Is This What the First Temple Looked Like?

A beautiful book featuring a special dedication from Baron Edmond de Rothschild walks us through the corridors of the Temple in Jerusalem


In the municipality storeroom of the northern Israeli town of Rosh Pina, a unique book sat undisturbed for years, its ornate illustrations and French text ignored by all. It would still be lying there, had the town’s former archivist, Hanna Chopin, not come across it one day. Once she began leafing through the pages, Chopin instantly knew she had a very special book in her hands.

One copy of the rare book is kept in the Louvre in Paris, another is preserved in the Rothschild family vaults, while yet another can be found here in the Eran Laor Cartographic Collection at the National Library of Israel. Two more copies  can be found in the towns of Rosh Pina and Zichron Ya’akov in Israel.

The rare books were given as gifts to the Jewish settlements of Rosh Pina and Zichron Ya’akov by Baron Edmond de Rothschild in the late 19th century. It is unknown whether there were additional copies donated to other Jewish agricultural settlements established by the Baron. Here we shall tell the story of the copy that is currently in the Rosh Pina archive. The book contains the following dedication: ‘Dedicated to the Rosh Pina colony by Sir Baron Edmond de Rothschild, Paris, September 21st, 1898.’ It is unclear exactly why the gifts were sent or for what occasion. In fact, we know very little at all about these books. We can tell you, however, that after Ms. Chopin found the Rosh Pina copy in its deteriorated state, the book underwent restoration at the National Library laboratory in 2013, with assistance provided by the Prime Minister’s Office. It was later transferred back to the Rosh Pina archive, where it remains to this day.

What is so special about this book that makes it important to restore and preserve? Well first of all, as a general rule, if Baron Rothschild gives you a gift, it’s probably a good idea to keep it in good shape and even display it proudly, just in case he decides to stop by. Secondly, as previously mentioned, this is a unique work, one of only a handful which exist worldwide. Lastly, the book contains vivid illustrations of the most significant architectural structure in Jewish history: The Temple.

A view from above – the Temple and the Temple Mount, courtesy of the Rosh Pina archive

The book was written by two French scholars: Charles Chipiez and Georges Perrot. Chipiez was an architect and architectural historian and Perrot an archaeologist. They wrote a number of books together which were dedicated to the history of the ancient world: Assyria, Persia, Egypt, Rome, Greece, and of course – Judah and its surroundings. Most of their findings regarding the Jewish Temple – which they saw as an architectural milestone in the history of the world – were published in a book printed in France in 1889, “Le Temple de Jerusalem et la Maison de Bois-Liban”. Rothschild, who took a special interest in Jerusalem and the Temple, discovered the book when it was put on display at an exhibition in Paris, and immediately purchased a number of copies which made their way to the farming colonies in the Land of Israel which were so dear to him.

Ascent to the Temple, courtesy of the Rosh Pina archive
Views from different angles, courtesy of the Rosh Pina archive

The highlight of the book is its appendix – large, magnificent illustrations of the Temple and the ‘House of the Forest of Lebanon’ built by King Solomon, according to the First Book of Kings. The first chapter of Chipiez and Perrot’s book describes the history of the Temple, the structures that surrounded it and the local topography. In the second chapter, the authors explain which sources were used to reproduce the appearance of the Temple. The third chapter describes the Temple itself according to verses found in the book of Ezekiel, and the fourth and final chapter describes what the authors believed to be the palace of the kings of Judah (the Palace of the Forest of Lebanon) – according to their own knowledge. The authors also included sketches of architectural elements such as pillars, domes and capitals.

The House of the Forest of Lebanon, courtesy of the Rosh Pina archive

Dr. Smadar Sinai, a historian and the director of the Rosh Pina Restoration Association, says that Baron Rothschild had a special and understandable interest in Jerusalem and the Temple. According to Dr. Sinai, this stemmed from his traditional Jewish education, as well as from the growing interest in the scientific study of the Bible during the late 19th century. Other evidence suggests that the Baron sought to build a “hall” on the ruins of the Temple and even obtained plans from architects to integrate modern and ancient elements in the construction of a grand new building. The Turkish Sultan refused, for obvious reasons, to authorize the ambitious project.

The “hall”, inside the Temple, courtesy of the Rosh Pina archive

Did Rothschild really dream to restore the Temple in its original location? Did he intend to disseminate architectural instructions for the construction of the Third Temple? Was he simply fond of the book because of its unique art? For now, we do not know the answers to these questions. But thanks to the Rosh Pina archive and the Archive Network Israel project, we can still enjoy the beautiful book today.

This article was written in collaboration with the Rosh Pina archive and with the help of the archive director, Yehoshafat Pop.


