Blood of the Maccabees: How a Little Red Flower Became the Symbol of Israel’s Memorial Day

Every year on Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day, many of us wear the famous Dam HaMaccabim sticker; the connection between the flower and the occasion was made in the early days of the state

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Photo: Efrat Cohen

The days were the days of the Maccabean Revolt, and the battles were brutal. The Maccabees fought fiercely, but many of them fell in battle. And, according to legend, wherever a Maccabi warrior’s blood spilled, a small flower instantaneously sprang up and bloomed, its color the color of blood. This is how the flower in question, received its Hebrew name: Dam HaMaccabim (literally “Blood of the Maccabees”; Helichrysum sanguineum, otherwise known as “red everlasting”). With spring now upon us, Dam HaMaccibim can be seen blooming across the Land of Israel, from the north to the south.

From this poignant legend, which is not unlike the legends of other cultures around the world, one can easily guess the answer to the question posed by this article: How did this protected plant become a prominent symbol of Yom HaZikaron – “Memorial Day for the Fallen Soldiers of Israel and Victims of Terrorism”? Yet, even though the answer is seemingly quite clear, we dug a little deeper into the historical roots of this connection to find out when exactly this link between the flower and the occasion was forged.

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Photo: Gideon Pizanty; the red leaves are actually the outer covering, the flower itself is yellow

A search of the National Library’s JPress – Historical Jewish Press collection reveals that the first mentions in print of the Hebrew phrase “Dam HaMaccabim” were mainly quotations from passionate speeches that sought to strike a chord in the hearts of young Zionist Jews. Writers and speakers sought to remind their audiences that the blood of the brave Maccabees still flowed in the veins of Jews who were soon to return to their ancient homeland. Or perhaps they had already returned and were in need of some extra encouragement. The link between the heroism and blood of the Maccabees and the blood now being spilled protecting that same homeland was almost self-evident.

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A poem about Dam HaMaccabim, which appeared in the December 12th, 1947 edition of HaTzofe ; the “Blood” in the flower’s name also appears in both the Arabic and binomial names for the flower

And the blood will not rest nor be silent

It wells up from the stones of Jerusalem                       

Wander across the surroundings hills

At your feet, see the red-eyed flowers…

– From the Hebrew poem “Blood of the Maccabees” by Y.D. Kamzon, which appears in the image above

Thus, the cultural reference of the blood of the Maccabees and the fallen may have already appeared as early as the days of the War of Independence. In Haim Gouri’s famous poem “Here Lie Our Bodies,” the flower, not mentioned by name, is evoked in the line: “We will return, we will meet again, we will come back as red flowers.” The idea of ​​connecting a red flower to the memory of the fallen in battle was not a new one: it had become common after World War I, with the adoption of the poppy as the symbol of the British soldiers who fell on Flanders Fields. In Palestine, a new symbol not associated with the British conqueror was needed; one that would stress the connection to the ancient Jewish heroes instead.

In 1950, a woman by the name of Miriam Trop designed a poster for Israel’s Independence Day that included the flower mentioned by name. Unfortunately, we were unable to find a copy of the poster, and therefore we do not know exactly which flower was depicted.  This is because at that time Dam HaMaccabim was also the name for another flower, known in English as “pheasant’s eye”, or Dmumit in today’s Hebrew. This flower was emblazoned on a special medal awarded to the disabled veterans of the IDF beginning in 1954. The botanical confusion was considerable, and that same year, a special stamp was issued in honor of Independence Day featuring the flower we know today as Dam HaMaccabim.

