What Is the Meaning of “Um-Shmum”? David Ben-Gurion vs. the World

What did David Ben-Gurion mean when he shouted “Um-shmum!”, in reference to the United Nations? Did this expression of disdain convey his diplomatic worldview? This is the story of how a controversial phrase entered Israeli national mythology, a strange little historical episode that touches on a much larger question…

Ben-Gurion speaking before the 25th Zionist Congress. Photo from the Ben-Gurion House Archive

On March 25, 1955, a wedding was held at Patish, a moshav near the border with Gaza. All the members of the community were dressed in their holiday best. Kerosene lamps illuminated the improvised dance floor in the backyard of the Kalami family home and cast their light on the young, beautiful faces of the revelers.

But uninvited guests crashed the celebration. A squad of fedayeen terrorists from the Gaza Strip broke up the wedding by throwing grenades in every direction before opening fire on the wedding guests.

19 people were injured. 22-year-old Varda Friedman, who had come to Patish to help out as a social worker, was murdered.

Varda Friedman

When David Ben-Gurion arrived two days later to show support for the moshav, he was shocked to see some of the residents packing up their belongings, clearly preparing to leave their homes that no longer felt safe.

After spending more than a year in retirement from political life, he had come back to serve as Defense Minister. In his own eyes and in the eyes of many Israelis, he was still the leader of the young country, though for the moment, he was no longer Prime Minister.

Ben-Gurion felt responsible for what had happened when facing the newly-arrived immigrants who had settled in Patish. He knew and understood that the state was responsible.

“Look at these Jews,” he said at the time to the journalist Moshe Zak. “They’ve come from Iraq, Kurdistan, North Africa…they’ve come from countries where their blood is worthless, where it’s permissible to abuse them, torture them, beat them, to be cruel towards them. They’ve gotten used to being helpless victims of the gentiles. Here is where we must prove to them that their blood is no longer worthless; that the Jewish people have a state and an army that won’t allow them to be slaughtered again; that their lives and property are worth something. We need to make them stand upright, instill in them the feelings of sovereignty and pride. We need to show them that those who rise up against them will not escape punishment, because they are citizens of a sovereign country that is responsible for their lives and their safety.”

Those who were around Ben-Gurion said that the murder was a watershed moment for him. Was this the straw that broke the “Old Man’s” back? Was it the fact that he himself had spent the last two years living on a kibbutz in southern Israel and better understood what these infiltrations meant for the lives of those who lived there? Or was it Varda Friedman herself – the esteemed sergeant who chose farm work over a military career and didn’t hesitate when she was called on to help the new immigrants in Patish – whose death touched his heart?

Ben-Gurion in the Negev, the southern region of Israel where he believed settlement was critical for the country’s security. Photo from the Ben-Gurion House Archive, IL-BTBG-PH-066

A few days later, in Jerusalem, he worked vigorously to promote a plan that he thought was the only logical solution for the situation: Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip, without taking into account what the superpowers and international organizations might think, including the United Nations. IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Dayan and many members of the Mapai political party mobilized to assist him.

Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, on the other hand, was strongly opposed to the plan.

Sharett, along with most of the government, feared it would attract fierce international criticism. They feared economic sanctions, diplomatic delegitimization of Israel, and diplomatic isolation. They believed that without UN Resolution 181, the State of Israel could never have been established.

Ben-Gurion thought otherwise.

He was never in favor of political isolation. When the “United Nations Special Committee on Palestine” was established in May, 1947, Ben-Gurion appeared before the committee’s members, speaking with historic and national fervor, while still expressing respect and appreciation for the UN.

However, when Israeli interests collided with the national or international interests of the superpowers, he argued that Israelis needed to learn to work for themselves and that no one else would fight for them.

