The Forgotten Holidays of David Ben-Gurion

"Ingathering of the Exiles Day" - intended to make immigrant soldiers feel welcome - was one of a number of 'festivals' that helped form the national ethos...

David Ben-Gurion with soldiers at Sarafend, 1949. Photo by Rudi Weissenstein, all rights reserved to Pri-Or PhotoHouse; part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

The State of Israel lacked many things during its first year of existence – peace and prosperity, food, economic stability, housing and basic infrastructure to name just a few.

National holidays, on the other hand, were plentiful!

Not holidays in the traditional celebratory sense; but rather holidays that were intentionally designed, declared and commemorated in order to achieve important national objectives under the complex circumstances and realities of the nascent Jewish state.

At the behest of David Ben-Gurion, these holidays were all imbued with deep symbolism – both timeless and timely.

David Ben-Gurion, 1949. Photo by Rudi Weissenstein, all rights reserved to Pri-Or PhotoHouse; part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Symbolically and literally, the holidays largely centered around the army, which was responsible not only for defense, but also for immigrant absorption, educating the masses and instilling Zionist values.

As Israel’s prime minister and minister of defense, Ben-Gurion directly oversaw and commanded the army, paying particular attention to its role as a tremendously formative player in the country’s society and culture.

During the very first temporary ceasefire during the 1948 war, just a month after the official establishment of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the first such holiday, “Swearing in Day”, was celebrated throughout the country’s military bases and beyond.

“Heads of the Nation on Swearing in Day”. From the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Then came “State Day” on the anniversary of Theodor Herzl’s death, which featured Israel’s first official military parade.

During the festival of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles), the country celebrated “Settlement Day”, emphasizing the army’s role in helping to fulfill the Zionist mission and dream of settling the land.

Then, during Hanukkah, which took place at the end of December 1948 and into January 1949, “Ingathering of the Exiles Day” was celebrated, emphasizing the importance of another central Israeli value: immigration.

The day’s name is decidedly more natural in Hebrew: “Yom Kibbutz Galuyot” – a clear reference to traditional Jewish texts describing the almost magical messianic period in which Jews will finally return to the Land of the Israel from the four corners of the earth. In one famous line from the Talmud, for example, Rabbi Yochanan claims that the day of the ingathering of the exiles is even greater than the day on which the heavens and the earth were created (Pesachim 88).

In some ways, the massive immigration to Israel during that time was truly no less than miraculous. Some 100,000 new arrivals had come over the course of just a few months.

Immigrants in Pardes Hanna, 1948. Photo by Rudi Weissenstein, all rights reserved to Pri-Or PhotoHouse; part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

While the ideal of immigration was certainly an important value to emphasize and instill, the point of the day was also very practical.  The absorption of all of these immigrants was hardly going smoothly, especially in the army where successful absorption in the context of conflict could literally mean the difference between life and death.

With about a third of all combat soldiers in Israel’s War of Independence being fresh immigrants, their acceptance was critical to the success of the entire effort, yet in many cases those who had been born in Mandatory Palestine or had immigrated even just a few years prior looked down on the more recent immigrants in their midst.

They often had little empathy or compassion for the recently arrived Holocaust survivors, many of whom had actually enlisted while still in displaced persons camps in Europe. Immigrants from the Arab world were often considered inferior and barbaric due to the dramatic differences in culture and language.

Immigrants from North Africa, 1949. Photo by Rudi Weissenstein, all rights reserved to Pri-Or PhotoHouse; part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Moreover, for diplomatic reasons Israel had largely refrained from emphasizing the fact that many of its soldiers had come from overseas.

By Hanukkah of that first year, the circumstances and needs were ripe for the new state and army to make efforts encouraging the acceptance and appreciation of its new immigrants, especially those fighting on the front.

“Ingathering of the Exiles Day” was largely born out of the realization of this need, and in fact, the immigrant soldiers were the focus of the holiday.

It was not incidentally scheduled to take place on Hanukkah, the most militarily heroic festival on the Jewish calendar.

“Ingathering of the Exiles Day” ceremonies and special events took place in communities across the country and were held on virtually every IDF base, as immigrant soldiers were invited to share their stories, and special materials were distributed in Hebrew, as well as their native languages.