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Stamp commemorating Israel’s sixth Independence Day, 1954

Another contributor to the flower’s symbolism during this period was Yitzhak Sadeh, “The Old Man”, who was among the founders of the Palmach and one of the IDF’s first generals.  In one of the many texts he wrote, Sadeh returned once again to the ancient story and appealed to the hearts of the young members of the Palmach, the underground Haganah organization’s elite fighting force:

“Thus time has ground down and washed away the figures of the Maccabees, erased the inconsequential and left us only that which is essential. . . the blood of the Maccabees.  And this very blood, I say this simply and with conviction, this blood courses through our veins. And on this point, as it was for them, so shall it be for us.  And should even a drop of our blood fall on the soil of our homeland, there will grow a small, red, low-lying flower that will be named for them.” These very words were also recited at Sadeh’s graveside on the thirtieth day following his death in 1952.

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Photograph of Yitzhak Sadeh. Contrary to the above quote, the Dam HaMaccabim flower is not a low-lying plant but grows to a height of 40 centimeters

In the mid-1950s, we find further evidence of the flower’s place among the Memorial Day symbols as well as indications of the British custom’s influence. As in Britain, where it is customary to wear a poppy flower on the lapel at ceremonies commemorating the fallen soldiers of World War I, an announcement was made in 1955 declaring that elementary school children would be asked to wear the Dam HaMaccabim flower. That same year, it was decided that the flower would be an official symbol of Israel’s Memorial Day.

From the mid-1960s, the Dam HaMaccabim flower took center stage in one of the most successful ad campaigns in Israeli history: the campaign against picking wildflowers. Dam HaMaccabim was one of the first flowers to be declared a “protected flower” and picking them was forbidden. This was apparently the start of the alternate practice of affixing the by now well-known sticker featuring the red flower to the lapel. This sticker is distributed every year in the millions by the Israeli Ministry of Defense.

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In recent years, an association known as the Dam Hamaccabim Project has begun operating in Israel with the aim of replacing the sticker with a pin of the flower. It has even set a future goal of growing the flower commercially so that it can be picked without fear.  In 2019, the association conducted its first pilot and distributed 30,000 pins.

If you have more recollections or information about the Dam HaMaccabim tradition and its connection to the commemoration of the fallen soldiers of Israel, if you were there when this tradition first began, or if you used to wear the flower on your clothing, tell us more here in the comments, on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

 

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When Israelis Stood in Line for Rations

Lines, food shortages and powdered eggs. The coronavirus crisis recalls the early days of the State of Israel, when a policy of austerity was put in place

Israelis stand in line to receive food rations, photo: Hans Pinn, GPO

The word “austerity” has become quite commonplace over the past 15 years or so, especially in the financial press. It made its great resurgence during the global economic crisis of 2008 as well as the European debt crisis that followed. The Hebrew word for austerity – tzena – carries somewhat different connotations for many Israelis. Some of our readers may have heard of the “Tzena Era” during the State of Israel’s early years, but aside from a few strange references in local cult films, what do we really know about this period? We poked through the National Library archives to bring you some of the sights – and flavors – of austerity-era Israel.

During the first full decade of the state’s existence, the Israeli government installed an economic policy of austerity – tzena. However, when used today, the term usually refers only to the first few years during which the policy was implemented, when its influence was extremely noticeable. Although the policy included economic measures in many different fields, the most memorable aspect today was the rationing of food. Prices of food products were regulated and monitored, and citizens were allowed to purchase only limited amounts of food, which they received in exchange for coupons.

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“Do not pay more than the stated price” – An example of the monthly (December) food menu which citizens of Israel were entitled to purchase – “White sugar, Oil, Margarine, Farm eggs…” – The Historical Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel

In fact, rationing expanded to products beyond food, such as furniture and clothing. Israeli companies, such as “Lodjia” and “Ata” produced clothes that were distributed in exchange for rationing coupons, and set the tone for the little country’s fashion trends during the 1950s.