He never sought political isolation but didn’t hesitate to stand his ground when necessary. Pictured: Ben-Gurion surveying the honor guard at the IDF headquarters before U.S. Ambassador James McDonald presents his credentials. Photo from the Ben-Gurion House Archive, IL-BTBG-PH-04

After the murder in Patish, during a meeting of the government on the 29th of the month, Ben-Gurion spoke and explained his theory in great detail. You can understand how Sharett felt about the Defense Minister based on his journal entry that day:

“[Ben-Gurion] spoke for about an hour. To the extent that he rolled out his analysis, the tension around him increased until, when he read out the proposal to expel the Egyptians from the Gaza Strip, this no longer came as a bombshell but rather as a solution to a riddle that most of the people had already guessed. The reasoning was poignant and made a great impression but I was once again startled by his narrow-mindedness – as if he stopped at fixing his eyes on one point only, without seeing the vast territory surrounding it – and his short-sightedness – as if he decided to determine that the operation itself was the final goal and not to delve deeper into the consequences that would come from it.”

David Ben-Gurion with Moshe Sharett. Fundamental debates. Photo from the Ben-Gurion House Archive, IL-BTBG-PH-028

After Ben-Gurion’s speech, a sharp debate developed between Prime Minister Sharett and his Defense Minister. The debate reflected not only their disagreements about the subject being discussed, but also the gap between the worldviews of many parts of the Israeli public: Should the State of Israel, which seemed almost like a helpless baby opposite the various superpowers, simply be grateful to the world in general and to the UN in particular for granting Israel the right to live in and govern this stretch of land, or should it ignore all the background noise and rely only on its own power?

A month later, Ben-Gurion would speak eloquently in front of an IDF parade, and offer an expression of his worldview that would remain with us for years afterwards:

“It is not in the global arena but rather from within that Israel will be strengthened and stand…these are the things that will determine our destiny more than any external factor in the world. Our future is not dependent on what the gentiles will say but rather what the Jews will do!”

Ben-Gurion giving a speech at an IDF parade. Photo from the Ben-Gurion House Archive, IL-BTBG-PH-110

But now, in that long and emotional government meeting, his intense feelings inspired him to coin a new, perhaps less elegant and somewhat more catchy turn of phrase:

“Definitely not!” he exploded at Sharett, who for his part had spoken about the UN’s role in the establishment of the state.

“Only the daring of the Jews established the state, not some decision by that Um-shmum.

In Hebrew, the acronym או”ם used to designate the UN is pronounced um, or more precisely, oom. Therefore, “Um-shmum!” is akin to saying “United Nations-shmoonited nations!” in English.

More than disdain, the expression “Um-shmum” expressed great disappointment with the United Nations. Ben-Gurion had always believed that cooperation between great democracies was the key to prosperity – both in Israel and around the world.

“As a member of the Jewish people I say: With all due respect to the institutions of the United Nations and its members, until Isaiah’s prophecy that ‘nation shall not lift up sword against nation’ is fulfilled, and as long as our neighbors plot to destroy us, we won’t have security unless it’s through our own strength…There is no nation more fervent than us in following the principles laid down in the foundation of the UN – but the UN whose success and authority  we wish for is currently only an ideal. And the Security Council acts out of bias and glaring discrimination…in our region, acts of murder and sabotage, robbery and trespassing by our neighbors are becoming more and more frequent, and we must put an end to it – even if no one else wants to or is able to do so.”

Almost 70 years later, Ben-Gurion’s words echo the same question that follows us to this very day. Perhaps it has become even more acute: How are we possibly supposed to best protect the security of our country and its citizens against the backdrop of international diplomatic pressure? Even today, Israel faces bias, discrimination, and antisemitism in international institutions, on university campuses, and on social networks, as we are simultaneously trying to defend ourselves against the immediate threat of our enemy.

The photos that appear throughout this article are from the Ben-Gurion House Archive and are available digitally as part of a collaboration between the archive, the Ministry of Heritage, and the National Library of Israel.