A leaflet with poetry verses and some illustrations distributed by the IDF for the first “Ingathering of the Exiles Day”, 1949. From the National Library of Israel collections

At the official national ceremony, Ben-Gurion compared the diplomatic and military difficulties faced by the young country to the internal struggle of successful immigrant absorption.

The connection between the global Jewish people had never been stronger, he said, calling the immigrant soldiers, a “clear living manifestation” of that connection and pointing out that they had come from 50 countries across the world, from all ethnicities, tribes and socio-economic backgrounds.

“The connection between the nation and the Diaspora doesn’t recognize in our army distinctions between East and West. There are soldiers from the West, and there are from the East, Habash [Ethiopia], Burma, India and China. From East and from West all as one came to the army of liberation.”

Civilian institutions were also called upon to participate, with the goal of making every immigrant feel at home in their modern-ancient homeland.

At large ceremonies throughout the country, the nation’s leaders called upon the general public to invite immigrant soldiers to family Hanukkah parties, and – as possible – even to stay overnight in their homes.

This official IDF poster for the first “Ingathering of the Exiles Day”, conveys all of this spirit simply, yet powerfully:

Poster for “Ingathering of the Exiles Day”, January 1949 (Design: Yohanan Simon / IDF Culture Service). From the National Library of Israel Ephemera Collection. Click image to enlarge

Designed by artist Yohanan Simon, the poster depicts the new army and state as the center of gravity for Jews dispersed around the globe, featuring the words:

“And they will be brought to us from East to West, a great army to help the nation…”

Reverberating with prophetic Biblical connotations, the line comes from Hebrew poet laureate Hayim Nahman Bialik’s poem “LaMitnadvim Ba’Am” (“To the Volunteers Among the People”), a work known for its allegorical Maccabee references.

The poem, written by Bialik in Odessa in 1899, quickly became popular in the Zionist movement, with its stirring Hanukkah-infused call for national renewal, unity and settlement of the Land of Israel.

It was put to music by a number of different composers in the early 20th century, recorded and sung at Zionist gatherings and events.

All of the poster’s elements – quite intentionally assembled – formed a message aimed at Israel’s citizens, especially its new immigrants.

Over the next year, 300,000 additional new arrivals would come from across the globe, and Israel’s second “Ingathering of the Exiles Day” would become known by another name: “The Day of the Million”, in celebration of the Jewish population surpassing one million people.

Celebrations that year took place across Israel and the Jewish world: from Los Angeles to Yemen, Romania to Libya, Australia and elsewhere, including aboard ships on their way to bring the next million new arrivals.

This ad for an “Ingathering of the Exiles” / “Day of the Million” celebration appeared in the Australian Jewish News on December 16, 1949; available as part of the National Library of Israel Digital Collection

Two flights of immigrants from Yemen arrived at the airport and spirits were generally high at their welcoming party, though at least one report compared the festivities to “The Parade That Didn’t March”, as chaos reigned, with crowds of people squeezed together shouting, and government clerks “fighting like lions by the buffet to get a plate of food…”

A true familial homecoming!

Other reports, however, related a more civilized, if not heartwarming affair. A chapter from the Book of Ezekiel and poems by Natan Alterman and David Shimoni were recited, the Police Band played and Hanukkah candles were lit.

After thousands of years of exile, these immigrants were being welcomed home to ancient and modern words hearkening the “Return to Zion”.

Though the “Day of the Million” and the other Israeli holidays of 1948-1949 may be long forgotten, they all helped form the foundation of a national narrative and ethos upon which the young State of Israel could build, despite all that was lacking during those difficult early years.


A version of this article was originally published in Tablet Magazine. It appears here as part of Gesher L’Europa, the National Library of Israel’s initiative to connect with people, institutions and communities across Europe and beyond, through storytelling, knowledge sharing and community engagement.

Thanks to Dr. Hezi Amiur, curator of the Israel Collection at the National Library of Israel, for his expertise and assistance.

