The Story of a Sculpture: The Roaring Lion of Tel Hai

A century has passed since the Fall of Tel Hai; This is the story of Abraham Melnikoff’s Roaring Lion sculpture

תל חי

“Are you familiar with Melnikoff?” Dan Ben Amotz and Haim Hefer ask their readers at the beginning of one of the Hebrew stories in the collection of yarns and doubtful accounts known as Yalkut HaKzavim (A Sack of Fables). “This story isn’t about his brother or his father. It’s about him,” they continue, assuming that at the time of writing, every Israeli knew exactly who they were talking about. We’ll come back to this tall tale which became popular among the fighters of the Palmach because, amazingly, most of it is true. But first, for those who still don’t know who Melnikoff is or what we’re talking about, let us begin with a brief introduction, with the help of documents from his personal archive, preserved at the National Library, which hold answers to some of the riddles surrounding his life.

Few who visit The Roaring Lion sculpture which stands beside the burial place of Joseph Trumpeldor and his comrades at Tel Hai notice that the creator of this impressive memorial is also buried nearby. Abraham Melnikoff, one of the founding fathers of modern Hebrew sculpture, found his final resting place among the graves of members of the “HaShomer” organization, at the foot of the memorial he is most identified with. But Melnikoff’s turbulent life began far from the Galilean hills. He was born in 1892 in Bessarabia, a region that was at the time under the rule of the Russian tsar.

The sensitive youth who showed a talent for drawing was sent by his parents to Vienna to study medicine, despite his own objections. Shortly after, differences of opinion about the future of his studies led his parents to cut off financial support. Subsequently, he left school and began to travel, eventually reaching the United States. There, he would later tell, he met the famous author Jack London, whom he befriended. The two were even arrested by local police, after one of their frequent evenings of carousing ended badly.

The desire to study art eventually won out over a life of travel and adventure and in 1917, the 25 year-old Melnikoff registered for art school in Chicago. Yet, despite his brilliant talent and his teachers’ promises of a bright future, he could not stay the course there either, and in March 1918, Melnikoff volunteered for the Jewish Legion. He would never again see his young wife or daughter, who was born a few months earlier and given the name Bat Zion.

The battles in the Middle East were soon over, and after a short stay at a British army camp in Egypt, Melnikoff arrived in Palestine. He would return to Egypt a few years later on a quest after an image of the roaring lion.

אברהם מלניקוב בירושלים, 1922. צלם בלתי ידוע. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב, ‫ ARC. 4* 1956 03 49‬
Abraham Melnikoff in Jerusalem, 1922. Photographer unknown. Abraham Melnikoff Archive, ARC. 4* 1956 03 49

Even after he took off his uniform and became one of the leaders of the community of young Hebrew artists who rebelled against the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, Melnikoff continued to take up arms when needed. The strong, muscular young man was one of Jerusalem’s defenders during the 1920 riots, and the news of the fall of Trumpeldor and his comrades in the Galilee had left him stunned.

Melnikoff demonstrated his talent as a sculptor in many impressive monuments erected throughout the country, the largest and most striking of which was the memorial to General Allenby in Beersheba. This sculpture would one day cause him great pain after it was shattered by a mob of angry rioters.


מלניקוב מפסל את דיוקן אלנבי בסטודיו שלו שבשער שכם, 1922. צלם: בלתי ידוע. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב, ARC. 4* 1956 03 42
Melnikoff sculpting the portrait of Allenby at his studio by the Damascus Gate, 1922. Photographer: unknown. Abraham Melnikoff Archive, ARC. 4* 1956 03 42

Nevertheless, the twenties still marked the high point of his creativity: Melnikoff, who headed the Jewish Artists Association, was chosen to create the memorial sculpture for the grave of the Zionist author and philosopher Ahad Ha’am, and he had plans for many other large memorial sculptures.

תצלום דגם גבס של המצבה שפיסל מלניקוב על קברו של אחד העם, בתל-אביב. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב, ARC. 4* 1956 03 07
Photograph of the plaster model of the monument carved by Melnikoff for the tomb of Ahad Ha’am in Tel Aviv. Abraham Melnikoff Archive, ARC. 4* 1956 03 07

The opportunity Melnikoff had been waiting for came at the end of 1928, when the philanthropist Sir Alfred Mond, appalled that a monument to the defenders of Tel Hai had yet to be erected, decided to finance it himself. He personally chose Melnikoff to carry out the project of creating what was perhaps the first ever modern national-Zionist memorial.

The energetic artist presented the heads of the national institutions overseeing the project with an organized proposal. He had in mind to create a sculpture in the shape of a roaring lion made of stone from the Galilee near Tel Hai. Yitzhak Sadeh was recruited to help Melnikoff and together they located the stone that workers would quarry under Sadeh’s direction, to be delivered to the artist.

