The Yemenite Jews Who Arrived in the Holy Land in 1881

Shortly before what is known as "The First Aliyah”, a group of Jews from Yemen arrived in the Land of Israel. Several dozen Yemenite families had embarked on a long and arduous journey to settle in Jerusalem. Once there, they encountered hostility, arrogance, and deprivation on the part of their fellow Jews. Where did they turn and who came to their aid?


Houses in the village of Shiloah, the Haim Berger Collection, from the Bitmuna Collection, the National Library of Israel

When did “The First Aliyah” – the first major wave of Zionist immigration to the Land of Israel – begin? If you answer by recounting the pogroms in Russia in 1881 and the pioneers of the Bilu movement, you may be mistaken. There were various reasons that led historians to label this wave of immigrants from Europe as “The First Aliyah”, when in fact Jews had been immigrating to the region in a steady trickle before then, from different parts of the globe. Several months before the Eastern European Jews landed in the port of Jaffa to expand and revitalize the local Jewish community, another group of Jews had arrived, but to much less historical fanfare. These were Yemenite Jews, most of them from the city of Sana’a, who had set out on an arduous journey to the Land of Israel shortly after the festival of Shavuot, in May 1881.

What led them to take this step? The reasons are not entirely clear, but apparently, a contributing factor was the Ottoman governor of Yemen’s issuing of an immigration permit. The first few arrived in August 1881. In the following months, and throughout 1882, more immigrants arrived from Yemen, about 200 people in all. In comparison, the Bilu pioneers that landed a few months later numbered only a few dozen. The Hebrew name given to this wave of Yemenite immigrants, E’eleh BeTamar, means, “I will climb up into the palm tree”. It is taken from a verse in the Song of Songs (7:9), and also derives from an anagram of the Hebrew year 5642 – תרמ”ב (corresponding to 1881-1882 and pronounced tarmab in Hebrew).

Two Yemenite immigrants, a man and a child, in the village of Shiloah. Courtesy of the estate of Zeev Aleksandrowicz, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, at the National Library of Israel

The Jewish community in the Land of Israel at the time, the Yishuv, consisted of both new arrivals and long-time residents who had been around for generations. Immigrant newcomers had just established the farming community of Petah Tikva, another at Rosh Pina had recently been abandoned, to be re-established the following year, and studies were underway in the Jewish agricultural school at Mikveh Israel.  Yet the majority of Jews in the Land of Israel resided in the four holy cities: Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias and Safed. These people were known collectively as the “Old Yishuv.”

The new immigrants from Yemen had their sights set on only one place – Zion, Jerusalem. Their journey had been long and difficult, with few friendly and welcoming faces along the way. They had to pass through rough terrain, traveling through Egypt and India, until they finally reached the Holy Land. Even those who had left Yemen with means arrived in the Land of Israel with their pockets empty.

Two Yemenite immigrants in the village of Shiloah. Courtesy of the estate of Zeev Aleksandrowicz, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, at the National Library of Israel

Once in the Land of Israel, they made their way to Jerusalem. But when they reached the city, these Jews from a distant land, dressed in their unique garb, or what was left of it, were met with hostility. The Yemenite Jews not only looked very different from the Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews already living there, they followed different traditions, which made it difficult for them to integrate into the Jewish population. What’s more, some of the locals even called into question the new immigrants’ Judaism. This was somewhat ironic, considering Jews were living in Yemen well before Europe’s Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities even coalesced into existence.

The suspicion and doubt also had practical implications. The Old Yishuv in Jerusalem was organized according to community networks, called kollels, which facilitated financial support for the city’s Jewish residents. The Yemenite Jews’ incompatibility with the familiar ethnic patterns caused the community’s administrators to refuse to accept them into the existing kollels and, as a result, they did not receive their share of the charity funds that supported the city’s Jews during this period. In practical terms, this also meant that the recent Jewish arrivals from Yemen were forbidden from settling within the walls of the Old City.