From Russian Villagers to Galilean Farmers: The Story of the Dubrovins

Yoav Dubrovin, a farmer from Russia, immigrated to Ottoman Palestine with his family in the early 20th century | The Dubrovins were among a group of Russian converts to Judaism who settled in the Land of Israel, in hopes of leading a Jewish life | Eighty years later, the family farm is now a museum and visitor’s center commemorating the lives of the area’s early pioneers

One day, towards the end of the 19th century, in a small village near the Russian city of Saratov, the following strange scene unfolded: a band of Cossacks was making its way towards the village, looking to raid the local families of Russian “Judaizers,” when suddenly they stopped dead in their tracks. Before them, they saw something unexpected – a procession of villagers, locals who were known as “Subbotniks,” were walking towards them, reverently singing verses from Psalms and led by an older man carrying a large Torah scroll.  The Cossacks, the most fearsome of Russian soldiers, were dumbfounded. Finally, the commander called on his men to retreat, and the band turned around and galloped away, leaving the Jews unharmed.

The story of how a group of Russian converts to Judaism managed to evade a Cossack attack, thanks to the intervention of the God of Israel, was retold for many years after. The Dubrovins, the family that led that procession, would settle in the Land of Israel in 1909, in Yesud HaMa’ala in the Hula Valley. They were led there by the family patriarch, Yoav (formerly Andrey) Dubrovin. A solemn and serious brood, the Dubrovins arrived on the land they had purchased bringing with them agricultural equipment as well as knowledge and expertise. They also brought  the very Torah scroll Yoav had carried during his legendary stand-off with the Cossaks, and which can be found to this day in the synagogue at Yesud HaMa’ala. Whether the legend is true or not, it has become part of the folklore surrounding the arrival of those Russian Jewish families in the Holy Land.

Yoav and Rachel Dubrovin. Photo courtesy of the Orni family

The Dubrovin family was one of the most prominent examples of Russian gerei tzedek (lit. “righteous converts” to Judaism) who immigrated to the settlements of the Galilee in the northern Land of Israel. These converts were in fact part of a diverse group of Russian-Christian peasants, who were drawn to Judaism and who began to observe various Jewish customs. Popularly referred to as “Subbotniks,” the origin of the term is the Russian word subbota, meaning “Sabbath”. The nickname was given to groups of Christians who began observing various Jewish commandments, chief among them – the marking of the Sabbath. However, most of these families of converts who arrived in the Land of Israel underwent a “reverse” process: They began by keeping certain Jewish commandments and observing various customs, and only after a period of gradual adoption of a Jewish way of life, to one degree or another, did they undergo a full halakhic conversion.


Subbotniks? No, Righteous Converts

Yoav Orni, the great grandson of Yoav Dubrovin (who is also named after him), says that his family’s immigration to the Land of Israel had been for purely religious reasons, though it coincided with the parallel activities of the Zionist movement and its emissaries, who were busy promoting Jewish immigration to Ottoman Palestine at the time. Yoav Dubrovin underwent religious conversion even before he immigrated, and during their final years in Russia, he and his family had lived as Jews. The process of conversion to Judaism was a complicated matter for all parties involved: the decision of a Russian Orthodox Christian to convert to the religion of the persecuted Jews was a difficult and courageous one. Meanwhile, the local Jews feared the wrath of the authorities, which could easily suspect them of proselytizing and respond with violence and harsh restrictions. This was one of the reasons that Subbotniks of all kinds, including righteous converts like the Dubrovin family, began to observe Jewish commandments even before they converted.

“Yitzhak, Yoav Dubrovin’s second son, was drafted into the Tsarist army. There was a grave fear that Yitzhak would not be able to keep kosher in the army. This was the last straw for Yoav Dubrovin, who decided to immigrate to the Land of Israel with his whole family to live a Jewish life,” says great-grandson Yoav Orni. Orni recounts how Yoav Dubrovin arrived at the military barracks where his son was serving, bribed the commander, took his son with him and continued on to the Land of Israel. “On the way, the Dubrovins met some Jews who had immigrated there and returned, warning them about the harsh conditions. In response, Yoav said to his family, “Forget these Jews, we are going to the Land of Israel and that is where we will build our home.” They were experienced farmers, with substantial resources, who arrived in the Holy Land to continue living a Jewish life at all costs.