When Israel Conquered Gaza for the First Time

During the conflict known as the Sinai Campaign, the State of Israel conquered the Gaza Strip. Military documents and rare color photographs reveal what this brief period of Israeli control of Gaza looked like - back in 1956

“Life in the city is very tumultuous. The streets are full of people, most of the stores are open. Lively commerce is taking place in the markets. The appearance of the residents is happier and seems to have reconciled itself with the occupation. They try to come talk with the Israeli soldiers and civilians. In the refugee camps, Israeli citizens are received with commotion and are immediately surrounded by masses of children and adults. The faces of the refugees have a very kind appearance. The camps excel in their cleanliness. The elderly among the refugees are interested in the wellbeing of their friends [across the border].”

(Report in the Davar newspaper, November 29, 1956, the Historical Jewish Press Collection at the National Library of Israel)

“Tonight our forces will break into the Gaza Strip.” This was the news given to IDF soldiers on November 1, 1956. After almost a decade of hostile activity from the Strip which led to the deaths of hundreds of Israelis, Israel was now taking the initiative. The Sinai Campaign, or “Operation Kadesh” as it is sometimes called, was a war initiated by Israel in the face of increasing cross-border terrorist actions by Palestinian groups known as the fedayeen. Once and for all, Israel hoped to put an end to the threat posed to the Israeli communities along the Gaza border. During the war, Israel succeeded – with French and British support – in taking over enormous tracts of land, including the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip.

הפקודה על כיבוש עזה. 1 בנובמבר 1956
“Tonight our forces will break into the Gaza Strip! Gaza – A living limb that has been torn from the body of the State of Israel. A fist raised before the state, a base for Egypt’s murderous emissaries […] And facing it – Nahal Oz, Be’eri, Kissufim, Nirim – a chain of flowering settlements facing a hostile border.” The order to occupy Gaza. November 1, 1956

The IDF occupied Gaza relatively easily, and the Strip, then controlled by Egypt, capitulated within three days.

הארץ, 4 בנובמבר, 1956
“Gaza’s Request of Surrender” Haaretz, November 4, 1956, the Historical Jewish Press Collection. Gaza’s Egyptian governor General Mohammed Fuad asked the Israeli commander to “accept my unconditional surrender”

Life in Gaza City in those days was beautifully documented in a series of rare color photographs taken by American Jewish photographer and journalist Moshe (Marlin) Levin, who documented daily life in the city under Israeli military rule.

Taking a picture of a camel, 1956. The Moshe Marlin Levin Archive, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

 

Street salesman in Gaza, 1956. The Moshe Marlin Levin Archive, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

 

Gaza, 1956. The Moshe Marlin Levin Archive, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

 

Flying over Gaza. The Moshe Marlin Levin Archive, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

 

White donkeys on a Gaza street. The Moshe Marlin Levin Archive, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

The truth, which the State of Israel did not know back in November 1956, was that it would only control the Gaza Strip for a brief period. Israel’s military successes and territorial gains created a sense of euphoria in the country, and the occupation of the region was referred to as the “liberation of Gaza” – hinting that there was little intent to give up the newly-conquered territory. It’s worth remembering that there had been a long-standing Jewish presence in the Gaza Strip which only ended in the 1929 riots, such that the conquering of Gaza was seen by many as a return to a part of the ancient Jewish homeland, rather than an occupation of a foreign territory.

“The joy of the conquerors of Gaza after the surrender and the cessation of gunfire”, Davar, November 5, 1956

Upon occupying the Strip, Israel imposed military rule and quickly began taking practical steps to establish Israeli control.

This can be seen in a series of orders which established martial law over the territory: the city’s judicial and administrative powers were transferred to the army.

מנשר לתושבי עזה. נובמבר, 1956
“All governmental, administrative and judicial authority over the region of Gaza and its residents is from now invested in me and will be executed by those acting on my orders or by those I have appointed to do so […] – Lt. Col. Haim Gaon, IDF commander in the Gaza region” – An IDF notice to the residents of Gaza. November, 1956

Israeli currency became legal tender in the Strip.

A notice issued by the IDF announcing Israeli currency would now be accepted in Gaza. November, 1956

Steps were also taken to restore “routine” to the occupied territory. Thus, alongside a curfew imposed on residents of Gaza during the night hours, an order was issued to open the stores in the daytime to allow continued trade.

A military order requiring business owners in Gaza to open their shops during regular business hours. November, 1956

And this is a rare picture of the home of the military governor in Gaza, complete with an Israeli flag.

Home of the Israeli military governor in Gaza. The Moshe Marlin Levin Archive, the Meitar Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel

Today we know that the period of Israeli control of Gaza in 1956 was very temporary. Israel quickly discovered that its partners in the Sinai Campaign – Britain and France – were no longer among the world’s true superpowers. Pressure from the USSR and especially the United States, was placed on Israel to withdraw its forces. On March 8, 1957, just four months after Gaza capitulated, IDF forces left the Strip in a long column of armored vehicles, and control was returned to Egypt.

Until the next war.

Refugees in Their Own Land: The Children of Yad Mordechai Leave Their Homes

After spending long hours hiding in their safe rooms, with the local civilian security team and members of the Border Guard bravely fighting armed terrorists seeking to break into the kibbutz, the residents of Yad Mordechai were evacuated from their homes until further notice. Many might describe this as a “once in a lifetime” experience – but for some kibbutz veterans, this was not the first time they left their home behind without knowing when, or if, they would ever return.

Children next to a "butterfly" armored car, of the sort used to evacuate Yad Mordechai's children

“A daughter has been born to us, a new instance of life, culture in the heart of desolation” – these words marked the big day for the community of Miztpeh HaYam towards the end of December 1943, the day they struck root in the lands of their kibbutz. Their settlement would soon receive a new name: Yad Mordechai, after Mordechai Anielewicz, leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis.

They had started out as two separate settlement groups in training in Poland in the early 1930s. Upon arriving in the Land of Israel, they settled a tiny plot of land on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean Sea near the city of Netanya. This site gave the group its first name, “Mitzpeh HaYam” literally meaning “overlooking the sea” or “sea observation point.”

But now that they had finally received the lands for their permanent home, far to the south – a great hope could be felt among the smiles and handshakes – the hope that here, now, the exhausting journey was at an end. They were home.

Children in the first years of the kibbutz. Source: Kibbutz Yad Mordechai Archive, IL-YMOR-001-70-028-005

Did any of them fear for the future? Could they envision what they were about to build, what they were risking, what they were about to lose?

Here’s what a kibbutz member back then wrote about those early years, in a document preserved in the Yad Mordechai Archive for future generations:

“We were raised on the great pioneering, volunteering movement, envisioning the rebuilding of Israel and the liberation of the working man. As those faithful to this vision and its realization, we founded our settlement at the end of 1943, which grew and flourished within a few years within a sea of hatred from the Arab villages around [us]. We knew that the question of security would be one of the most serious for us, for we sat on the main highway – the main road between Jaffa, Gaza, and Egypt.”

(Yitzhak Waldman, Yad Mordechai, 1950)

But neither the weighty question of security nor the unceasing harassment of nearby Arabs prevented them from establishing a model settlement and community. In the first few years, significant efforts were made to ensure good, neighborly relations with nearby Arab villages.

A “mukhtar” or local village leader was appointed for the kibbutz, who was tasked among other things with maintaining official ties with the surrounding villages. The kibbutz doctor provided medical care to neighboring Arabs. The small local school taught mandatory Arabic classes.

Children on the farm, 1950s. Source: Kibbutz Yad Mordechai Archive, IL-YMOR-001-70-028-004

Upon hearing the news of the approval of the UN Partition Plan, the kibbutz members understood their fears were realized – Yad Mordechai would be included in the Arab state, not the Jewish one. The security situation deteriorated. The kibbutz, entirely surrounded by Arab settlements, was effectively cut off from the main Jewish settlement concentrations. The only way to reach it or leave it was with armed convoys organized by the Negev Brigade of the Palmach.

In early April 1948, when it was clear to everyone that there was tough fighting ahead no matter what, the kibbutz members sought to evacuate the children. Negev Brigade command opposed this move, arguing that an early evacuation would unnecessarily burden the civilian home front and harm troop morale.

So, the children remained in the kibbutz, where they were exposed to Egyptian bombardments and where they made friends with the young Palmach fighters who came to reinforce local defenses, under the command of Gershon Dubenboim.

Palmach platoon under the command of Gershon Dubenboim, 1948. Photo: Kibbutz Yad Mordechai Archive, IL-YMOR-001-70-006-008

It was only in mid-May, after Israeli independence had been declared and after intelligence came in of an imminent, large-scale attack by the Egyptian Army, that a decision was taken to carry out the evacuation.

During the night between the 18th and 19th of May, the children were pulled from their beds, wrapped in blankets, and led via trenches to the eucalyptus grove that served as an assembly area for the evacuees. There, “Butterfly” armored cars were waiting to take them to safety.

The parents who weren’t on guard duty at their defensive positions accompanied their children and tried to put on a happy face and fill them with courage. But the hugs that were a little too strong and the tears of the fathers told the real story of how they felt. They didn’t know if they’d ever see their kids again.

Palmach members and kibbutzniks. The women stayed to fight alongside the men. Photo: Kibbutz Yad Mordechai Archive. IL-YMOR-001-70-006-008

Most of the mothers remained on the kibbutz. The women were an inseparable part of the defensive plan, and the decision of the members was to stay and fight as families, knowing that this could mean their children could lose both their parents. Among those who stayed behind was a pregnant woman who was responsible for the young calves in the dairy. She would survive and later gave birth to a healthy baby.

The trip away from the kibbutz was long, exhausting, and mostly – cramped. Children were packed into armored vehicles which drove at a nerve-rackingly slow pace along dirt roads, and which tried as much as possible to avoid Arab villages and stay off the easily targeted main road.

In the morning, when they reached Kibbutz Gvar’am, a siren went off. This was the siren announcing the beginning of the Egyptian attack on Yad Mordechai. Had the departure been delayed for even a few hours, it would not have been possible to leave the kibbutz.

From Gvar’am, they headed to Kibbutz Ruhama, and then split up. Some remained in Ruhama for a day or two and others continued north to Kibbutz Gan Shmuel near Haifa. A few days passed until everyone was united, temporarily, in the original settlement site of the group that founded Yad Mordechai – Mitzpeh HaYam, on the coast near Netanya.

They were later joined by the remaining adults after the kibbutz fell to the Egyptians. 26 soldiers were killed in the battle for Yad Mordechai and around 40 wounded. The soldiers left when they realized that reinforcements were not coming. They announced their decision to retreat despite being told by brigade command and the state leadership not to do so without approval. The ammunition was running out, the wounded were in bad shape, and they knew that they would not be able to repel another attack, no matter how willing they were to die for the cause.

The wounded were extracted in armored vehicles loaned to them by the Palmach platoon led by Gershon Dubenboim – who had also overseen the evacuation of the children. As for the rest, anyone who could stand up and walk did so, taking the trek along long dirt roads strewn with mines and crawling with enemy fighters.

Exhausted and mournful, they arrived at Mitzpeh HaYam to see their children. But not all of the children were able to reunite with their parents. “Know that anyone who doesn’t get off the bus, anyone who hasn’t made it, is a hero,” the care workers told the children while trying to hold back tears.

“The children didn’t understand that the father who fell would not return. ‘When will daddy’s wound heal?’ ‘What does that mean he fell?’ ‘What does that mean he’s gone?’ ‘He has to come because he’s a hero.’ We heard from the young ones many things like this. Their little brains did not internalize the fact of death and loss.”

(Yitzhak Waldman, 1950)

After this, the members of Yad Mordechai went into exile, which lasted a long time.

First, they split up the children: the older kids went to Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, while the babies and the mothers resided in Kibbutz Ma’abarot.

The people at Gan Shmuel tried to get the children back on something resembling a routine. A school was established, and a new teacher was assigned instead of the previous one who was wounded in battle. They quickly grew to love their new teacher, but the Gan Shmuel children didn’t always welcome the newcomers and often picked on them.

School. Playground scuffles between children. A wartime routine.

Later, they all moved to the Ali Kassem farm, where they began rebuilding the agricultural facilities and maintained a new kibbutz routine.

The 55th Battalion of the IDF’s Givati Brigade establishes itself in Yad Mordechai after liberating it in battle, 1948. Photo: Kibbutz Yad Mordechai Archive. IL-YMOR-001-70-006-005

Kibbutz Yad Mordechai was liberated during Operation Yoav. The soldiers of the Givati Brigade’s 55th Battalion entered the kibbutz on November 5 after the withdrawal of the Egyptian Army.

Upon hearing of the liberation, the kibbutz members set out. They had to see what was left of their beloved home. Most of them made the last leg of the journey on foot.

But the sight of their ruined homes and destroyed farms shocked them. They made a decision – they wouldn’t bring the children back to this. They would rebuild the farms, and only then, once the place again began to resemble a happy home, would they bring back the women and the children.

Kibbutz members assemble upon returning to the kibbutz after its liberation. The shell-torn homes are visible in the background. Photo: Kibbutz Yad Mordechai Archive. IL-YMOR-001-70-006-001

In a shared effort, not just physical but also emotional, they rebuilt the kibbutz, making it even more beautiful than it was before.

The children returned – to houses with new red roofs, accommodating almost everyone from before the war, except for the fallen, who were buried on the northern hill.

75 years later, everything turned upside down once again. The events of October 7, even if they didn’t physically harm the kibbutz members, shocked them to the very core of their soul. Every one of them has friends, relatives and loved ones from neighboring communities who will never come home again. The kibbutz members are clearly feeling the aftershocks of that great upheaval, and the future of the kibbutz is once again filled with questions waiting for answers.

Pictures appearing in this article are kept at the Kibbutz Yad Mordechai Archive and are made available thanks to the collaboration between the archive, the Ministry of Heritage and the National Library of Israel

 

This article is part of our special series: “Life on the Border: A Tribute to the Communities of the Gaza Border Region”

Click here to see all of the articles and stories

Every Hostage Has a Story: A New Exhibit at the National Library of Israel

We at the NLI felt we needed to help people around the world realize that the hostages held in Gaza are human beings, not just numbers and faces on a poster. We wanted to illustrate how there is an entire life behind each of these faces, each of these men, women and children. To do this, we decided to make use of the books that fill our library...

Photo: Liron Halbriech

*Some of the hostages mentioned and seen in this article have by now returned to their families. Far too many remain in Gaza. We await their return.

 

Where’s Spot?

Is he behind the door?

Is he under the stairs?

Is he under the bed?

Thousands of parents in Israel and around the world read the words of this classic children’s book night after night as they hold their sons and daughters close in a warm, safe bed.

Today, two Hebrew copies of “Where’s Spot” (Eifo Pinuki?) by Eric Hill wait on two tiny chairs which have been set aside for Yuli and Emma Kunio, twin sisters who are only 3 years old. The questions that appear throughout the book are now given heartbreaking significance.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

Since October 7, we have all been overwhelmed with sadness and perhaps a sense of helplessness in the face of the unimaginable tragedy that has befallen so many families.

Yuli and Emma are among the 239 people being held in Gaza.

Like everyone else, we felt the need to do something. Something that could help people realize that these are human beings, not just numbers and faces on a poster. These are real people, with their own loves, hobbies and hopes for the future.

We wanted to illustrate how there is an entire life behind each of these faces, each of these men, women and children. To do this, we decided to make use of the books that fill our library.

This exhibit is called “Each Hostage Has a Story”. Many dozens of black chairs, far too many, have been placed in the middle of our new reading hall. Each chair has a picture of one of the hostages placed on it. Beside these black chairs are a number of smaller, colorful chairs for kindergarteners and young schoolchildren. There is also one baby chair, as difficult as this is to imagine.

Photo: Shai Nitzan

 

Each chair also has a book placed on it that we have chosen specifically for each hostage. The books await their return.

Each book contains a personal library card that we’ve prepared, each one marked with a return date – NOW.

We wanted to illustrate the unimaginable number of people who have been abducted from their homes, while at the same time allowing for a personal look at each and every one of them, to remind us that they all have an unfinished story.

Thanks to relatives who have shared stories of their loved ones, we were able to learn a little bit about each of the hostages. Based on this we chose a book for each person that we thought would help others get to know them better and understand who they are. Secretly, we found ourselves wondering: Will they like the books we chose? Do our choices do them kindness and justice? Do they truly present them as they are and as they would like?

Photo: Shai Nitzan

 

Elyakim Livman, 24 years old, can’t bear to see people picking on those weaker than themselves. His family nicknamed him “Robin Hood”. We’ve placed a copy of “The Adventures of Robin Hood” on his chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Liat Beinin Atzili, 49 years old, recently completed a course for tour guides at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial. We’ve placed the book “Our Holocaust” by Amir Gutfreund on her chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

We placed a copy of the book “Dad’s Building A Cake” on the chair reserved for 35-year-old Sagui Dekel Chen, who builds toys for his children.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

79-year-old Channah Peri loves to spend time tending to her garden. We’ve placed the book “My Wild Garden: Notes From a Writer’s Eden” by Meir Shalev on her chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

We put a copy of “4X4” on Alex Lobanov’s chair, since he enjoys going on Jeep tours.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

We chose the book “The Kiss That Got Lost” for 3-year-old Avigail Idan, who is likely missing the hugs and kisses of her parents Smadar and Roy, who did not survive the attack by Hamas.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Yuval Brodutch, 8 years old, enjoys playing Xbox games, so we put a copy of “The Rescue”, from the Minecraft series, on his chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Doron Steinbrecher is a veterinarian nurse. We decided to lay the book “Born Free: A Lioness of Two Worlds” on her chair. The book tells the true story of a captive lioness who was released into the wild.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

We chose the book “The Art of Loving” for 27-year-old Inbar Haiman, after her partner Noam Alon told us they were reading it together. They’re still in the middle of the book and he awaits her return so that they can finish it together.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Ori Danino only recently proposed to his girlfriend, so we’ve placed a book dedicated to Israeli wedding invitations on his chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Moran Yanai was able to realize her dream of opening up her own jewelry stand at the party held in Re’im, and so we placed a catalog of Israeli jewelry on her chair.

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

Ohad Mundar recently marked his 9th birthday in captivity. We placed a book belonging to Galia Ron-Feder-Amit’s “Time Tunnel” series, popular with Israeli children his age, on his chair. The book’s title – “Black Sabbath” – has now become imbued with tragic, heartbreaking meaning.

 

For little Kfir Bibas, only 9 months old, we chose the Israeli children’s classic “Where is Pluto?” by Leah Goldberg. Towards the end of the book, there is a line that many Israeli parents know by heart: “You’ve returned home, what joy!”

Photo: Liron Halbriech

 

These are just a handful of examples. Hundreds of other chairs and pictures of hostages fill the hall, each of them representing an entire life. Many of them carry books that we chose because their titles suddenly received even greater meaning: “Run, Boy, Run”, “The Life Before Us”,  “Great Expectations”, “Who Will Comfort Toffle?”

 

On a personal note, I have to admit that the issue of the hostages is a very difficult one for me. I couldn’t bear to think about the people who were kidnapped and the terrible suffering of the families. I had trouble reading the stories about them and looking at their photographs. The pain was unbearable. And then I found myself reading about them day and night, about what happened to them on that day and mostly – who they are, what they like to do and the people they love and who love them. Now each name and picture is a name and picture that I have come to know and love. As a consequence, the pain of their absence has also grown and so has the great hope to see them here again.

This story must have a happy ending.

 

***

 

The exhibit “Every Hostage Has a Story” is now on display in the reading hall (floors -1 and -2) of the National Library of Israel

 

Dori Gani , a reference librarian at the NLI, is the curator of the exhibit