Immigration on Agenda as Top Figures Gather in Jerusalem

Third gathering of the Global Forum of the National Library of Israel to focus on immigration, borders and identity — in Jewish, Israeli and universal contexts

Arrival of the Exodus, 1947, Photo: Keren HaYesod, from the National Library of Israel Photograph Collections

Arrival of the Exodus, 1947, photo: Keren HaYesod, from the National Library of Israel Photograph Collections

On March 17-19, some 80 prominent figures from Israel and around the world will gather in Jerusalem for the third meeting of the Global Forum of the National Library of Israel to discuss this year’s topic, “Migration-Borders-Identity.” Conversations will address universal cultural, sociopolitical and philosophical issues, as well as their specific Jewish, Israeli and Zionist dimensions. 

Participants include Thomas Friedman, Jamaica Kincaid, Natan Sharansky, Stanley Fischer, Jack Lew, Dan Kurtzer, David Makovsky, Abby Joseph Cohen, Mark Lilla, Mustafa Aykol, Anita Shapira and other leading figures from the worlds of literature, diplomacy, journalism, academia, economics, and more.

Though libraries are generally associated with enforced utter silence, this is not the case with the National Library in Jerusalem, which serves as the collective memory of the Jewish people worldwide and Israelis of all backgrounds and faiths. 

Now in the midst of a transformative renewal, the 125-year-old institution is opening access to the cultural treasures of Israel and the Jewish world as never before – in person and online – serving as a cutting-edge global center at the forefront of knowledge dissemination and cultural creativity. The stunning new National Library campus, now under construction between the Knesset and the Israel Museum, will serve as the clearest manifestation of this renewal. 

 “Traditionally Jews studied in noisy environments, as opposed to the traditional librarian demanding complete silence. We need to find the balance between the two,” says National Library of Israel chairman David Blumberg.

The bi-annual Global Forum gathering is one way this delicate balance is found, and a central element of the National Library’s renewal. The Forum serves as a singular platform for contemporary discussions inspired by the Jewish, Israeli and universal intellectual traditions embodied by the National Library’s collections, values, and vision.

The Global Forum of the National Library of Israel, photo: Hanan Cohen, the National Library of Israel
The Global Forum of the National Library of Israel, photo: Hanan Cohen, the National Library of Israel

In this context, the current gathering will address pressing questions relating to the challenges and opportunities posed by human migration: Which factors lead immigration to strengthen cultural development as opposed to eroding it? What justifies decisions about who is permitted and who is refused to cross borders? What are the implications of migration on international world order and the political stability of countries? How have personal experiences related to migration influenced the work of prominent authors? How have the Jewish people’s wanderings influenced and shaped their fate, identities, and values throughout the generations? How do Israeli elected officials view the dilemmas of refugees and infiltrators to which they must respond?

Discussions will be made available to audiences around the world on the Global Forum website. Select materials and related original content will also be featured on the National Library blog and Facebook page. The Times of Israel is the proud media partner of this year’s gathering of the Global Forum of the National Library of Israel.

The chairman of the Global Forum is Prof. Moshe Halbertal, renowned scholar and co-author of the Israel Defense Forces code of ethics. Ninth president of the State of Israel Shimon Peres served as the Global Forum’s founding honorary chairman. 

A Student Admission Request to the Hebrew University on the Eve of the Destruction of European Jewry

"I will pay you with my blood for homeland and science.”


The third gathering of the Global Forum of the National Library of Israel will take place in Jerusalem on March 17-19, 2019, bringing together prominent figures to discuss this year’s topic: “Migration-Borders-Identity”.   The following article is presented in the context of this year’s theme, encouraging broader discussions of these topics.


Kobe, 9 February 1941

To: The Administration of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem


It is now ten days since I arrived in Japan after an arduous and perilous journey, and having risen at last from my sick bed on which I fell with my arrival here, I reach out to you now in high hopes.

My name is Tanchum Rabinowicz. When I was in Vilna as a refugee, I sent you all the requisite documents in order to obtain a student-certificate, that is, a notarized copy of my Hebrew high school diploma, the application, photographs and curriculum vitae, for all of which I received from you an official letter informing me that you are willing to accept me on condition that tuition and other fees will be paid in Palestine. The letter bearing the date 9 June 1940 is in my possession.