Yoav Dubrovin on a return trip to Russia after emigrating, 1910. Dubrovin is seen wearing an Ottoman “Fez,” the height of local fashion of the day. The Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Tough Farmers on Their Way to the Land of Israel

The story of the Dubrovin family’s immigration was typical of their general attitude: they did not come seeking comfort or an easy life, they simply wished to build a safe home for themselves, and nothing was going to stand in the way of that goal. At that time, the days of the First Aliyah, Zionist immigrants and pioneers were finding it extremely difficult to cope with the harsh conditions in the country as well as the demands of an agricultural livelihood, not to mention the competition and occasional conflict with the local Arabs. “Most of them are incapable of being simple peasants, of hard physical labor and making do with little,” wrote Ahad Ha’am at the time about the people of the First Aliyah. Moshe Leib Lilienblum held similar views, pointing out that these immigrants did not possess sufficient knowledge of farming skills —plowing, sowing, tillage and so forth. The righteous converts who had arrived from Russia managed to fill this knowledge gap, and even if they had not come as part of the Zionist enterprise, their presence was a godsend for the early Zionist farmers. At first, the local Jews were suspicious and even acted condescendingly towards the former Christians, who sometimes prayed in Russian alongside Hebrew, and who had their own customs which initially set them apart in the Holy Land. Eventually, however, these differences blurred or gradually gained acceptance.

Dubrovin Farm. Photo: Tomer Hu

A few years after his arrival, Yoav Dubrovin went back to Russia for a visit, and returned with agricultural equipment that supplemented his already extensive farming knowledge. Unlike most of the people of the First Aliyah, Dubrovin was an experienced farmer, accustomed to hard work and scarcity. In 1909, after several years of farming in various settlements, Dubrovin purchased land near Yesud HaMa’ala (the land was offered to him free of charge at first, yet he refused to accept it as a gift) and established the Dubrovin farm, one of the best examples of local agriculture during this period. The estate is built in a European style, resembling a fortress; its buildings are built around an inner courtyard and connected to each other, creating a structural wall which provides protection from any outside invasion. Inside, the Dubrovins built one of the grandest and most prosperous farms in the Land of Israel at the time. On it, they raised bulls, cows, geese, horses and chickens while cultivating grain and wheat as well as other agricultural crops and fruit orchards. The extended family lived on the Dubrovin estate, alongside workers who joined the farm and lived in subsidized housing nearby.

Certificate of Honourable Mention awarded to the Dubrovin Family by the British Mandatory Government for chickpea cultivation. Courtesy of the Orni Family

Tragedy Strikes

Yoav Dubrovin, who was already 70 years old when he immigrated, was largely able to realize his dream. The estate he built was a model of local farming and was recognized by the local authorities for its achievements. Dubrovin himself lived to the ripe old age of 104, but many of his family succumbed to disease after immigrating. During this period, the last days of Ottoman rule in Palestine, most of the land’s inhabitants lived far from malaria-stricken areas, but the Zionist settlers and the gerei tzedek had no choice but to establish their settlements in less-desirable disease-ridden areas. Thus, in addition to their alienation from local Jewish-Hebrew society due to their religious roots, the righteous converts also had to struggle with health-related issues.

Malaria, transmitted by the Anopheles mosquitoes that multiplied in the Galilee swamps, devastated the Dubrovin family. Near their estate was a small swamp the malaria researchers in the area called “Dubrovin Swamp,” from where the mosquitos reached the family farm. The first to fall victim was Yoav’s son, Yaakov, followed by his eldest son Avraham. Three of Yoav Dubrovin’s grandchildren also fell ill and died at a young age. Dubrovin, who dealt courageously with this as well as with repeated attempts at theft and burglary on his farm, was finally forced to give up. Having no choice, he moved to nearby Rosh Pina, leaving his son Yitzhak to maintain the farm. Yoav Dubrovin and his wife were deeded a new plot of land and established another small farm. However, malaria struck again, killing Yoav’s youngest son Ephraim, his son’s wife and finally Yoav’s wife Rachel. Dubrovin finally died in 1935, at the age of 104.

Ezra Orni, great grandson of Yoav Dubrovin, next to Yoav Dubrovin’s grave in Rosh Pina. Levin Kipnis wrote the poem Rakefet (Cyclamen) about Ezra’s mother, Batsheva.


The Dubrovin family, like the other families of righteous converts who immigrated to the Land of Israel in the early 20th century, merged into the country’s Jewish society. Yitzhak Dubrovin, Yoav’s son who remained on the farm after his father left, continued living there well into the 1960s. He finally left as well in 1968 and bequeathed parts of the farm to the Jewish National Fund. Twenty years later, a special association dedicated to the farm’s restoration was established, along with a museum that recreated the Dubrovin family’s pioneer settlement living conditions and agricultural work. The buildings, orchard, furniture and agricultural equipment were restored and farm animals were brought in. The site has become the documentation and conservation center for the nearby Yesud HaMa’ala settlement. The visitor’s center, opened in1986, is considered one of the most developed and successful conservation sites in the country.

