and I were injured. At one point, I knew two of my squad mates were killed and I did not know what happened to the third; was he dead or alive? And if he was alive – what had happened to him since? And so it was important to me to find him and recall our experiences.”


The late Shalom Burstein, who served in Amnon Kafkafi’s tank. Burstein was killed in the battle in the Valley of Tears.


An email from Shmuel Zemel to Kafkafi:

“We were a small cog in the machine but as they say on Hanukkah: ‘Each one of us is a small light. But together we are a mighty light.’ 

Indeed, that morning in the Valley of Tears can be seen as a tiebreaker, in which the side that did not break won, because in the end it still had a bit of strength left, and we were (like each of the other fighters) that ‘extra little bit’ needed to prevail!

Send my warm regards to Mickey and take care of yourself.

I wish you good health and may you take great joy in your grandchildren.


Your friend,



“We went out [to war] scared for the fate of the State,” Kafkafi concludes, “and ‘Raful’ [division commander Brigadier General Rafael Eitan, later Chief of Staff] truly said of the fighters on the northern front: ‘You are the ones who saved the State.’ Today they call it ‘engaging in combat’ or ‘initiating contact’ – we were guys who understood the significance of the events and did what had to be done in order to help out. And in the end, we succeeded. And we did it without a real map.”


This article was originally published in Hebrew in 2017.

We thank Amnon Kafkafi for allowing us to publish the correspondence.

If you are looking for of historical information that has special meaning to you, we recommend browsing through the Historical Jewish Press website, JPress. You may very well be able to find it there.

We invite you to contact our Reference services via chat or WhatsApp.

The Children of ’73 Write About the Yom Kippur War

Letters written by Israeli children during the 1973 war reveal how they experienced one of the nation's most challenging periods.

Photo by Eli Landau, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Today, forty-seven years after the Yom Kippur War, they are well into their fifties and sixties. Back then, in the fall of 1973, they were only schoolchildren, young boys and girls. To find out what they remember from that time, we can simply ask them, most are still with us. To know what they felt and thought in real time, when the events actually happened, we must read their letters.

The war caught not only the Israeli army and government off guard, but also the nation’s press. This included a number of newspapers and magazines intended for children. Two days after the war’s outbreak, on October 8th, Davar Leyeladim (a weekly children’s supplement of the Davar daily) published its Sukkot holiday issue. The only mention of the war was a short item at the top of the first page. It began with the words: “With the closing of this issue, on the eve of Yom Kippur, a fourth war broke out between Israel and its neighbors: the Syrian army crossed the border in the Golan Heights and the Egyptian army crossed the Suez Canal. Fierce battles are being waged on land, at sea and in the air.”

Plainly, there was an attempt to reassure young readers and present Israel as in control of the situation—even before the fog of war had lifted: “The Israeli home front has been called up and everyone has gone out to do their duty. At the time of writing, the IDF, with supreme heroism, is blocking the enemy’s advance and the both the Syrian and Egyptian armies are suffering heavy losses. News from the front lines is still vague, [and here there appears a quote from Defense Minister Moshe Dayan who predicts that “there is no doubt that the war will end in our favor!”].

The cover of the October 8th issue of the children’s supplement, Davar Leyeladim, made no mention of war…

The October 8th issue of the Haaretz children’s edition managed to update its readers further, but even there the news filled only a single page. In it, readers learned of the “small and insignificant” achievements of the Arab armies, “considering the fact that the enemy struck the opening blow.”

“Considering the fact that the enemy struck the opening blow, their achievements were small and insignificant.” – One page was dedicated to the war in the October 8th issue of the Haaretz children’s edition

Subsequent issues presented a more complete picture of the war’s events, in greater detail—with emphasis on the soldiers and their stories. Nevertheless, most of the issues maintained their pre-war format and regular sections, including serial fiction, children’s songs and even jokes. The section relevant to our discussion is “Haaretz Shelanu Readers Write” published in Haaretz Shelanu (“Our Country”), a children’s weekly.  There we learn that despite the intention of keeping up a routine even during the country’s most difficult moments, the war clearly consumed the thoughts of the nation’s children.

The first time we hear these children’s voices is the third week of the war, in Haaretz Shelanu’s October 22nd issue. In the letters from readers we hear the paralyzing fear caused by the fighting. Anat Gavrieli from Tel Aviv wrote: “Dear editor, I know there is a war. The Egyptians surprised us and ambushed us. I feel uneasy. There are real sirens, [not just drills]. Instead of going down to the shelter, I stay at home, seized with fear. On radio and television—all the time its war . . .  I am glued to the radio like a snail to its shell. I hope and pray that there will be peace and that the war will end in peace.”

Alongside the striving for peace, we find quite a bit of anger over the surprise attack: “Dear editor, the Arabs are cowards! We are not! Our enemies thought to defeat us during the day of fasting and prayer, but they soon learned that despite the fast we were ready to fight for our very right to fast and pray in peace. Our victory is assured, because our fight is a fight for life,” wrote 10-year-old Liora Binyamin of Haifa.