I do not as yet feel well enough to describe in detail all the events of the Polish refugees in Vilna after the arrival of the Russians, and my own ordeals. I will describe them only in brief so that you will understand how I arrived in Japan in my wanderings to Eretz Israel.

Just as the Russians entered and consulates began to close, a few hundred refugees managed to obtain visas on their Polish passports to Dutch-American Curaçao [one of the islands], and based on these – Japanese transit visas, though no one believed at the time that any of this had any practical purpose, but the psychosis that infected everyone was the same, to acquire any type of visa. I too was among those who bought such a visa, and I kept it with me, and on the basis of it, I presented a request for an exit visa from Soviet Russia. The matter dragged on for months, but there was no one to receive the exit requests, on the contrary—we were prepared for them to send us to the dark mountains, or the “white-bears” [Siberia] as we called it in Vilna. Suddenly the situation took a turn and they started giving out massive numbers of exit visas. Among the recipients was myself.

Who could imagine my joy, who can describe the happiness and my friends’ jealousy? And indeed, the first group numbering 67 persons received exit visas and I was among the first. But all this was mingled with mostly pain and suffering, the Intourist [the official Soviet travel agency] would not accept rubles in payment for travel expenses, only dollars, and I had none. Because the visa had an expiration date, I didn’t think too long, and I and three other friends set off on the journey on our own and without our accounts (without getting in touch with Intourist). Thus, I traveled across Russia, buying tickets from one stop to the next, until I reached Vladivostok. I would never again attempt such a journey and in such a manner. Even now it is difficult for me to describe the hardships and obstacles we faced along the way and how we boarded the Japanese ship. Enough said that the Japanese consul from Vladivostok who helped me tremendously, came himself before the boat sailed and parted with me in front of everyone, and said it was an amazing feat of human heroism to make such a journey as I had.

Dear friends! I am, to my sorrow, once again a refugee. From my escape from the Soviets in Vilna, I left everything at home, I took only my high school diploma in order to contact you and only in this have I placed my hope, today as I am twice naked and a refugee + the letter from you which I have kept. Here am I lonely and deserted, and to whom should I turn if not to you—for your help. My situation is that I am on the edge of an abyss. The government does not permit me to remain here long, and since I am here only in transit, and if in case in the near future I do not receive any help to immigrate, the government will send me to Shanghai, where the material plight of the refugees is awful, without any aid, dying of starvation, and as bread is the most important force in our lives, and when one feels its lack it can bring a person to the brink, such is the situation in Shanghai. Dear friends, I cannot imagine that, for a few dozen Pounds that I have to pay, you would forsake a man – I risked my life on the path to Zion, I was educated in the spirit of loyalty to the homeland like you, who take care of homeland matters, I do not write in detail here because my head is still spinning, but I ask please, find my curriculum vitae in my documentation and read it again, and this letter afterward, and certainly you will not turn me away empty-handed.

I am pleading with you, send me a student certificate because I am standing at the precipice, don’t be so formal, I will pay you with my blood for homeland and science, but do not let me fall, I am already tired, and only just 23 years old, I send this letter to you without knowing if it will reach you, like a drowning man casting a message in a bottle into the ocean. I find myself now in a place foreign to my spirit and my soul, among people traveling to America with unused certificates in their possession, and they look at me, someone who is trying to reach and talking about Eretz Israel, with derision. Oh, that I may be able to find the time to describe everything, about Jewish psychology, about the awful collapse of ethics among the wealthy Jews in times of catastrophe and hardship. My telegraph address is Kobe Jewcom for Tanchum.

I am done, I know not whether there is any point to my letter, because as I said my head is still spinning. But know this, you will be saving a man for science and for Zionism.

I am awaiting your help via telegraph, and nevertheless keeping the faith!

Tanchum Rabinowicz

The Telegraph regarding my issue was sent to you by the Committee for Refugees!