The Dubrovin Farm museum logo, showing the farm’s unique structure

The Circassians in Israel: From the Caucasus Mountains to the Galilee

A look at the heritage, ethos and culture of the Circassians or “Adyghe” - one of the most interesting and unique minority communities in Israel. Expelled from their homeland in the Caucasus Mountains in the 19th century, they settled in three villages in the Land of Israel, two of which survive to this day…


Israeli Circassian men wearing the traditional dress of the Caucasus warrior. The Circassian flag in the photo features three arrows surrounded by twelve stars

Every child raised in the Israeli school system is educated and brought up on the Israeli ethos, including its days of remembrance: Holocaust Remembrance Day, Memorial Day for Israel’s Fallen Soldiers, Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Daym, as well as other official days of remembrance and commemorative events. However, two high schools in Israel, Kadouri and Sasa, both in the northern Galilee region, mark yet another date:  the Circassian Day of Mourning, which commemorates the Circassian genocide and the exile of the Circassian people from their homeland. The reason these schools mark this day is that they serve the residents of the Circassian villages of Kfar Kama and Rehaniya, where the vast majority of the Circassian population in Israel lives. This is one of the most unique population groups in Israel, and despite its limited size, it occupies an important place in local and general history.


From the Caucasus Mountains to the North of the Holy Land: The Circassians as an Exiled People

The Circassians, or “Adyghe” as they call themselves in their language, are a people originating from the northwestern Caucasus, a region located east of the Black Sea, between Russia, Turkey and Iran. The Circassians lived in relative freedom in their homeland without establishing a “state”, and were generally divided into 12 separate tribes (although in practice there were apparently additional sub-groups as well). By the end of the 18th century, these people collectively saw themselves as “Adyghe” – Circassians. The Russian Empire attempted to conquer the region with the aim of annexing the Caucasus and settling other populations there. Circassian opposition to Russian colonization lasted for about a hundred years. These difficulties led the Russians to take extreme action, and in the final stages of the war (1860–1864), they burned hundreds of villages and engaged in ethnic cleansing, targeting the entire Circassian population. Most of the survivors were expelled from the Caucasus, and about a million of them found refuge in the territories of the Ottoman Empire, including the Land of Israel.

The Caucasus, homeland of the Circassians


Originally, there were three main Circassian settlements in the Land of Israel, of which two remain: Kfar Kama and Rehaniya; the third settlement, near the town of Hadera, was abandoned due to an outbreak of malaria. Throughout the 19th century, the region of the eastern Lower Galilee, where Kfar Kama was founded, was under the de facto control of Bedouin tribes. The Ottoman government tried to impose its rule over the region in various ways, settling Maghrebi migrants from Algiers there and sending Kurdish battalions to confront the Bedouin, but with little success. The arrival of the Circassians changed things and effectively paved the way for Jewish settlement in the area about twenty years later. The “Old Village” complex in Kfar Kama, founded in 1878, reflects the conditions in the Land of Israel at that time. In the Caucasus, the Circassian villages were built over large areas, with houses constructed close together, thereby creating a defensive wall around the village’s public spaces for reasons of security and defense.  Kfar Kama is one of the most impressive surviving examples of local construction from the late 19th century and early 20th century in the Land of Israel.

Wherever they went, the Circassians often brought modernization along with them. Besides the Galilee, they established 13 settlements in the central Golan Heights, while also settling across the Jordan River, where they established the modern city of Amman. They introduced advanced construction methods, metal and woodworking techniques, a mixed economy, and also incorporated European architectural styles, such as the famous “Marseille tiles” still visible in their villages. Kfar Kama became an important regional center in the late Ottoman and Mandatory periods. They built a modern mill in a central area of ​​the Old Village which became a meeting place for all of the area’s inhabitants—Arab peasants, Bedouins, Jews and the local Circassians. In the 1948 war, the Circassians chose to fight alongside the Jews, and ever since then they have fulfilled their compulsory service in the IDF.