Destitute and looked upon as foreigners, the Yemenite Jewish immigrants had no choice but to seek housing elsewhere. Still, they did not relinquish their dream of settling in Jerusalem. As a first step, they built simple huts outside the Old City’s walls and slept outdoors, under the open sky. Some Yemenite immigrants even slept in caves, barns, and other makeshift shelters in the vicinity of the walled city.

Homes in the village of Shiloah in late the 19th century. Nadav Mann, Bitmuna. From the Degani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel
The village of Shiloah in the late 19th century. Nadav Mann, Bitmuna. From the Degani Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

The immigrants did not wait for handouts or for someone else to rescue them. The young people among them immediately went to look for work among the city’s Arab contractors. They did not shy away from manual labor such as mixing mortar, portering, carrying heavy stones for building, or road paving. The older immigrants engaged in handicrafts such as carpentry or pottery repair. However, these jobs were not enough to support the entire community, and the issue of housing was still in need of a solution.

The Yemenite immigrants also continued in their attempts to join one of the kollels in the city in order to receive the distribution money to which they were entitled. Surprisingly, there were periods when the group was part of the Ashkenazi kollel. Eventually, however, they joined the Sephardi kollel, whose members spoke Hebrew and Arabic using a pronunciation that made it easier for the Yemenite Jews to communicate, as opposed to the Ashkenazi Jews whose pronunciation was significantly different. Years later, the Yemenite Jews established their own independent community, in part because of the condescending attitudes of their fellow Jews, who did not allocate them a fair share of the charity funds arriving from abroad.

Yemenite boys playing in the streets of the village of Shiloah. Courtesy of the estate of Zeev Aleksandrowicz, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, at the National Library of Israel

Refused housing inside the city proper, the Yemenite Jews hoped to settle down as nearby as possible. Their salvation came from an unexpected source. Israel Dov Frumkin, the editor of the Havatzelet newspaper, ardently campaigned on behalf of the Yemenite immigrants. He wrote about their dismal situation in his paper, and contacted the philanthropist Boaz Ben Yonatan Mizrahi, who eventually donated half of the land he owned on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, near the Kidron River, to the immigrants from Yemen. The new tenants called it the village of Shiloah, after the famous Pool of Shiloah (or Siloam) fed by the Gihon Spring.

The proximity to the Old City and the Temple Mount—only a quarter of an hour’s walk—as well as the nearby water sources and open farmland contributed to the Yemenite Jews’ decision to settle there. But they were not alone. The village of Silwan, most of whose residents are Arab, exists to this day. Locals testified that neighborly relations were very good to begin with, and the Jewish and Arab residents would visit and take part in each other’s festivities. According to these testimonies, the Arabs even learned to sing Yemenite wedding songs.

A Yemenite immigrant boy with a lamb in the village of Shiloah. Courtesy of the estate of Zeev Aleksandrowicz, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection, the National Library of Israel

The settlement grew slowly, reaching 150 families at its peak. The expansion stopped when the intensifying Jewish-Arab conflict in other parts of the country reached the village. During the Arab riots of 1929, traveling the roads to Shiloah became dangerous for the village’s Jewish residents, with several violent incidents taking place in the area. With tensions mounting, the village Mukhtar, Hajj Muhammad Ruslan, interceded on behalf of the Jewish residents, confronting the violent instigators. In order not to escalate the situation, the Jewish residents even refused the Haganah’s offer to send fighters to protect them. Ultimately, the Mukhtar could not fend off the rioters. The Jews of Shiloah left their belongings with their Arab neighbors and moved temporarily into the Old City, where they lived like refugees. After calm was restored, the Jews returned to the village, and the story of the Mukhtar coming to their aid became etched in their memory.