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Trying on clothes during the tzena period, photo: Beno Rothenberg, Meitar Collection

And now for a paragraph on extenuating circumstances: at the time, the Israeli government was not the only government in the world that decided on a regime of austerity or rationing, which there were several justifications for. Firstly, Israel was still recovering from the grueling 1948 War of Independence (during which foods products were also distributed and restricted). Secondly, and this was perhaps the most important issue, the government was extremely concerned that without rationing, the state wouldn’t be able to provide food and clothing to all the new immigrants, who were arriving in large waves at the time – most of them without any property whatsoever. Moreover, the government wished to reduce the cost of living through rationing, in order to prevent large economic gaps in society.

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A display of products that all citizens were entitled to, photo: Beno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection

 

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“Rationing ensures food for everyone” – a government propaganda poster promoting austerity, the Historical Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel

And so, Israeli citizens were required to take their food coupons, calculate points, and report to the grocery store where they were registered. They received oil, sugar, margarine and rice, and indulged in meat maybe once a week and fish maybe twice a month. Occasionally they received eggs, chocolate, 100 grams of cheese, or dried fruit. Due to the situation, there were often shortages, and costumers were not always able to receive the food products they desired. The frugal selection forced citizens to be creative when cooking their meals, and there were those who came to their aid: the cooking guru of the era, Lillian Kornfeld, produced a cookbook. The WIZO organization put together an exhibition in which “austerity dishes” were displayed. The government, for its part, tried to convince the people of the wonders of egg powder.

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“Bless my crest! There’s really no difference between a fresh egg and a powdered egg – aside from the price* and the shell!  *Powdered eggs are cheaper. 2 tablespoons of powdered eggs+2 tablespoons of water = 1 egg”, the Historical Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel

 

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“Out of coffee!” – A sign on the door of a coffeehouse in 1949, photo: Beno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection

Due to the shortage of staple foods, a gray market and black market quickly emerged, alongside the regulated price system. Immigrants who received food coupons would sell these for money in the gray market. Quality products gradually fell into the hands of savvy merchants, who established the black market, where citizens could suddenly obtain eggs and meat, butter and chocolate. The government tried to combat the parallel market that popped up under its nose, and conducted aggressive publicity campaigns attacking it. The authorities also established an enforcement mechanism, which included searches of apartments and personal belongings, in an attempt to eliminate the black market.

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“The scalper is your enemy! The black market is your catastrophe!” – A government propaganda poster targeting the black market, the Historical Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel

 

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A child dressed up in a “black market” costume, during a costume contest in Tel Aviv, 1951; photo: Beno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection

Gradually, the restrictive rationing policy caused growing resentment among Israeli citizens.  The public slowly accumulated more money than it could spend. Citizens couldn’t use their money as they wished because of the austerity regime. In the summer of 1950, a general strike broke out among merchants, who demanded a change in government policy. Clothing and footwear stores, cafes and restaurants, all closed their doors.

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A man reading a sign announcing a business strike, photo: Beno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection

The civil resentment quickly spread to the political arena. The “Mapai” ruling party indeed supported the policy, arguing that it was a necessary evil in order to absorb mass immigration, but its political rivals didn’t hesitate to attack the austerity regime. The most prominent party in the struggle against the rations was the General Zionists party. In the 1951 Knesset election, they campaigned under the slogan “Let us live in this country.” The successful campaign positioned the party as Mapai’s main competitor, and won the party 20 seats – it’s greatest achievement in the history of the state.

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Pro-austerity signs in the May 1st parade, 1949; photo: Beno Rothenberg, the Meitar Collection

 

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“No return to rations! No more lines!” – An election poster for the General Zionists party, the Historical Poster Collection at the National Library of Israel

 

The rationing policy was officially abolished in 1959, but even before that, changes were made to the restrictions. Improvement in Israel’s economic situation, civil resistance, unbearable bureaucracy, and the black market that rendered austerity irrelevant, all led to changes in the policy. In 1952, Minister of Finance Eliezer Kaplan, and his replacement, Levi Eshkol, introduced a program called “The New Economic Policy” and took the first step in improving the economic situation of Israel’s citizens. Nevertheless, in retrospect, some say the austerity was a great achievement: Thanks to the unpopular measures, Israel, a young post-war state, managed to develop its economy and absorb millions of immigrants – without starving.

 

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A Digital Geniza: The National Library of Israel Is Collecting in the Age of COVID-19

The National Library of Israel is asking you to send us examples of digital ephemera which convey a sense of the times

An example of digital ephemera, appearing with the kind permission of Pagoda Online Learning, www.pagodaonline.org 

  • Please don’t delete that email from the Rabbi offering to Zoom the Shabbat service straight into your lounge
  • Save the Whatsapp message from the kosher shops assuring customers that there will be enough matzah for Pesach
  • Download your synagogue’s poster offering support for vulnerable people in the community
  • Forward messages from community leaders offering psychological support

These ephemeral digital fragments are documenting Jewish history in real-time. And they are also ephemera –   in ordinary times they might be items such as a synagogue timetable, a kosher restaurant menu, wedding invitation or Jewish film festival poster – items people would not necessarily think to keep, but that will later define our communities and our culture for future generations.

An example of digital ephemera, appearing with the kind permission of Pagoda Online Learning, www.pagodaonline.org

In these extraordinary times, they include a whole range of materials reflecting halachic innovations, new forms of ‘socially distanced’ communal life, educational creativity, Jewish irony and unthinkable situations of mourning our lost ones.   These items deserve to be collected as they will tell a story of resilience, creativity and also tragedy .

A classic example of ephemera – an Israeli ad for Ephedion cough syrup from Assea Labs, the Eri Wallish Collection, the National Library of Israel Ephemera Collection

Fortunately, the National Library of Israel (NLI) is creating  the COVID-19 Jewish ephemera collection, the perfect central repository ‘ a digital time capsule’ for this information.

A “Prayer for the Suppression of the Plague in Bombay” at the Shaar Harahamim Synagogue, October, 1896; the Valmadonna Trust, the National Library of Israel Ephemera Collection

Future students of sociology, anthropology, medical history, Jewish communal life, mass marketing, computer science and rabbinic responsa will be tremendously grateful.   Consider the NLI as a library without borders – with links to Jewish communities, people and libraries wherever they may be, drawing on the cyber revolution to enhance community engagement, digital preservation, open access, and collaborative projects globally.

We all hope that one day soon COVID-19 will be history – help us record this unique and historic time.


Drop your COVID-19 digital ephemera here or email it to
ephemera@nli.org.il.

 

See also:

Gesher L’Europa

Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe

 

This article is based on a longer one published on the Times of Israel website, here.

No Friend of Bacteria: A Letter from Louis Pasteur

This is the story of a promising young student who became the “father of microbiology”, but it didn’t happen by accident; a personal tragedy spurred Louis Pasteur to search for cures for infectious diseases

Louis Pasteur was not born into a family of means. Growing up poor, he received a Catholic education and did not particularly excel at his studies. No one imagined that he would become one of the most prominent scientists of all time for his contribution to the field of medicine.

In his early teens, Louis’ interest in reading grew and he eventually became his own schoolteacher’s assistant. At sixteen, he moved to Paris for his studies, but an acute case of homesickness led him to return home. He enrolled in a local college and successfully completed his bachelor’s degree in science in 1840 and master’s in science in 1842. The next year, he fulfilled his lifelong dream of attending the prestigious École Supérieure Normale (after having failed his first attempt at acceptance).

A portrait medal of Louis Pasteur, the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

In 1846, Pasteur began his research in the field of crystallography (the scientific study of crystals), for which he was made a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in 1853 for his discovery of the differences in the crystal structure of the two enantiomers of tartaric acid. At age twenty-seven, Pasteur was appointed professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg.