We will skip over the bureaucratic obstacles Melnikoff faced even before the quarrying began, and return to that tall tale at the start of our story. What did Ben Amotz and Hefer have to say about Melnikoff?

“When Melnikoff was asked to make the sculpture of the lion for Trumpeldor’s grave,” they recounted, “he said that first he needed to see a real lion. And, so he was told: Go, find yourself a lion. And in those days there was not a single lion in the country to be seen. He went to Dr. Bodenheimer in Jerusalem who knew something about animals and asked him, in German, where one could find a real lion. The doctor replied: Go to Cairo. And so, off he went to Egypt. Once there, he asked: Where is the zoo? The reply he received was: “Can you hear the roars of the desert beasts? There you will find the zoo. He walked and walked, until at last he arrived. … and once there, he ran straight to the lion cage.” Hefer and Ben Amotz vividly describe how Melnikoff had to bribe the Egyptian official in charge in order to aquire a permit to enter the lion cage and sketch the animals.

Photographs and documents preserved in Melnikoff’s archive show that this story was in fact not a tall tale at all: Melnikoff did consult with Shimon Fritz Bodenheimer, one of the first zoologists in Mandatory Palestine, who helped him get to Egypt and to the zoo in Giza. We can assume that Bodenheimer was very familiar with this huge zoo which first opened in 1911. Although we have no record of the bribes Melnikoff was forced to hand over to the official in charge, it is reasonable to assume that this was the case. But what was amazing was that instead of the paper and pencil which, according to the story, Melnikoff took from his pocket, he pulled out a camera he had been given, which he promptly began to use to document the lions he saw there. The photographs of the lions from the Giza zoo in Melnikoff’s archive show the help he received from the local staff in holding them in poses necessary for preparation of the sculpture. It is remarkable to think that the Egyptian lion documented here was the model in whose image one of the most famous Zionist monuments was created.


תצלומי אריות בגן החיות בגיזה, ספטמבר 1932. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב, ARC. 4* 1956 03 38

תצלומי אריות בגן החיות בגיזה, ספטמבר 1932. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב, ARC. 4* 1956 03 38

תצלומי אריות בגן החיות בגיזה, ספטמבר 1932. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב, ARC. 4* 1956 03 38

תצלומי אריות בגן החיות בגיזה, ספטמבר 1932. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב, ARC. 4* 1956 03 38
Photographs from the zoo in Giza, September 1932. Abraham Melnikoff Archive, ARC. 4* 1956 03 38

The stone Melnikoff chose was quarried only at the end of 1930 after which he began the difficult work of sculpting. The few blurry photographs that survive among Melnikoff’s papers reveal an unknown part of the process – that of dragging the stone to the site using extremely primitive methods.


 עבודות ההקמה של אנדרטת תל-חי, בערך 1931. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב, ‫ ARC. 4* 1956 03 39‬
Erecting the monument in Tel Hai, ca. 1931. Abraham Melnikoff Archive, ARC. 4* 1956 03 39

Melnikoff documented the moment captured by his camera in his memoirs: “The stone block began its final journey to the base of the monument at 11 o’clock in the morning and was in place at 5:30 in the afternoon. After two years of hard, technical work, I saw the monument’s proportions for the first time. It was very impressive, but I have to admit it was swallowed by the surrounding space.”


טקס גילוי האנדרטה לגיבורי תל-חי, 23 בפברואר 1932. צלם: בלתי ידוע. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב, ARC. 4* 1956 03 41


טקס גילוי האנדרטה לגיבורי תל-חי, 23 בפברואר 1932. צלם: בלתי ידוע. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב, ARC. 4* 1956 03 41
Unveiling of the Monument to the Heroes of Tel Hai, February 23, 1934. Photographer: unknown. Abraham Melnikoff Archive, ARC. 4* 1956 03 41

The monument was unveiled on February 23, 1934, approximately five years after the work on it had begun, and nearly fourteen years after the fall of Tel Hai. Under heavy rain, an impressive ceremony was held in which the entire leadership of the Yishuv took part. Melnikoff did not wait for the scathing reviews that soon spread, and a few days after the ceremony he left the country. The British Zionist lawyer and leader Harry Sacher invited him England to create portrait busts of his family, promising him good work conditions and a generous salary, perhaps as compensation for Melnikoff’s suffering and sacrifice during the difficult years of work at Tel Hai.

דיוקן ילדי הארי סאקר, 1922. צילום: פוטו פלסטיקה, תל-אביב. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב ARC. 4* 1956 03 31
Portrait bust of the Sacher children. Photo: Photo Plastica, Tel Aviv. Abraham Melnikoff Archive, ARC. 4* 1956 03 31


This time, Melnikoff didn’t abandon his family. He second wife, Charlotte, and their young daughter Chava, soon joined him, and they eventually settled in London.