“…immediately, a siren went off. I put my sister Maya in the carriage and went downstairs. I played with her in the bomb shelter…Many thoughts went through my head. When the all-clear was given, they asked me: ‘Why are you always daydreaming?’ I didn’t answer…Hagit Kanev, #55 Tchernichovsky Street, Haifa”

Fear, longing for peace and anger also appear in later issues, alongside the simple questions and thoughts of the children. When the sirens sounded, Hagit Nakav and her sister went down to a bomb shelter in their apartment building in Haifa. To pass the time the two played, and “suddenly I thought: there in the north they are fighting, and here am I sitting and playing.” In the midst of the chaos of war and anguished concern for brothers and fathers fighting for their lives, Meirav Bieber, 10, from Raanana, sent a question: “In wartime, like now, what happens to the animals at the zoo? Are they put in shelters, or left in cages? And if they are left, what happens if a bomb falls on them? It’s animal cruelty!”

Comparisons between Israel and its enemies in the war focused on the question of sanctity of life. The children writing to the newspaper wrote decisively, as Anat Kasavi from Nahariya put it: “They, the Arabs, do not care at all about their people! If one falls, ten replace him. This is not the case with us! 658 dead after a week of fighting, from our very best! I don’t want our people to die, and I don’t want our enemies to die!”

”I don’t want our people to die, and I don’t want our enemies to die!… Anat Kasavi, #45 Herzl Street, Nahariya”

Many of the young letter writers wrote about life on the home front in the shadow of the war. Ella Tamar from Tel Aviv wrote about the war’s silent, overlooked heroine—the bereaved mother. Twelve-year-old Ella chose to link the figure of the bereaved mother to stories from the Bible, and held the patriarch Abraham’s heroism on a par with the grieving mothers, adding, “When the farmer sows his fields he knows he will soon reap the harvest. Yet these mothers will not reap theirs; they will not see their sons grow up and witness the fruits of their labor. The war prevented that. “

“When the farmer sows his fields he knows he will soon reap the harvest. Yet these mothers will not reap theirs; they will not see their sons grow up and witness the fruits of their labor…Ella Tamar, 12 years old, #47 Frishman Street, Tel Aviv”

With the announcement of the ceasefire, the country’s children turned once again to expressing their longing for peace. Gadi Marcus from Tel Hashomer wrote, “I think in my heart how awful war is. Apart from the many casualties, there is a lack of a workforce on the home front. Everything must be done for peace.”

With the fighting ended, the young writers were able to think about their enemies’ motivations for going to war. Talia Nur, 12, from Bat Yam, thought the surprise attack by the Egyptians and Syrians stemmed from a sense of loss of confidence after Israel’s decisive victory in the Six-Day War of 1967, and claimed that the “arrogance and dismissiveness” that characterized the Israeli attitude ahead of the Yom Kippur war was “not the right way to estimate the Arabs.” Eleven-year-old Ronit Hagai from Ramat Gan wondered: “Maybe most of the Arabs did not want to fight, and it was only the leaders who incited them?”

“Arrogance and dismissiveness is not the right way to estimate the Arabs….Talia Nol, 12 years old, #22 Rabbi Kook Street, Bat Yam”

Some of the writers responded to other children’s letters, such as seventh grader Galil Ben-Dor from Gvat: “Even though the Arabs were forced to retreat, they were not broken. Do not think, Liora, that we are braver than the Arabs.”

“Even though the Arabs were forced to retreat, they were not broken. Do not think, Liora, that we are braver than the Arabs…Galil Ben-Dor, 7th grade, Gvat”

The contributions of the Israeli youths themselves to the war effort were also occasionally mentioned, such as in this letter published in the November 26th issue:

“We worked in the gardens, washed cars and more, and collected 1210 Israel liras. We hope such acts will help us win this difficult war…Shani Herzberg and Yonah Davidovitch, 8th grade, Brandeis School, Herzliya”

With the war’s end and the rise of public debate on what was immediately dubbed “The Fiasco,” the youth displayed an impressive engagement in current affairs. Was it Dayan’s fault? Should the entire government take responsibility? Should the ruling party receive the blame? The figure of Motti Ashkenazi soon came to the forefront. Ashkenazi was a reserve officer whose personal campaign against the Israeli leadership’s failures surrounding the war became a public protest movement. Who was in the right—Dayan or Ashkenazi? What were the limits of legitimate criticism? These questions riveted the attention of children who were only ten or twelve years old. Even if their words echo those of their parents and other adults around them, their preoccupation with and articulation of the issues appears very mature today. Here are some excerpts:

“Motti Ashkenazi is nothing but a chatty parrot, who shouts and screams as he marches around the Knesset. And it is shameful for the State of Israel that a man who speaks so much nonsense is not stopped!… Ilana Zohar, Beer Sheva”