Circassians in Kfar Kama, 1960s. Two of the men wear the “kalpak” hat, characteristic of the region of the Caucasus and Central Asia, and one wears a keffiyeh. From the Boris Carmi Archive, the Meitar Collection


The Circassians are a people and not a “sect,” as they are sometimes mistakenly referred to in Israel. They are a national minority community in Israel that maintains a robust relationship with kinfolk in Israel and abroad, as well as their desire to return to their homeland. At the same time, they are also Israeli and are completely integrated in all aspects of life in the country. While the Circassian population in Israel numbers only 5,000 people (out of several million in the Circassian diaspora), they are perhaps the most active Circassian group in terms of preserving their extensive heritage, as well as the memory of the genocide and expulsion from their homeland, which is commemorated on their Day of Mourning, May 21. Moreover, the Circassians in Israel work to preserve the Adyghe language.  Adyghe, which had been a spoken language only, became a written language in the 19th century (although the Circassians also had a well-developed and unique graphic marking system, which is now preserved mainly in various family symbols). The language has no less than 64 consonants and is taught in elementary and middle schools. Every Circassian child learns Hebrew, English, Adyghe and Arabic, and some also study Russian and Turkish. The schools in Kfar Kama and Rehaniya are the only ones in the world where the students are Muslim and the language of instruction is Hebrew.

Students in the elementary school in Kfar Kama on Circassian Flag Day. Photo: Chen Bram


The “Adyghe Xabze” and the Circassian Ethos

Most Circassians are Sunni Muslims. They adopted Islam at a relatively late stage, having previously been Christians, and pagans before that. Nevertheless, whether Muslims or Christians, Circassians have a single code of conduct, called Xabze, that guides the way they live. This is a set of laws, a code, which directs their daily behavior and wields great influence on their education and values. In addition, the Adyghe have their own mythology and folktales. Their epic Nart sagas are continually passed down, from generation to generation, telling the stories of various Caucasian folk heroes.

A Circassian from Kfar Kama in traditional dress, 1970s. The Boris Carmi Archive, the Meitar Collection


The word Adyghe means “person of virtue” and Adyghe Xabze refers to the traditional way a Circassian is expected to behave. Adherence to this way of life is very important, and those who do not respect the custom must bear the burden of hinap – “shame”. The Xabze code guides education, the rules of society and honor, marriage, ceremonies and daily conduct. Most Circassians prefer to marry among themselves in order to preserve their ethos. Besides their customs, the Circassians continue to preserve their traditional music and dance. The traditional clothing—chiefly the Circassian warrior’s coat, featuring special pockets across the breast for bullets – is worn mainly for the traditional Circassian dance.

A Circassian boy from Kfar Kama wearing a traditional Circassian warrior’s coat as well as a dagger on a belt around his waist, 1970s. The Boris Carmi Archive, the Meitar Collection


The Circassians have integrated into Israeli society in many ways. In the past, many continued to serve permanently in the security forces after their compulsory service. Many others work in all sectors of the economy, as researchers and scientists, educators and industrial workers. Many leave for a period to study, but most choose to return to live in their villages. The Circassians have also integrated into Israeli society in sports: Bibars Natkho, the captain of Israel’s national soccer team is a Circassian from Kfar Kama; his late cousin Nili Natkho, who was killed in a car accident, was a promising, young basketball player who led her teams, Maccabi Raanana and Elitzur Ramla, to the national championship and cup. The Circassian population in Israel stands out for its high percentage of recipients of higher education, and in recent years, a special curriculum has been developed specifically for Circassian schoolchildren.


Kfar Kama: An Extraordinary Landscape in Israel

In the early 20th century, with Jewish farms and colonies already established in the Galilee, the Jewish immigrants of the Second Aliyah came to an important realization: Jewish workers were not enough; there was also a need for Jewish guards and watchmen. However, regardless of the desire for Jewish independence in security affairs, there was a tradition that the Circassians of the Galilee held a central place in securing the Lower Galilee region. David Ben-Gurion, upon visiting the Jewish settlement of Sejera where the Bar-Giora Jewish defense organization (later Hashomer) was established, took note of the qualities of the neighboring Circassians from Kfar Kama, “resolute and gallant of spirit, excelling in bravery and courage,” and added the familiar Arabic saying: “Fish akhbar min cserkes” – “None are greater than the Circassian”. Eventually, the people of Hashomer established a Jewish defense in the Galilee, and even gained the respect of the Circassians, after proving their grit.