(Letter from Tanchum Rabinowicz to the Hebrew University, 9 February 1941, Hebrew University Archive, box 138, file 2100-r-I)


The letter written by Tanchum Rabinowicz was recently discovered in the archive of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was presented for the first time in the exhibition Uprooted: The German-Jewish Scholars of the Hebrew University, now on view at the National Library in Jerusalem. This is one document from Rabinowicz’s file for admission to study at the University which includes his application form and photograph, a copy of his high school diploma and curriculum vitae written in the first-person. The file also includes the correspondence he conducted with the university between May 1940 and March 1941 and uncovers a life trajectory that began in Poland before the war and ended with an escape to Japan four months before the onset of the destruction of European Jewry. Rabinovitch’s request is one of many such requests sent to the university in the 1930s by young Jewish men and women who hoped that studying at the university would grant them a certificate to enter Palestine. As expected, most were unsuccessful in this hope, and what remains is this record documenting their lives, desires, fears, and lives as refugees while trying to extricate themselves from Europe.

The letter of Tanchum Rabinowicz stands out among the nine requests for admission presented in the exhibition’s display case devoted to students, while as a group they reflect the cultural and geographic variation of the Jewish communities on the eve of the Holocaust. Rabinowicz, who was born in Stołpce in Poland (now Stowbtsy, Belarus), to a well-to-do Zionist family, was a revisionist and active in the Beitar movement in his hometown and completed his studies in the Hebrew high school “Tushia” in Vilna. With the outbreak of World War II, like many among the Jewish intelligentsia, he fled to Vilna, which had been annexed by the Soviet Union as part of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact but after a few months was transferred to the Provisional Government of Lithuania. As Rabinowicz describes, during his flight eastward in the hope of one-day reaching Eretz Israel, he carried with him all of his possessions— “my high school diploma, […] the only possession remaining to me on my way toward Zion.” While a refugee in Vilna, he filed an admission request to study at the university in Jerusalem to which he added a notarized copy of the diploma he had with him.

This document was sent from Kobe in Japan after Rabinowicz had succeeded, with great difficulty, in crossing the Soviet Union with the help of a visa he was given by the vice consul of Japan in Kaunas (Kovno), Chiune Sugihara.  Against orders, Sugihara issued visas to thousands of Jews looking to escape from Europe, in the aftermath of the re-annexation of Lithuania by the Soviet Union in the summer of 1940. In light of the Soviet’s intention to close the foreign consulates in Kaunas and the prohibition against traveling across the Soviet Union without a valid visa, Sugihara, who would one day be awarded the title Righteous among the Nations, gave out 2,139 transit visas to Japan with the final destination being the island of Curaçao in the Caribbean, which was then a Dutch colony and did not require entry visas.

The secretariat of the university was not indifferent to the cry of Rabinowicz’s letter and replied: “We do not have a single permit at our disposal […] but we want to help him and will do what we can to save him. […] We will try to find the means for this purpose from the national institutions, but it will not be easy, because the number of needy is great and the means minimal.”

It is unknown if the certificate from the university is what helped Rabinowicz to complete his journey to Palestine via India in 1941, the year the letter was written, at least according to the newspapers from that period. Upon arrival in Palestine, he enlisted in the British army and the Irgun and later joined the Jewish Brigade and was sent to the Italian front. In March 1945, while returning from a patrol, he was accidentally shot and he died a few days later. As he promised, Rabinowicz paid with his blood for his homeland but had not yet paid for science. At the age of 26, he was buried in Italian soil.

Roll Out the Red Carpet: When the Royals Paid a Visit to the Jews of Amsterdam

Rare documents from the National Library of Israel show the excitement and dedication that went into the preparations for the visit of Wilhelm V and his bride, Princess Wilhelmina.

Portrait of William V, Prince of Orange

Portrait of William V, Prince of Orange by Henry Bone (1801).

The summer of 1768 proved to be an interesting time for the Jewish community of Amsterdam. The royal newlyweds, Wilhelm V, Prince of Orange and Prussian Princess Wilhelmina, were invited by the local Jewish leaders to visit the Ashkenazic congregation in the hopes of securing good ties and a solid relationship with the new couples’ court. A positive relationship with the royals was an essential factor in building and creating a favorable environment and decent conditions for the Jews living in the city of Amsterdam and in the Dutch Republic as a whole.