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The Story of the First Hebrew Animated Film

Even the creators of the short animated film “The Adventures of Gadi ben Susi” didn’t think it was any good

A young Yemenite-Jewish boy wanders the streets of Tel Aviv. He tries his hand at a string of jobs, but doesn’t last long at any of them. He looks for love and finds it, but only after many trials and tribulations, including floating above 1930s Tel Aviv while clutching hold of a cluster of balloons, for example. This is the basic plot of “The Adventures of Gadi ben Susi,” considered to be the first Hebrew animated film ever made.

The original Gadi ben Susi, you may recall, was one of the twelve spies Moses sent into the Land of Canaan ahead of the entry of the Israelites. He was a representative of the tribe of Manasseh, and this was the only time his name appeared in the Bible. Those familiar with the story will remember that, with the exception of Kalev ben Yefune and Joshua ben Nun, all the spies were considered sinners because they spoke critically of the land. This then is the possible allusion contained within the name of the star of our film. Was there any special intent in selecting this biblical name or was it just a random choice? We’ll let our readers decide.

Young Gadi, as noted, was apparently a newly-arrived immigrant who, based on his hair and clothes, was born in Yemen. According to the captions, his immigration to the Land of Israel transformed him into a new man and now, the time had come, after having studied Torah, for Gadi to find work. Setting out to roam the streets of little Tel Aviv, he hears a cry for help, but like Don Quixote, he misjudges the situation and ends up in trouble with the police. Next, he tries his hand at selling ice cream and roasted almonds, against a backdrop featuring iconic Tel Aviv buildings of the day, such as the famous Herzliya Gymnasia high school.

The iconic Herzliya Gymnasia high school building, as featured in the film

The style is entirely dream-like and surrealist: limbs can suddenly stretch to outrageous lengths, Gadi is swallowed up by an ice cream truck, and his future lover is able to save him from a deep well with the help of an especially flexible palm tree and, of course, the power of love. The plot is rather lacking and the characters are two-dimensional, but a twist lies in wait. We won’t give away the ending, however.

Gadi soars over Tel Aviv while clutching a bunch of balloons

A few technical details about the film: it is silent and contains no soundtrack whatsoever. The plot is advanced with the help of slides containing narrative text and dialogue.  The drawings are in black and white. It is eight minutes long and was produced in 1931. For the sake of comparison, we should bear in mind that four years earlier, another black and white animated film starring a famous mouse had captured the world’s imagination. Alas, this was not the fate of our Gadi, whose own creators would end up making fun of him.

The film was produced by the Agadati brothers, Baruch and Yitzhak, who were among the founders of the Hebrew film industry in Israel. They hired the talented poet Avigdor Hameiri to write whimsical rhymes for the project, and the artist and cartoonist Arye Navon, who was put in charge of animation. Much can be written about all of them, beginning with the fact that all three arrived in Mandatory Palestine on the famous ship Ruslan. However, we will focus here on the illustrator, whom we can safely call the first Hebrew animator in the Land of Israel.

Arye Navon, the Schwadron Portrait Collection at the National Library of Israel

Arye Navon was born in Ukraine and as mentioned, arrived in Palestine in 1919 with his family. He and two of his brothers, three out of a family of five siblings, became artists. Over the course of his long career, he drew caricatures for the Do’ar HaYom newspaper, as well as for Davar. In addition, he illustrated books by major authors and poets, painted portraits, designed scenery for the theater and created comic strips.

In his autobiography Bekav u-bekhtav (“In Line and Script”), published shortly before his death, Navon concisely described the process of the making of the animated film (he even mistakenly called the character “Yossi ben Gadi”): “For around ten days I sat in [Agadati’s] studio and drew many pictures. Agadati, together with his brother Yitzhak, photographed the drawings on the animation table, which was quite primitively constructed. The electric lamps that lit the illustrations were placed on top of a special structure. Yitzhak would climb to the top and adjust the light from there. Another problem was that the light attracted flies, which would land on the drawings. In the screen test, these photogenic flies looked like elephants . . . it was a pretty awful film. Walt Disney did it much better. At any rate, it was the first animated film in the country.”

Returning once again to our Gadi, this “pretty awful” film did not leave much of an impression on the Israeli film industry, and its single claim to fame is that it was indeed “the first.” It played for only a week before it disappeared into oblivion. Luckily, it can still be viewed today thanks to the Steven Spielberg Jewish Film Archive.


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The Hebrew Women of His Majesty’s Armed Forces

During WWII, Hebrew women lined up to volunteer for the British Army. Posters from the period offer a fascinating glimpse of this unique chapter in Zionist history, as well as the history of feminism in Israel

"Join us, dear sister!" – A poster encouraging women to enlist in the British Army, the Shamir Brothers Collection at the National Library of Israel

Mess Halls: If you like order and cleanliness and are prepared for any job – choose this service and set the spirit of the soldiers, in both training and active duty.