Nevertheless, neighborly relations could not survive the intensifying conflict. The Great Arab Revolt of 1936–1939 finally ended the Jewish settlement in the village of Shiloah. The Arab boycott of Jewish products and the closure of the Dung Gate by the authorities cut the village off from the city – a devastating economic blow. There was also increasing harassment by Arab gangs who came from Hebron and Nablus, in addition to looting and even cases of murder. Slowly, more and more families left until in August 1938, exactly 57 years after the first immigrants from Sana’a, Yemen, arrived in Jerusalem, the last of Shiloah’s Jewish residents was evacuated.

This article includes photos from the collection of photographer Zeev Aleksandrowicz. You can find many more photos taken by Aleksandrowicz in Shiloah, along with other photos from the area on the National Library Israel website, here.

Thanks to Dr. Rachel Yedid, director of the “E’eleh BeTamar” association for their help in preparing this article.

When Nazi Swastikas Were Paraded in Downtown Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv's Purim parades between 1933 and 1935 evolved from joyous celebrations into full-on protests against Nazi Germany

A mock-up of a canon, adorned with a swastika, and an effigy of a Nazi stormtrooper trampling a Jew, Tel Aviv, 1935. This photograph is part of the Israel Archive Network project (IAN) and is accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Ben Zvi Institute, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel.

Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany on January 30th, 1933. The clear and present danger to world Jewry was obvious to many, including here in what was then still Mandatory Palestine.

A month and a half later, on March 13th, Tel Aviv held its annual Purim parade, the “Adloyada”. Among the costumes, colorful displays and general revelry, one cry of protest stood out in the crowd.

This was an exhibit designed by a group of Jewish immigrants from the Caucasus region. It displayed Hitler on horseback, pursuing two Jews as they ran terrified before him. They appeared beaten and bruised. The exhibit was titled, “Hitler in Pursuit and the Land of Israel Remains Locked Shut”. A sign was hung on Hitler’s neck, reading “Death to All Jews”. We were unfortunately unable to find a photograph of this particular exhibit in the archives.

The German Consulate heard of the stunt and sent a sharp letter of rebuke to Tel Aviv Mayor Meir Dizengoff, written in English. The Consul was most perturbed:

“Besides being of opinion that the person of a leading statesman on such an occasion should never be made the object of presentation whatever the intention might have been, I find myself in the necessity to protest most urgently against the tendencious [sic] manner in which Herr Hitler was publicly represented in this special case…I sincerely hope that they will think it right to apologize.”

The letter sent to Mayor Dizengoff, the Tel Aviv Municipality Archives

Dizengoff refused to apologize, responding:

“It is clear that this display is nothing but a spontaneous reaction reflecting a public view that is unwilling to accept the fate of the Jews of Germany. In fact, one wonders why the protest was not even sharper…”

The truth is, there was room to doubt the “spontaneous” nature of the exhibit, as it had been pre-approved by the municipality, which even rewarded the designers with a cash prize.

The Hitler exhibit won sixth place and a cash prize of two Palestine Pounds, according to a Hebrew report in Davar, March 17th, 1933

By 1934, fear of the Nazis was even more grounded in reality. Hitler was consolidating his power, and anti-Jewish measures were on the rise. That year’s Purim parade in Tel Aviv was marked by full-on protests against the Nazis, featuring clear demands to boycott German goods and stand up to the National-Socialist party.

This time around, the main attraction was a massive three-headed, swastika-emblazoned dragon, with an effigy of Hitler mounted on its back.

The “Antisemitism Dragon” featured in the 1934 Purim Parade. The creators drew swastikas all over the creature’s body. Photo: Library of Congress

At the end of the march, the “Antisemitism Dragon” was brought to Dizengoff Square and set on fire. A municipality newspaper, Yedioth Iriyat Tel Aviv, reported that “This was one of the most wonderful sights of the Purim celebrations, and the joyous bonfire-light dancing[…] lasted for many hours”.

By 1935, the gloves were off. The parade had now become a blatant anti-Nazi march through downtown Tel Aviv, purposefully aiming for maximum-shock effect.

A mock canon featuring a Nazi swastika and parade participants in Nazi costumes. This record is part of the Israel Archive Network project (IAN) and is accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Ben Zvi Institute, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel.

One of the parade’s most shocking and prophetic displays was this one:

An effigy of a Nazi stormtrooper trampling a Jew, Tel Aviv, 1935. This record is part of the Israel Archive Network project (IAN) and is accessible thanks to the collaborative efforts of the Ben Zvi Institute, the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage and the National Library of Israel.

World War II would begin just a few years later. The fate of European Jewry would be worse than anything the Purim parade participants could have imagined.



Further Reading:

Tel Aviv’s 1933 Purim Parade Starred This Controversial Hitler Float \ JTA

Menachem Begin Swears Allegiance to the Jewish State

For four years, Menachem Begin was a man underground, in the fullest sense of the word—a commander of an underground force and a wanted man, hiding from the British. After Israel’s declaration of independence, Begin came out of hiding with a historic speech that transformed him into a national political figure.


Menachem Begin speaking at a Herut Party event. Photo: Beno Rothenberg, from the Meitar Collection, the National Library of Israel

The events of the 5th of Iyar (May 14th) 1948, the day on which the State of Israel declared its independence, are well known: the reading of the Declaration of Independence by David Ben-Gurion in Tel Aviv, the signing ceremony, and the thousands who danced in the streets, are an integral part of Israeli collective memory. But what happened on the next day, the first full day of the new state’s independence, while perhaps overshadowed by the outbreak of the War of Independence, was of no less historical consequence.

Citizens of the Hebrew Homeland, Soldiers of Israel, Hebrew Youth, Sisters and Brothers in Zion!

After many years of underground warfare, years of persecution and moral and physical suffering, the rebels against the oppressors stand before you, with a blessing of thanks on their lips and a prayer in their hearts. The blessing is the age-old blessing with which our fathers and our forefathers have always greeted Holy Days. It was with this blessing that they used to taste any fruit for the first time in the season. Today is truly a holiday, a Holy Day, and a new fruit is visible before our very eyes…

We therefore can say with full heart and soul on this first day of our liberation from the British occupier: Blessed is He who has sustained us and enabled us to have reached this time.

Begin’s speech, delivered on May 15th, 1948. Note the rhetoric and the repetition of the messages. The first break concludes with the Shehecheyanu blessing.

Since February 1944, and the publication of his first proclamation as commander of the Irgun (the right-wing Jewish paramilitary organization whose policy was based on the Revisionist Zionism of Ze’ev Jabotinsky), Menachem Begin had been underground, in every sense of the word. Not only was he in command of an underground movement (since December 1943), but he was also forced to hide from the British after calling for an all-out war on British Mandate rule. Begin remained in hiding up until the first full day of Israel’s independence. Then, on the evening of Saturday, May 15th, Begin gave a special speech on an underground radio station. With this speech, he not only emerged from the underground, but dismantled it altogether. Well, except for the Jerusalem faction, but that’s another story… This step was of immense importance given the political situation, with the outbreak of the War of Independence and the demonstrated lack of cooperation, if not outright hostility, that prevailed among the Irgun, the Lehi, the Haganah, and the Palmach – the various Jewish military organizations.

Begin’s hideout in Petach Tikva, one of the many safe houses he used during his period in hiding. From the Oded Yarkoni Historical Archive of Petach Tikva, available via the Israel Archives Network of the National Library of Israel and the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage

With the end of the mandate that expired on May 15th, 1948, the days leading up to the British withdrawal from the Land of Israel were full of uncertainty. Even the date of the declaration of the state was in doubt, since the United States had sent a clear message calling for a ceasefire as well as talks on the nature of the future governing of the region. Inside the territories of the designated state, doubt was also cast on the strength of Jewish military power in the face of the Arab states’ threats of invasion and the already burgeoning war in other parts of the country. The need for a single, regular, and orderly army that would be subject to the new interim government was obvious, but first, the situation with the underground paramilitary forces of the Irgun and the Lehi had to be resolved. Unfortunately, relations between the commanders of these underground groups and the leaders of the mainstream Jewish political organizations were problematic, and the years-long intense hatred between the different factions had infiltrated into the ranks. All of which raised concerns about the ability to establish a functioning army in such a short time and under so much pressure, even though the military infrastructure in the form the Haganah, which was strongly associated with the ruling elite of that period, was at the ready.