Traditional Circassian dance at the Kfar Kama Heritage Center. Photo: Shir Aharon Bram


Kfar Kama is built over the ruins of an ancient Byzantine village, and the mosque is built of basalt stones, in a style drawn from another period when Circassians lived in Israel—the Mamluk period. The Mamluks, military slaves in the Muslim Empire, at one point managed to make themselves rulers. The Mamluk Burji dynasty, which ruled Egypt for 132 years, was of Circassian origin. The most famous of the Mamluk rulers, however, was the Sultan known as Baibars, after whom the captain of the Israeli national soccer team, mentioned above, is named.

If you happen to visit the Old Village, pay attention to the details, to the construction of the houses, and most importantly, speak to the locals, who are known for their hospitality. It is also highly recommended to taste the delicacies of Circassian cuisine, especially the traditional Circassian cheeses and pastries which can be bought in the village. You can also visit Kfar Kama’s Circassian Heritage Center and museum, where you can learn more about how the Adyghe commemorate their history and preserve their culture.

Haluz, a traditional Circassian pastry, eaten on Eid al Fitr in Kfar Kama, from the kitchen of Lamaan Nash

A Celebrity’s Guide to Israel…

Some of the world's biggest celebrities have graced Israel’s shores over the years. Among them were some true “Israel lovers.” Here's a look at several typical stops on Israel's classic celebrity tourist trail…

Barbra Streisand arrives in Israel, 1972, the Dan Hadani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

We Israelis like to see ourselves as worldly, even trendy. Sometimes we think we’re the 51st state of the United States, or at least part of the OECD that just happens not to be located in Europe. The truth is, we occasionally feel a bit lonely and anytime someone comes to visit, we might go a little overboard. Otherwise, how can we explain our insatiable thirst for celebrities from abroad?

Some of these famous figures come here to give a concert or even film a movie project, but our favorites, the ones etched into our collective memory, are the ones who make a point of stating just how much they “love Israel.” In some cases we will state it for them. In any case, we sure do a good job of wearing these famous friends out while they’re here.

This guide was compiled as a trip down memory lane for those unfortunate celebrities who have found themselves practically smothered by our love and appreciation. For us locals, it serves as a short history of celebrity visits to Israel. For celebrities thinking about visiting – it may be helpful to know what to expect on your visit to our tiny country.

Sean Connery at a fundraising event for Variety, 1967. Photo: Boris Carmi, the Meitar Collection


Step One: Stepping Off the Plane

Every journey begins with one small step. So too begins the celebrity journey in Israel with careful, but symbolic, steps down the stairs from the plane. What can we say? It’s impressive and looks great in pictures. A variety of possible reception upgrades are available: bouquets, dignitaries, a crowd of adoring fans. Bear in mind dear celebrities – strike a memorable pose and we will remember it years later.  And never fear, we always have a moveable gangway on standby, ready to go, as if the visitor was no less than the Pope or the president of an enemy state, finally seeking to make peace.

Elizabeth Taylor lands in Israel, 1976. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel


Step Two: Making Small Talk with the Nation’s Finest

As we all know here, there’s nothing like the Israel Defense Forces. And to make sure that the whole world knows it too, the second stage of a celebrity’s introduction to our country is a face-to-face meeting with IDF soldiers (we are looking into swag bags, for those interested…)

Goldie Hawn visiting an IDF base, 1989. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

For those looking for a more in-depth experience, this attraction can also include a custom military demonstration – Frank Sinatra, as always, did it his way…

Frank Sinatra watching an IDF military parade, 1962. Photo: Boris Carmi, the Meitar Collection


Step Three: Be Deeply Impressed by the Country’s Advancements

You may be surprised to discover that once upon a time, the celeb’s journey to the Holy Land wasn’t complete without a display of the local innovations. Except, we weren’t the start-up nation back then, and our displays of progress didn’t always impress our glittering guests. What were we thinking? Just read the anecdote actor Kirk Douglas included in his autobiography about his visit to Jerusalem in 1994:

After the ceremonies my old friend Teddy Kollek, the former mayor of Jerusalem, along with the staff of the Jerusalem Foundation, gave me a tour of the city. They showed me the newly erected soccer field, the biggest supermarket in Jerusalem and the new zoo. I understand that secular Israelis yearn to re-create an American lifestyle for themselves, and that a supermarket was a step in that direction, but frankly if I wanted to see a spectacular supermarket, I could have stayed in Beverly Hills . . .