The above quote is taken from a 1940s military volunteer form for Hebrew women. The style certainly appears outdated or even offensive by today’s standards, but this was how Jewish women in Mandatory Palestine were called upon to join the British Army. It wasn’t all about “order and cleanliness”, of course – thousands of women enlisted and served in a variety of combat support roles. Some were stationed in Israel while others were deployed to different bases in the Middle East and even Europe, where they served in the fields of medicine, munitions, transport and more.

Below is a Hebrew quote from Isaiah 52:1: “Put on thy beautiful garments”. The Shamir Brothers Collection at the National Library of Israel

Undoubtedly, the idea of Jewish women serving in the British army was considered unusual. The British themselves certainly weren’t thrilled about it and among the Yishuv (the Jewish community in the Land of Israel), many were also opposed.

Pictures and posters from this period (many of which can be found in the National Library collections) offer an interesting view of a highly important chapter in our history, and, some may argue, of the history of feminism in Israel as well.


“Announcing the recruitment of women for military service – Enlist!” The Shamir Brothers Collection at the National Library of Israel

In mid-1941, representatives of women’s organizations such as WIZO, the Council of Working Women (known today as NA’AMAT) and Hadassah, requested that the British Army open its women’s branch, the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Service), to Jewish volunteers from Mandatory Palestine.

The Yishuv considered itself part of the Allied struggle against the Nazis; from the beginning of the war, women were called to enlist alongside men and serve in the army, despite certain objections from religious parties.

The Jewish Agency joined the request put forth to the British and in October of 1941 permission to draft 5,000 women – 2,000 of them immediately – was granted.

“Sign up for the ATS and the WAFS [Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron]… at the Jewish Agency’s enlistment offices” The Shamir Brothers Collection at the National Library of Israel

In December of that year an official announcement was published. Numerous ads were posted in newspapers and on notice boards encouraging women to drop everything and volunteer. The Jewish Agency itself operated many of the enlistment centers and was at the forefront of this initiative. The following excerpt was published in Hebrew in the Davar daily:

Since the beginning of the war, the Hebrew woman has demanded her right to join the battle against the enemy. This demand has been accepted. Women must now fulfill their duty. Since the beginning of our resurrection in this land, women have stood side by side with men in building our country’s foundation. In every effort. Sacrifice and success were the lot of women just as they were the lot of men. Now women are allowed to contribute, in uniform, to the Yishuv’s war effort. The honor and privilege of volunteering in the army is now hers as well.


“You can shorten the road – To Victory…Join the ATS” The Shamir Brothers Collection at the National Library of Israel

In January 1942 the first class of 60 women designated to become officers and NCOs was recruited and trained at the Sarafand army base.

A Hebrew anthem was written for the female recruits. In June of 1942 the national institutions announced that military service would be mandatory for all women between the ages of 20-30 who did not have children. Due to religious objections however, not all of the eligible women were actually enlisted in the ATS.

Throughout the course of the war, a total of 3,500 Hebrew women were recruited to the ATS, in addition to 700 women who served in the WAAF, the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Female soldiers served as drivers and nurses and filled various administrative and munitions roles.

During the Second Battle of El Alamein, Jewish drivers from the ATS brought badly needed troops and weapons to the front, an effort which helped block the Nazi advance toward Mandatory Palestine.

The Yishuv benefited a great deal from all of this. Many of the female volunteers later joined the various Jewish underground organizations. Their service had enabled them to acquire professional knowledge and expertise in an array of military fields, a fact which contributed immensely to these groups’ struggles against the British themselves as well as to Israeli efforts during the War of Independence.

Historically speaking, this episode provided a significant boost to the status of women in the Yishuv, as they proved they could contribute no less than their male peers.

In the underground movements, many women took on active roles in actual combat, and were not limited to support duties, though this policy was changed with the formation of the Israel Defense Forces in 1948. With the IDF taking shape during the War of Independence, many ATS alumni joined the ranks of the new Israeli army in command roles. IDF policy has since gone through many evolutions and today, thousands of Israeli female soldiers serve in active duty combat roles.


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When the Egyptians Bombed Tel Aviv

Despite its somewhat hedonistic and detached image, the city of Tel Aviv faced its share of difficulties during the War of Independence. So what does Leonard Bernstein have to do with all this?


The Tel Aviv central bus station after the attack by the Egyptians. The Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium collection, Bitmuna

If you’ve read The Other Side of the Coin (Hebrew) by Uri Avnery, you may recall the stories of a sense of bitterness which spread among Israeli soldiers in 1948. This feeling stemmed from the impression that while the soldiers were risking their lives at the various fronts, the citizens of Tel Aviv were going about their merry lives in the bustling Jewish metropolis on the Mediterranean coast. Avnery, a journalist turned activist/politician who would eventually become an icon of the Israeli left, described his feelings in blunt detail from his time on home leave. While this narrative concerning the Tel Aviv “bubble” and its reputation for hedonism remains somewhat relevant to this day, the truth is the city suffered its share of hardships during the most difficult of Israel’s wars. In the spring and summer of 1948, Tel Aviv was bombed repeatedly by the Egyptian Air Force.

The Palestine Post, May 20th, 1948

And this is where the camera suddenly freezes and our record screeches to a halt. Let’s rewind a bit and get some background: The War of Independence was already underway. Only two days after the State of Israel declared its independence, Egyptian warplanes appeared in the skies over the first Hebrew city. On May 18th, 1948, the Tel Aviv central bus station was bombed in the deadliest attack carried out by the Egyptians. These bombing runs lasted for about a month on a nearly daily basis, until June 11th. Sirens went off incessantly. An additional round of bombings began in July 1948. Simultaneously, in early June, Egyptian ships reached the waters off Tel Aviv and began shelling the city. Later on, Egyptian planes would continue to exploit the vulnerability of the nearly non-existent Israeli Air Force, conducting sorties over central Israel.

Upon hearing the sirens…pedestrians must evacuate the streets and gather in the lower floors of nearby buildings…” A poster published by the Tel Aviv municipality with guidelines in case of an attack. The Ephemera Collection at the National Library of Israel


Another part of this story begins some time earlier, in the days of the British Mandate, when the acclaimed conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein first arrived in the Land of Israel in April 1947. This was the first time he played with the local Philharmonic Orchestra, and the maestro was immediately captivated by the charm of the small Jewish Yishuv.

It appeared Bernstein not only fell in love with the new country which was struggling to survive; he would also make a considerable contribution to the war effort. On a 60-day tour which included no less than 40 shows, Bernstein performed several times for soldiers scattered in different corners of the land. Some of you may have heard of Leonard Cohen’s special performances for Israeli soldiers fighting in the Yom Kippur war, but it turns out he was not the first famous Jewish “Leonard” to do so.

Leonard Bernstein and the Philharmonic Orchestra perform for soldiers in Be’er Sheva, November 1948. Photo credit: Hugo Mendelson, GPO


The lack of a significant Israeli Air Force affected Bernstein’s concerts with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra in the Tel Aviv area. David Sidorsky, who was then an overseas volunteer with the IDF and who would later become a professor of philosophy at Columbia University, described one of the concerts he attended. He told of how everyone who was present at the concert – including the orchestra musicians and Bernstein himself – was evacuated to a nearby bomb shelter after an Egyptian plane was identified flying over Tel Aviv.



When the plane had left the area, Bernstein continued conducting Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6. The incident repeated itself 10 or 12 times, according to Sidorsky. Every time a plane flew overhead, a siren went off and everyone headed to the shelter. Every time the ‘all-clear’ signal was given, the crowd reentered the hall and Bernstein and the musicians continued the performance. “He was determined to complete the Sixth Symphony!” said Sidorsky.



Indeed, this wasn’t the only time Bernstein’s concerts coincided with Egyptian attacks. We found evidence of at least one other concert interrupted by Egyptian planes – and there may have been more. In another incident, a crisis almost arose at a concert held in Be’er Sheva for a few thousand soldiers. The large gathering raised the Egyptians’ suspicions and they even planned to divert forces to the area, out of concern that Israel was planning an offensive in the Negev region. Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first President later commented on the Egyptian reaction: “After all, who would make time for a Mozart concerto in the middle of a war?” In fact, the IDF actually did carry out an attack on a different area of the Negev at the same time, with Bernstein’s concert serving as a diversion.

“The Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leonard Bernstein in Be’er Sheva” Davar, November 26th, 1948


An estimated 150 people were killed in the attacks on Tel Aviv. Though the city’s suffering was somewhat forgotten within the context of the ongoing war, Tel Aviv’s perseverance and ability to withstand enemy attacks contributed greatly to the Israeli victory in the war. After all, this was the location of headquarters for the IDF and the various underground organizations as well as the institutions of the young state. The war could not have been won, without the homefront doing its part.

The bombs left their impressions on the citizens of Tel Aviv. Years later, a child from the neighborhood of Neve Sha’anan, who had witnessed the deadly Egyptian attack on the Tel Aviv central bus station, wrote a piercing Hebrew poem, based on his painful memories: “It was at the age of three / that my youth was lost forever / on the way from preschool to the shelter // planes with their beautiful wings/ flew swiftly above me / leaving me, my face covered in dust.” This child was Hanoch Levin, who would become one of Israel’s greatest playwrights. The poem, ‘It Was at the Age of Three’ , was given a melody composed by Zohar Levy and included in Levin’s classic play ‘Queen of a Bathtub’.


This article was written with the help of the Toldot Yisrael Collection, which records the testimonies of the 1948 generation.


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