“It is possible that Moshe Dayan is culpable for what happened, but in fact we are all flesh and blood, every person can make a mistake, but he certainly didn’t do it on purpose. Therefore we must understand him and logically consider his actions in the correct way…Melli Herbst, #30 Uziel Street, Ramat Gan”

“Ruthi, you yourself wrote that Israel is a democracy, and that includes freedom of expression. So why shouldn’t Motti Ashkenazi express himself publicly?…Varda Harif, #22 Tirza Street, Ramat Gan”

“The people elected Moshe Dayan 6 years ago, and now, because of the war’s fiascos, support for Moshe Dayan has waned. Motti Ashkenazi demands that Dayan resign, and rightfully so. Moshe Dayan, as the minister responsible for state security, must bear the consequences…Noam Ben-Ozer, 10 years old, Kibbutz Gan-Shmuel”



This article is based on a previous article by Ioram Melcer.

When David Ben-Gurion Met the Chazon Ish

A summary of the ideological debate between Zionism and ultra-Orthodox Judaism can be found in one meeting held in Bnei Brak way back in October of 1952

Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion at the entrance to the home of the Chazon Ish in Bnei Brak. Press photographers were not allowed to enter the meeting room.

This morning I went to Bnei Brak for a meeting with the Chazon Ish. The press thought it to be a sensational visit, and I encountered crowds along the way and around his house. A group of his followers waited outside and in the nearby rooms. Yitzhak Navon was the only one who came in with me. I asked him the question to which I have yet to receive a sufficient answer from my observant friends. We are divided in different ways; in the matter at hand we are divided by our views of religious tradition. There are Jews like you and like me, how do we live together? How will we become a unit?

(From the diaries of David Ben-Gurion, October 20th, 1952)

There are some battles that seem to last for an eternity. Such was the meeting between two of the most prominent figures of the Jewish people in their generation. The encounter took place on October 20th, 1952, between Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, and one of the leaders and shapers of ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Israel, Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz (commonly known as the Chazon Ish).

On that fateful evening in the rabbi’s humble and austere Bnei Brak apartment, the prime minister, his assistant (and future Israeli president) Yitzhak Navon and the leader of the tiny ultra-Orthodox community in Israel crowded into the living room and sat down for a discussion. The prime minister opened with the ever so pertinent question: “How will we, religious and non-religious Jews, live (together) without exploding from within? We have different views. How do we live together?”

Rabbi Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, the Abraham Schwadron Collection at the National Library of Israel

It seemed the answer given by the Chazon Ish was prepared ahead of time. He referred to a well-known Talmudic parable about two camels travelling down a narrow path, one carrying a large burden and the other carrying nothing. According to Halacha, Jewish law, the rabbi explained, the unburdened camel was to make way for the one carrying the burden. The Chazon Ish left no room for interpretation and explained the parable himself: We, the ultra-Orthodox community, bear the burden of the Torah and its commandments. Therefore, the non-religious Zionists must defer to us and move out of our way. Ben-Gurion, not exactly the leader to cower in front of anybody, promptly replied: “And what of the absorption of immigrants? What of security? What of establishing the State? Are these not burdens?”

It soon became clear that the two men held completely different views. Though Ben-Gurion acknowledged the grave importance of studying the Bible, he wanted the ultra-Orthodox community to contribute to and become integrated with the state in the making. The Chazon Ish was appalled at what he saw as the desecration of the Sabbath and the Zionist rejection of the yoke of the commandments – the burden of the practicing religious Jew. He believed that recreating the world of the Torah that was destroyed in the Holocaust was the only thing that could save the Jewish people.

At the end of that meeting, the Prime Minister’s Office issued the following press statement:

PM D. Ben-Gurion met privately with Rabbi A. Y. Karelitz (“The Chazon Ish”) in Bnei Brak yesterday. The purpose of the visit was to exchange general views regarding the following issue: How can observant and non-observant (Jews) live together harmoniously in the State of Israel? The question of recruiting women (to the army) was not discussed and the visit had no relation to current political matters.

“Ben-Gurion Meets With the ‘Chazon Ish'” – A report in Maariv on the momentous meeting, published on October 20th, 1952

Contrary to the report, the meeting was much more than a “general exchange of views.” The prime minister made a gesture towards the ultra-Orthodox community by agreeing to continue the exemption of a limited number of Torah scholars from military service. As early as February 1948, before the State of Israel had even been formally established, a limited number of young ultra-Orthodox men were exempted from being drafted into the armed forces, which were already fighting in what would come to be known as Israel’s War of Independence. On January 9th, 1951, the prime minister ordered the Israeli army’s chief of staff to exempt yeshiva students from regular service. Ben-Gurion’s meeting with the Chazon Ish did not set the ground for the current ultra-Orthdox exemption from military service, but it did give the controversial early arrangement a substantial political boost, and equally significant – symbolic support.