The Amsterdam Pinkas (Jewish community register) which is held in Amsterdam’s civic archives, details the frenzied preparations that took place ahead of the visit set for July of 1768. Included in these preparations was the creation of a compilation of prayers and psalms to be recited in honor of the visit. The prayers were carefully selected and the pamphlet was meticulously curated, detailing the order of prayers and psalms.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”
The cover page of the pamphlet printed on satin which reads “Light and Happiness for the Jews,” printed in both Hebrew and Dutch. Click to view the full pamphlet.

The community took great care in ensuring their royal guests would be able to follow and understand the procedure and prayer services that would take place in their honor. According to the Pinkas, the prayer book was produced in three separate versions. The first version included just two special copies that were produced for the royal couple themselves. The pamphlets were beautifully bound pieces of printed satin fabric that held the texts written in both Hebrew and Dutch. The second version was printed a total of 50 times for the members of the royal court. These copies were printed in Hebrew and Dutch on paper and were bound in red satin fabric. The third version was a simpler Hebrew printing of 500 copies for the local members of the congregation who were expected to be in attendance.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”
Click to view full pamphlet.

The prayer booklet was given the name, “Light and Happiness for the Jews,” a phrase taken from Megillat Esther, the text that is traditionally read on the holiday of Purim. The congregation leader bequeathed the two unique satin-printed copies to the royal couple during the proceedings and according to the community records the visit was considered a great success.

Join our group to learn more about Jewish life in Europe:


Let’s flash forward a few centuries to the year 2011 at the National Library of Israel (NLI). Dr. Stefan Litt, an archival expert and Pinkas researcher at the National Library learned of this unique story while studying the community register of the Ashkenazic community of Amsterdam and wanted to know more. He set out on a mission in the hopes of finding that at least one of the prayer pamphlets produced in honor of the royal visit was still around and available for study.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”
Psalms in Hebrew and Dutch from the satin copy of the pamphlet. Click to view the full pamphlet.

After performing a quick check in the NLI catalog, Dr. Litt found not only one, but two copies of the pamphlet preserved in the National Library stacks. The first pamphlet was a slightly faded copy of the version that was printed in Hebrew and Dutch and bound in red satin – one of the 50 copies that had been produced in honor of the visit for use by the royal entourage just as it had been described in the Amsterdam Pinkas.

This copy arrived at the National Library of Israel from the personal library of the German-Dutch researcher and rabbi, Sigmund Seeligmann.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”

The National Library of Israel recently acquired another copy of the 50 pamphlets produced in Hebrew and Dutch, however, this copy is missing the original red satin binding. It was part of the famous Valmadonna Trust Library, which was purchased by the Library in 2017. With this addition, the NLI now has the largest number of these printed testimonies of the royal visit in the summer of 1768. They were produced by Proops, the famous Amsterdam Jewish printing house. There is only one other known copy of this printing of the pamphlet that is held in the British Library in London.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”

As for the second copy kept at the National Library, Dr. Litt was amazed to find that it was one of the original two copies that had been beautifully printed on satin in honor of the royal couple themselves! The rare and exquisite pamphlet arrived at the NLI as a part of a large donation of books made by Dr. Joseph Chazanowicz from Poland over 100 years ago that made up the foundational collection of the Library according to the stamps located on the satin pages.

“Light and Happiness for the Jews”

You may be asking yourself – how did Dr. Chazanowicz get his hand on this extremely rare pamphlet of which only two were made? Well, in truth, we may never know. What is clear though, is that the royal couple did not seem to take much interest in this special gift. The second copy of the pamphlet produced for the couple appears to have gone missing without a trace. Even more notable is that there seems to be no remaining evidence of this historic visit in the form of pamphlets located in any of the major libraries in Holland. For now, the Jewish community’s efforts and careful planning will be held on record both in their community Pinkas and deep in the archives of the National Library of Israel.

Special thanks to Dr. Stefan Litt for his assistance in writing this article.


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What Became of Two Jewish Thieves Caught in Frankfurt in 1714?

In August 2018, the National Library purchased a rare item at auction: an anti-Semitic pamphlet published circa 1714, that mocked two Jewish thieves who were publicly executed for their crimes.