מלניקוב עם רעייתו שרלוטה ובתו חווה, תל-אביב, 1929. צלם בלתי ידוע. ארכיון אברהם מלניקוב, ARC. 4* 1956 03 65
Melnikoff with his wife Charlotte and daughter Chava, Tel Aviv, 1929. Photographer: unknown. Abraham Melnikoff Archive, ARC. 4* 1956 03 65

The next few years were successful ones for Melnikoff: he retreated from his daring style but won recognition from members of the British aristocracy, government, and upper class. Men and women flocked to the side of the daring Russian-born fighter who had created a sculpture of General Allenby in the middle of the desert in Palestine, was an amazing violinist, and even wrote short stories in polished English. One of the highlights of his success was sculpting a bust of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who was willing find time from his busy schedule to sit for the artist.


Avraham Melnikov with the model for the bust of Winston Churchill, ca. 1941. Avraham Melnikov Archive, ARC. 4* 1956 03 29
Abraham Melnikoff with the model for the bust of Winston Churchill, ca. 1941. Abraham Melnikoff Archive, ARC. 4* 1956 03 29

The World War II years were difficult: Melnikoff’s London studio was badly damaged in a German bombing along with many of his finished works. He was forced to leave his beloved wife (who died in 1949) and send his only child away to a boarding school.  A heart attack in 1952 caused him to consider returning to Israel, but years passed and he was unable to fulfill this dream. In the meantime, his daughter Chava returned to Israel and adjusted well to life there.

Melnikoff planned his trip to Israel for a long time, but was only able to go through with it after much cajoling from friends and family. In November 1958, a friend from London wrote to Chava Melnikoff: “[Melnikoff] hasn’t decided yet which kibbutz to join, Kfar Giladi or another one. He will have to use his money to build a studio on the kibbutz but will get housing from the kibbutz […] He seems to me very pleased with the fact that he is traveling to Israel and especially about meeting with you soon.”

When Melnikoff arrived in Israel, in the summer of 1959, he was a completely different person from the young artist who had left 25 years before. As his health worsened, his plans for new sculptures and monuments faded. A group of sculptures he had packed to bring with him arrived after many difficulties along the journey from London, and he was required to pay duty tax in order to release them from customs at the port of Haifa. On his way there, Melnikoff suffered a stroke and he died shortly after. We will leave the sad story of what became of his sculptures and artistic legacy, which have largely disappeared, for another time.

One week after his death, on September 5, 1960, Abraham Melnikoff was interred in the cemetery in Tel Hai. His final resting place, as he requested, is at the foot of the monument of the roaring lion, which was his pride.

More images of the erection of “The Roaring Lion” sculpture

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Rare Books That Kept Prayer Alive During the Jewish Migrations of the 19th Century

These miniature prayer books were designed to be small enough to fit in the traveler’s pocket so they could be taken along for journeys across the sea.


A century before the Holocaust would destroy large percentages of the Jewish communities of Europe, long before even the First World War, Jewish migration from Europe to the West was already underway. From the 1820s through the 1880s, approximately 150,000 Jews immigrated to the United States from European countries. In the 1840s, German Jews, in particular, began to leave their home country in waves in search of a better life in “The Goldene Medina” (“The Golden Country”) of America.



Jews in Germany at that time were facing many hardships including persecution, restrictive laws and economic struggle as industrialization and modern improvements eliminated the need for several standard Jewish professions. The Jewish community was forced to take a hard look at their social status and many recognized that, if they hoped for a better future, they would need to look for it in another country.

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These German Jews took with them their culture and their heritage on their long and arduous journey across the ocean – including the traditional prayers, chanted by the Jewish people for centuries. In fact, the National Library of Israel holds several rare payer books from this time period of Jewish migration.



In the 1840s, the S. B. Gusdorfer and Zuerndorffer & Sommer publishing houses in Fürth, Germany, began printing new prayer books (siddurim) intended specifically for these immigrants. What made the books unique was their size, as the siddurim contained all the required prayers for every day of the year, but the books themselves were easy-to-carry miniature versions of the standard full-sized prayer books used in everyday prayer services.



Each of these books is smaller than a fist, intended to be carried in the pocket of a traveler who was heading out on a long journey. The cover page of the siddur reads, “Prayers for the entire year, for those on a journey and those crossing the sea and for those traveling to the country of America” in Yiddish. The books contained everyday prayer services as well as prayers for Shabbat, the various festivals, the High Holidays, and of course, the wayfarer’s prayer, a supplication read by travelers embarking on a long journey.



It seems that these miniature books were somewhat popular as the publishing houses printed multiple editions over the years. The National Library holds copies printed in 1842, 1854 and 1860. These books are considered to be very rare as many of them were either worn out from use by their owners on their journeys and in some cases they did not survive the trip at all.


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.

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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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