An autographed photograph of Louis Pasteur, 1891, the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

While teaching at the university, the brilliant young scientist met Marie Laurent, the daughter of the university’s rector. They married on the 29th of May, 1849 and began working together, with Marie assisting in scientific experiments. Their future seemed very bright, until tragedy struck. Three of the Pasteur’s five children died from typhoid, not unusual for that time, but Pasteur swore he would do everything in his power to find a cure for communicable diseases.

In 1854, he was appointed dean of the faculty of sciences at the University of Lille, the same year he began his study of fermentation. In the framework of his research, he came up with a solution to the problem of bacteria. His idea eventually led to a process that would significantly reduce the presence of bacteria in milk, wine, beer, fruit juices and honey.  In this process, liquid (milk, for example) is heated rapidly – almost to the boiling point, and immediately cooled. The purpose is to kill harmful viruses and organisms such as bacteria, protozoans and fungi that are present in the liquid without compromising the liquid’s nutritional value or taste. Beyond extending the shelf life of the liquid, the process helps to prevent disease. This process, which we call pasteurization, was named for its inventor – Louis Pasteur. For his work, Pasteur was awarded the prestigious Rumford Medal in 1856.

Louis Pasteur

The National Library of Israel is in possession of a rare letter sent by Pasteur himself to an unknown recipient, referred to simply as “Monsieur,” which was written, in French, at some point between 1868 and 1869, and which reveals that at that time of its writing, Pasteur was deeply engaged in the further development of the pasteurization process:

“[B]efore anything, and as I mentioned in my last message to you, I ask that you take note of the necessity of performing the heating of the bottles inside the large-scale heating containers; and remember the fact which the professional committee finally agreed upon at the last wine tasting, that the color of the wine that was heated when protected from air was stronger and even somewhat darker than that of the same wine when it remained unchanged and unheated. One can get an idea of the speed of the oxygenation of the wine by looking at the exact experiments appearing in my publications. Do not forget that the wine in bottles or in any other vessel, after it has been sealed a few days before, and after moving it from vessel to vessel to remove the sediment, will, during its decomposition, contain only nitrogen or carbonic acid and no trace of oxygen, but will contain oxygen the very moment it comes into contact with air. Furthermore, bear in mind that the solubility of gases is proportional to pressure.

Finally, it is best to remember that the wine, at the first removal of sediment after the end of fermentation, is saturated with only carbonic acid gas; also on this point refer to my publication “Etudes sur le vin” – the amount of dissolved carbonic acid, at this moment, is so great and so ready to be released that it might resist the intake of air in your device.

I am far from being against cooling after heating. Here again, one must take into account the oxidation process. With the reduction in volume in a barrel, air will penetrate, however it is perfectly clear, from the point of view of preservation principles, that it is safer to fill while heating; but the germs of the wine development process are many and much more active than those created by the air. Through heating, the wine has acquired such features of preservation as to allow, in most cases, even further maneuvering at a later date without great danger to its preservation. In short, with regard to the practice of immediate cooling after heating it will be possible to formulate an opinion after the accumulation of [data from] experiments. In the current state of affairs, I am far from doubting the wisdom of this practice. When heated in a bottle it is clear that the process is more or less natural and certainly not harmful here…”

The four-page letter Pasteur wrote to an anonymous recipient on October 20th (no year is recorded), the Sidney Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Pasteur did not stop there. His contributions spanned a variety of fields and even included the development of a vaccine for rabies. The first successful experiment with the vaccine was performed on a sick child on July 6th, 1885. Following the experiment’s success, he received inquiries from across Europe from people who had been bitten by wild animals.

In 1887, Pasteur founded the medical research institute which bears his name to this day, and which he headed until his death in 1895. Long after his passing, his name is still familiar thanks to his discoveries relating to the principles of vaccination, microbial fermentation and pasteurization. The Pasteur Institute continues the work he began: developing vaccines and drugs to fight disease, including current research being conducted in the hopes of developing a vaccine for the Covid-19 virus.

Many thanks to Elizabeth Friedman and Sharon Assaf for their assistance with translation.

 

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