That’s not what I wanted to see in the Holy City. When people like me come to Jerusalem, they want to see and experience what only this ancient city has to offer. Something that no other city or country can duplicate. Something spiritual.

[Excerpt from Climbing the Mountain – My Search for Meaning by Kirk Douglas (Simon & Schuster, 1997)]

Naturally, Douglas was referring to the city’s ancient sites that make it sacred to the three monotheistic religions. Perhaps he thought that that Israelis were wary of too direct a connection with the country’s history, and therefore preferred images of “progress.”

Incidentally, this anecdote might explain why we found hardly any pictures from previous decades documenting celebrities at the Western Wall, a site that is a not-to-be-missed attraction today.

We could not find any documentation of the visit described above, so in place is a photo from an earlier one: Kirk Douglas and Yul Brynner on the set of Cast a Giant Shadow in Israel. Photo: Boris Carmi, the Meitar Collection

Of course, there’s nothing like the image of a small child looking up at you with their big eyes to pull at the heartstrings. It’s no surprise then that the archives are chock-full of photos of our celebrity guests with sweet-faced Israeli children. Like this adorable picture of Goldie Hawn visiting a kindergarten.

Goldie Hawn visiting an Israeli kindergarten, 1986. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel


Step Four: And Still, a Bit of Jewish History Never Hurts

With all due respect to adorable children and photogenic soldiers, throwing in some Jewish history never hurts. Although the story of the Jewish people is not all tragedy – disasters and catastrophes certainly do figure into it.

In case Yad Vashem is busy, you can always try another museum dedicated to Jewish history, and believe us, there’s no shortage of alternatives.

Barbra Streisand with a replica of the relief from the Arch of Titus in Rome, showing the spoils of the destroyed Second Temple at the Museum of the Jewish People, 1984. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Israel’s universities also feature prominently in photos from celebrity visits. The prestigious Hebrew University of Jerusalem boasts two buildings on its campus with fairly familiar names. One is the Frank Sinatra Student Center.

Frank Sinatra at the inauguration of the Student Center, 1978. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The second is the Emanuel Streisand Building for Jewish Studies, donated by Mr. Streisand’s famous daughter Barbara.

Streisand inaugurates the Jewish Studies building named for her father, 1984. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

On the Tel Aviv University campus, stars mainly visited the above-mentioned Museum of the Jewish People. The headliner this time around is Jane Fonda.

Jane Fonda at the Museum of the Jewish People on the Tel Aviv University campus, 1980. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel


Step Five: Photo-ops with Leaders of the Country

The most coveted stars may – if they aren’t careful – find themselves invited to the Prime Minister’s Office or the President’s residence (or both) for a much photographed tête-à-tête, and sometimes also a  meal. This is what happened to Barbra Streisand, who was invited to meet with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in 1984.

Streisand with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, 1984. What’s he pointing at? The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Two years later, a lucky Goldie Hawn got to meet Prime Minister Shamir while she was in Israel for the inauguration of an auditorium at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque built with her donation.

Goldie Hawn with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, 1986. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel


Cindy Crawford thanking Dani Angel of the Angel Bakery for her warm welcome, 1992. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

So dear celebrity, after you have visited every station on the trail, after showing your support for the State of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people, after having kissed the country’s adorable children, and before you return to your own far-away lands, we beg you, please, please remember those of us left behind. And don’t forget to share with your dazzling friends the wonderful experiences you had here. Maybe even convince them to visit us themselves. We’re craving some stardust here!


An Extra Bonus Before We Go

In the spirit of full disclosure, there is also an alternative tour: in 1987, the actor Jack Lemmon stopped over for a visit in Israel. In the photos from that visit, Lemmon is seen walking around Jerusalem’s Old City, snapping pictures just like any other tourist. We were very impressed. But, on the other hand, what tourist accompanied by a team of photographers documenting him, actually documents what he is seeing? In a couple of pictures from that visit, we even spotted the very same Teddy Kollek mentioned in Kirk Douglas’s critical description (only this time, no supermarkets).

Jack Lemmon in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel


Jack Lemmon at the Tower of David. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel


(Right to left:) Teddy Kollek, Jack Lemmon and Lia van Leer. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel


Jack Lemmon and the Western Wall. The Dan Hadani Archive, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel