An Enthralling Journey: The Changing Land of Israel Over Three Centuries

See how a Scottish artist interpreted the landscape of the Land of Israel in his mid-19th century paintings. See how an Israeli artist retraced his footsteps and recreated his works over a century later.

The white cliffs of Rosh Hanikra: Berger-Vilnay Lithograph No. 55 and the accompanying photograph by Yelena Grof, 2016

He could not have known at such an early age, but Zvi Berger’s first memory would contain the key to his future and a hint of who he would grow up to be. As Berger recalls the memory – he is wandering around the neighborhoods of Mandatory Haifa with a piece of chalk in his hand, drawing whatever sights catch his curious eye.

Twenty years after that first memory, we find the wandering child from Haifa living in Jerusalem. He is already an outstanding student at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and married with a daughter on the way. The geographer and historian, Professor Zeev Vilnay, proposes an interesting project to him. The professor wants him to trace the journey of a nineteenth-century Scottish painter through the Land of Israel and to recreate some of the major landmarks of his journey in lithographs. Berger’s job will be to draw the various sites, and Vilnay will compile the lithographs, placing them in historical context.

Zvi Berger drawing in Akko, July 1957. From the collection of his daughter, Adi Berger-Ram


Artist Zvi Berger looks out from a vantage point in Israel. Year unknown. From the collection of his daughter, Adi Berger-Ram


The Promised Land through the eyes of David Roberts

124 years before Berger and Vilnay’s arrangement, a Scottish traveler arrived at the Port of Alexandria in Egypt. It was August, 1838 and the young Scot was David Roberts. Roberts, who had grown up painting landscapes, was well acquainted with Egypt’s magnificent Orientalist paintings. These were works created by European artists like Dominique Vivant Denon, who embarked on a similar artistic excursion with Napoleon’s army in the previous generation.

The evidence of a lost world, embodied by ancient temples and inscriptions, seems to have drawn Roberts more than the artistic styles on which he had been educated. By December, He had created a hundred paintings of the various temples scattered in and around Cairo. On February 7th, 1839, he set out for the Holy Land in a convoy of 21 camels and 15 Arab bodyguards. At the end of a month’s journey, which included a four-day trek through the Sinai desert, the convoy arrived in Hebron.

Portrait of David Roberts


Roberts spent a little over one month in the Holy Land, then a part of the Ottoman Empire, before sailing to Europe from the Port of Alexandria. The creative energy that consumed him in Egypt was also demonstrated in the Land of Israel. He was impressed by the “near-English cleanliness” he found in Hebron, the beauty of Gaza and the character of its residents. But, it was Jerusalem that had captured the imagination of the Christian painter from the beginning, and he anxiously awaited his arrival at the ancient city.

On the road to Jerusalem, he wrote, “I have not felt this perfect pleasure from the beauty of nature since the days of my childhood…The mountains of Judah frame the landscape and, beyond, lies the magnificent city.”

Although he changed his mind about Jerusalem after entering its gates, Roberts illustrated the city, its landscapes and the various sites he visited in dozens of drawings and paintings. Roberts returned to England with 272 illustrations, a Cairo panorama and three full notebooks of sketches. In the ten years following his trip, Roberts based his works on the sketches and illustrations he created during his time in Egypt and the Holy Land.

In Roberts’ Footsteps

Zvi Berger and Ze’ev Vilnay attempted to trace Roberts’ journey through the Land of Israel by using his own works. The map of Roberts’ voyage, most likely created in 1855, helped piece together a general picture. Roberts’ log that he kept throughout his journey (which has since been published in several editions) provided an intimate look at the artist’s feelings and impressions of the Holy Land. Above all, Berger and Vilnay utilized Roberts’ original illustrations and paintings as clues, tracing his footsteps through the artwork.


A map of Roberts’ journey


Berger and Vilnay’s project, which began in 1962, took 3 years to complete. Israel Horizons, the book they published together, contained 56 original lithographs of landscapes of the State of Israel. The same year it was published, their collection won a silver medal at an art book festival in Milan.

View a scanned version of this wonderful book here

The pair encountered a number of modern obstacles tracking Roberts’ historical journey. Nasser’s Egypt, for example, was out of bounds. This fact, however, was of no consequence to the two, who wished to focus on Roberts’ travel in the Land of Israel at any rate. However, the political reality of Israel in the years preceding the Six-Day War thwarted Berger and Vilnay’s requests for access to many areas that Roberts’ had visited. Namely, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank were off limits to Berger and Vilnay. For this reason, many of the locales of Roberts’ paintings remained just outside the pair’s reach, including the painting below which depicts the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.


Roberts’ painting of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in the Old City of Jerusalem

These obstacles aside, the Berger-Vilnay team did manage to recreate quite a few other illustrations. One of the lookout points that most attracted Roberts was the hill that is now known as “Giv’at Yonah.” According to the local folklore, this hill claims to be the spot where the Leviathan spat Jonah back onto land. During the Arab conquest of the Land of Israel in the seventh century CE, the town of Isdud was established in this area.