Begin in Paris, apparently in December 1948. From right to left: Ben Zion Shmuel Chomski, Menachem Begin (seated in the middle), and Eli Ferstein, a commander in the Irgun. Photo courtesy of the Ben Zvi Institute, available via the Israel Archives Network of the National Library of Israel and the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and Heritage

Begin began the speech on the underground’s Kol Haherut radio as the commander of the Irgun, but ended it as the leader of the opposition, at least temporarily. As befitting the moment and in light of the war, he chose the path of the common good of the people—he backed the government, called for unity, and swore allegiance to the state.

Knowing the move might weaken him politically, but understanding the magnitude of the hour, and in view of the real threat to the newly established state, Begin chose to do what was in its best interest. However, he also felt it was his duty to acknowledge the work of the underground movement: “It took generations of wandering from one land of slaughter to another country of pogroms . . . the toil of generations of pioneers and builders, the uprising of rebels, the crushers of enemies, people sent to the gallows, and wanderers over deserts and across seas—for us to reach where we are today.”

Justice prevails in the State of Israel, according to Begin. From Begin’s speech on May 15th, 1948

Begin, known even back then for his dramatic speaking style, began with a pathos-filled description of the state of affairs in the newly founded State of Israel. In the second part of the speech, he spoke of the brains and the brawn that would be required to win. In the third part of the speech, he outlined the foundations of Israel’s future foreign policy, including absorption of widespread immigration. Begin did not sidestep the difficulties but confidently sketched the new state’s ability to address them. The next part of the speech was devoted to the justice to which the state should aspire.

And within our Homeland, justice shall be the supreme ruler, the ruler over all rulers. There must be no tyranny. The Ministers and officials must be the servants of the nation and not their masters. There must be no exploitation. There must be no man within our country—be he citizen or foreigner—compelled to go hungry, to want for a roof over his head or to lack elementary education. ‘Remember you were strangers in the land of Egypt’—this supreme rule must continually light our way in our relations with the strangers within our gates. ‘Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue’ will be the guiding principle in our relations amongst ourselves.

Declaring the dismantling of the underground. From Begin’s speech on May 15th, 1948

After laying the foundation, Begin came to the real purpose of his speech—dismantling the Irgun inside the borders of the new state (with the exception of Jerusalem). Begin announced the acceptance of one state and one army under the authority of the Hebrew law—the concept of the rule of law, as befitting a democracy.

It is for these goals and principles, and in the framework of democracy, that the Herut Movement will struggle, arising out of the underground and fashioned by the fighting family, a movement made up of all circles, all exiles, all streams around the flag of the Irgun. The Irgun Zvai Leumi is leaving the underground inside the boundaries of the Hebrew independent state. We went underground, we arose in the underground, under a rule of oppression in order to strike at oppression and to overthrow it. And right well have we struck. Now, for the time being, we have a Hebrew rule in part of our homeland. And as in this part there will be Hebrew Law—and that is the only rightful law in this country—there is no need for a Hebrew underground. 

The reward for the willingness to head into battle, in Begin’s eyes, was the existence of an upright and secure Jewish state, where Jewish children could grow up in an independent country of their own, as in the days of yore. He concluded his speech with a personal prayer, seen below.

The prayer concluding Begin’s speech on May 15th, 1948, and at the bottom of the page—is that a shopping list?

God, Lord of Israel, protect your soldiers. Grant blessing to their sword that is renewing the covenant that was made between your chosen people and your chosen land. Arise O Lion of Judea for our people, for our land. On to battle. Forward to victory.