גנבים מפרנקפורט

In the early modern era, scores of impoverished individuals, groups, and even penniless families migrated across the roads and streets of Europe. They travelled from region to region in search of work or charity. Among these wandering migrants were downtrodden Jews. Their stories usually do not appear in the archives. The exceptions are the miserable souls who ran into trouble: Jews who were arrested, imprisoned and brought before judges to face trial.

Such was the case in the city of Frankfurt in 1714, which back then was already a bustling urban center, full of opportunity and industry. There was a well-known, established Jewish community in the city which owed its status to, among other things, its well-groomed relationship with the Holy Roman Emperors (in other words, the German emperors) as well as the abundance of employment opportunities available.

Poor, wandering Jews knew that they could find food, shelter, and charity in Frankfurt because of the generosity of its Jewish residents. At times, the wandering Jews socialized with the poor locals, who at least benefited from being members of the community.

This may have been the background setting for the events of the summer of 1714, when a gang of at least four Jews burst into the shop of a Christian clothes merchant named Maria Elizabeth Lochmann. The widow Lochmann ran a thriving business. Her shop was located in Frankfurt’s city center, already known for its valuable real-estate, and the loot from the burglary was reported to be 2,500 florins, a very high sum of money at the time. The circumstantial evidence was documented in a criminal case brought against the thieves and is preserved in the archives of the municipality of Frankfurt to this day.

But, there is another document that details the affair, which resulted in the execution of two of the accused Jews. In August 2018, the National Library purchased a very rare item at an auction: an anti-Semitic pamphlet that ridiculed the two Jews who were, ultimately, executed. One was named Lev Hertz (apparently a resident of Frankfurt). The second was named as Solomon Dickkopf (the surname means “thick head”). The four pages of this satirical anti-Semitic text detail the final moments of the two thieves’ lives. The anonymous author was undoubtedly familiar with Jews, their customs and their style of speech and subjected these to twisted mockery in his work. He described the execution of the two as a “wedding” between the condemned men and the new gallows which had been erected outside the city walls.


1 1

Anti-Semitic pamphlet recently purchased at auction by the National Library

The pamphlet purchased at auction by the National Library is quite rare. The only other known copy is found in the criminal files of the Frankfurt city archives. A number of details in the pamphlet indicate that the precise documentation of the crime was of little interest to the author. It makes no mention of the reasons for the execution (the theft) and also ignores the fact that the other two participants were apparently given only minimal punishments.

A curious detail appears at the bottom of the pamphlet’s first page, where we find the name of the printer, Veit Schnitzler, and the town in which it was printed, Katzenelnbogen (west of Frankfurt). However, we know of no printing presses owned by a man of this name. A logical conclusion that can be drawn from this is that “Veit Schnitzler” was actually a fictitious name that was chosen in order to hide the true source of the text.

It is possible that the author feared that the Jewish community would press charges against him for the abhorrent content of the pamphlet. A similar situation had occurred several years earlier, when the Jewish community sued anti-Semitic author Johann Andreas Eisenmenger. Eisenmenger had authored a book referred to in short as “Judaism Unveiled” (the publication’s full name was: “Judaism Unveiled, a thorough and genuine account of the horrific manner in which the stubborn Jews sully the Holy Trinity and disgrace it”). The Jewish community of Frankfurt successfully blocked the publication of the book in the Holy Roman Empire because of its well-established relations with the imperial court.

In 1734, nearly twenty years after the affair, additional information was published about the incident in a historical chronicle. The author, Georg August von Lersner, mentions the hanging of two Jews on the 31st of August, 1714. According to von Lersner’s account, the authorities ordered that the bodies not be taken down following the execution. They wanted them to remain hanging as a warning to any other would-be thieves. But, on the night of November 14th, the bodies were removed without authorization. The identities of the perpetrators were never discovered. Von Lersner took the liberty to assume that it was another thief, but it could just as well have been a gesture of decency by local Jews in order to recover the bodies of their brethren for the sake of a proper Jewish burial.



The section dealing with the hanging begins on the left page and continues on the right


This article was written in collaboration with Dr. Verena Kasper-Marienberg, an expert in the field of the Frankfurt Jewry.

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