Begin delivering a speech, in the 1960s. Photo: Boris Carmi, from the Meitar Collection, the National Library of Israel

Two weeks after the declaration of independence, Begin announced that he had signed an unofficial agreement with Ben-Gurion, and referred to the Israel Defense Forces as “the united forces.” The IDF was established on May 31st, 1948, and on June 1st, 1948, Begin signed an agreement with Yisrael Galili, a representative of the provisional government, which began the disbanding of the Irgun and its integration into the IDF. The agreement stipulated that the Irgun’s operations would cease to operate “as a military brigade in the State of Israel and in the territory of the Government of Israel.” As mentioned, the Irgun preserved its independent status in the blockaded city of Jerusalem because it was not part of the State of Israel at the time and the agreement referred only to state territory.

Begin’s historic speech dismantling the underground and calling for loyalty to the state and its army, was an important step, albeit a preliminary and mainly declarative one. Begin of course meant every word of his speech, but the actual implementation was much more difficult and complicated. Begin’s speech marked the beginning of a new chapter in his life as a political leader, who, eventually, after twenty-nine years in the opposition, would became the first Likud Prime Minister.

The speech was not only broadcast on the Irgun’s Kol Haherut radio, but was also disseminated in print, in a small pamphlet distributed to the fighters. A copy of “The Speech of the Supreme Commander of the Irgun to the People in Zion” is preserved at the National Library of Israel. While it is unclear how this particular copy entered the collection, it was apparently a very personal one: at the end is a handwritten list of items that includes a lamp, coat, shirt, books, and papers. We do not know its purpose, but perhaps the writer was hoping to buy these items or pack them away, maybe to furnish a new apartment, after finally leaving the underground, and coming out of hiding.

The Story of Israel’s First Shelter for Battered Women

“We didn’t think we were making history. All we wanted was to work on behalf of women”: The story of the first shelter for battered women in Israel, established in Haifa in 1977, and the women who founded it

Israel’s first shelter for battered women in Haifa. Photo: Courtesy of the Haifa Women’s Coalition Feminist Archive

Among the first was Tzilla, who came to us straight from the hospital, the eye she’d almost lost still bandaged. Tamar who came with four small babies. Sarah, a kibbutznik whose husband had tried to kill her. Carmella, with twenty stitches in her scalp, ominously certain she would never escape her husband’s death threats. Shula, mother of five, who pulled up her sweater to show us her chest and back covered with knife wounds and cigarette burns.

All these women came because they were sure that the next beating would be their last. They came because they feared death and because there was no place else to go. This apartment in Haifa, they all said, was their last stop. No, we said, you will move on from here to live again. We were right about most of the women . We were wrong about Carmella.

– From Exile in the Promised Land: A Memoir, by Marcia Freedman


“Doyou want to open a shelter for battered women?” Marcia Freedman asked her friend Judy Hill.

It was shortly after Marcia had failed in her bid for re-election to the Knesset, this time as a member of the Women’s Party in Israel.

Her question would change the course of everything related to the treatment of battered women in Israel. Five women—Marcia Freedman, Judy Hill, Joyce Livingstone, Cholit Bat-Edit and Barbara Swirski—turned that “question” into a reality. Though none of them were born in Israel, all were pioneers of Israel’s women’s movement. Search high and low and you won’t find a single photograph of these women together. “We never thought we were making history, so we didn’t see the point of taking a picture together,” says Barbara Swirski, who was one of the founders of the shelter and ran it in its early years. “All we wanted was to work on behalf of women.”

Marcia Freedman. January 1974. Photo: Yaakov Saar, GPO

Like many great things, it started from humble beginnings: a group of women, with the help of dozens of other feminist activists, began by renting an apartment in the Hadar HaCarmel neighborhood in the northern Israeli city of Haifa to be used as a shelter. The location was kept a secret for obvious reasons, and everything in it was either donated or improvised. The furniture was donated by local residents and collected in a small truck.

The shelter was actually a five-room residential apartment. It wasn’t much, but even long journeys begin with one small step. Almost the entire staff of the new shelter agreed to work on a volunteer basis: a lawyer, a doctor, a gynecologist, all worked for free or for a nominal fee. The shelter opened in the fall of 1977. For the first time in Israeli history, abused and battered women who until then had nowhere to turn, finally had a place to go.

“Rape? Physical Abuse? Call 04-660281” Haaretz reports on the new shelter. November 4, 1977. Click to read.

Since there was no precedent in Israel for this type of shelter, in order to determine the rules for its use, the team of women had to look at similar projects already operating in other countries. For example, they determined that a stay in the shelter could last for up to three months, men were not allowed access, and each resident would receive legal, personal and medical assistance while there, enabling her to start out on a new path at the end of her stay.

“In the end, all we wanted was to help women suffering from abuse,” Swirski said in a conversation with us. “We read the professional literature on the subject. We learned about the shelters set up in England and the Netherlands. Then we had to learn on our own what to do and what not to do.”

Following the shelter’s opening on November 3rd, 1977, the founders launched a “hotline” for women seeking assistance. At first, the flow of women seeking shelter was very limited, but an article in Yedioth Ahronoth on February 3rd, 1978, just a few months after the shelter opened, changed everything. Suddenly the phone was ringing off the hook. Women would simply show up at the entrance, and in the months following the article’s publication, more than a hundred women applied for shelter.

“Battered Women”, by Orly Azulay. The article that was published on February 3rd, 1978. Courtesy of Yedioth Ahronoth

“Once the article in Yedioth came out, the shelter never closed,” Swirski says. “The first women to come to the shelter were actually the stronger ones for whom the shelter was a lifeline. They simply saved themselves. Women from other parts of society only came at a later stage.”

The change was rapid and unequivocal. The founders described it in a special report issued after the first six months:

Within two weeks, the woman calms down. She starts eating and sleeping. After a month in the shelter, she is usually ready to help the newer arrivals in their various tasks. She begins to think about work and the future. She is no longer a helpless victim facing an omnipotent man, but a stronger woman, and not frightened.

The shelter in Haifa, 1978, photo: Yossi Rot, Yedioth Aharonoth

Not everything went smoothly, and not all the women were able to break the cycle of violence and begin a new life, but “Whoever saves one life saves the world entire,” says Swirski, quoting the familiar saying. “There was one woman who had recovered in the shelter and was well on her way out of her difficult reality. We became very close. About two years ago, she contacted me through Facebook Messenger. I went to meet her and saw that she was doing well, raising her children. One had been a baby in a crib when she was at the shelter. She has a steady partner, but she was not ready to remarry. We spent a few hours together. What a joy!”

Six months after the establishment of the first shelter, a second opened in Herzliya. In 1981, a third shelter was established in Jerusalem, and at the end of that year, a fourth was opened in Ashdod. Over the years, many other shelters have been established and even received organizational and governmental “support,” but the first shelter in Haifa was the one that broke new ground in protecting victims of domestic violence. “It’s a great thing to do something that has not been done before,” Swirski says. “Seeing a woman come in hunched over and then to see her leave with her back straight, getting on with her life—it’s a great feeling when that happens! You change the world!”

Barbara Swirski, Spring, 2021

“Actually,” Swirski concludes with a sober look at the present, “nothing has changed.” “What’s really changed? There are more institutions, more solutions, more options. The phenomenon hasn’t disappeared and probably never will. Unfortunately, Israel is in competition with the United States and is becoming increasingly violent in all areas, not just in the home.”


Many thanks to Hannah Safran of the Haifa Women’s Coalition for her assistance in preparing this article.

The article is dedicated to the memory of all victims of violence against women in Israel.



Further Reading

Exile in the Promised Land: A Memoir, by Marcia Freedman

Daughters of Eve, Daughters of Lilith, by Barbara Swirski

Don’t Wanna Be Nice Girls: The Struggle for Suffrage and the New Feminism in Israel, by Hannah Safran