Berger and Vilnay were able to pinpoint the location of Roberts’ illustration in the early 1960s. Berger’s drawing, No. 15 in the album, depicts the pride of the Zionist enterprise at the time. This was the new port of Ashdod, complete with a breakwater, inaugurated in 1963. In Roberts’ painting, shepherds are seen in the foreground. In Berger’s drawing, the artist is pictured with his family. His three-year-old daughter, Adi (remember her name), is depicted on the far right.


Roberts’ painting of the town of Isdud and the accompanying Berger-Vilnay drawing of the port of Ashdod, Lithograph No. 15

Another interesting comparison is Berger’s recreation of Roberts’ Mount Tabor lookout point. In Roberts’ painting, the valley at the foot of the mountain seems to be devoid of any actual dwellings (though we do see a caravan of people making their way through it). In Berger’s Drawing No. 39 we can spot the Church of the Transfiguration sitting atop the mountain. Construction on the church was completed in 1924 by architect Antonio Barluzzi. At the foot of the mountain lies a settlement that we have had difficulty identifying. It is most likely the Arab town of Daburiya.


Mount Tabor. Roberts’ painting and the accompanying Berger-Vilnay drawing, Lithograph No. 39


The drawing that Berger called “A View of the Carmel from Haifa Bay” reconstructs the very exact angle of Roberts’ painting. Unlike the previous examples, we see very few deviations between the two artists’ depictions of the bay.


Mount Carmel. Roberts’ painting and the accompanying Berger-Vilnay drawing, Lithograph No. 29

Berger and Vilnay did allow themselves to deviate from Roberts’ original structure when they felt it enhanced the modern representation and juxtaposition of the old versus the new. In the first lithograph which appears in their album, Berger recreated a painting that Roberts conceived on the road to Jerusalem (the painting is dated April 5, 1839). While Roberts depicts the city of Jerusalem by highlighting its towering mosques, Vilnay’s brief description emphasizes the pair’s difference in focus. Berger’s drawing has been named, “Jerusalem – Capital of Israel,” and Vilnay’s short description includes the explanation of an “old” custom- a practice in which Jews on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem would rip their clothes as soon as the ancient city came into view.


Roberts’ painting of Jerusalem and the surrounding area
Berger’s sketch, Jerusalem – Capital of Israel, Lithograph No. 1


A similar deviation comes to light when comparing the two depictions of the port of Jaffa. Roberts arrived in the city on March 25, 1839. He painted it from the north, and in the center of the painting we see a group of Polish Jews returning to Europe from a trip to Jerusalem. The Berger-Vilnay team chose a similar angle for their drawing (No. 12), but they set the observation point at a further distance. This fact can be attributed to the message they wished to convey: the inclusion of Jaffa’s younger, sister city. The focal point of Berger’s drawing is the promenade of Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew city. “In the background, thrusting up from the sea, is the profile of Jaffa – one of the oldest cities in the world,” Vilnay wrote in the album’s commentary.


Roberts, the city of Jaffa
Berger-Vilnay, Tel Aviv-Jaffa, Lithograph No. 12


The duo also added two other pictures of Tel Aviv. These pictures were not recreations of Roberts’ artwork, nor did they utilize any of his observation-points for reference. Vilnay provided the reasoning in his annotations to the album, “Tel Aviv was founded in 1909” – 70 years after Roberts’ departure from the Land of Israel.


Berger-Vilnay, King George St. in Tel Aviv, Lithograph No. 13


Different viewpoints of the same place are also found in the representations of Ein Gedi. Roberts observed the Ein Gedi area from the vantage point of the Dead Sea. Berger and Vilnay’s version is a celebration of the re-establishment of Ein Gedi as a community, which began in 1953 with the placement of a Nahal (military-agricultural) outpost. Three years later, the outpost had become Kibbutz Ein Gedi.


Roberts, the Dead Sea
Berger-Vilnay, Ein Gedi, Lithograph No. 20


Although Berger and Vilnay chose to use Roberts’ subject of the ancient ruins of Ashkelon (destroyed in 1270) and not the new city (established in 1948), the pair did decide to create their representation from an alternative angle. Roberts painted the Old City facing south, while Berger faced north.


Roberts, Ashkelon
Berger-Vilnay, the ancient city of Ashkelon, Lithograph No. 16


Another notable choice by the Berger-Vilnay team that had no twin among Roberts’ paintings was No. 55, depicting Abraham Melinkov’s roaring lion statue. The statue commemorates the fall of Joseph Trumpeldor and his seven comrades at Tel Hai in the year 1920.


Berger-Vilnay, The Roaring Lion of Tel-Hai, Lithograph No. 55

The Girl in the Picture and the Broken Shelf

In the summer of 2014, a shelf collapsed in the home of Adi Berger-Ram. In Adi’s book about her father, On His Own Path: The Pictures and Life of Painter Zvi Berger (Hebrew), she described the incident as a fateful anomaly. She characterized the drawings, which lay untouched on the shelf for nearly three decades before its collapse, as screaming out: “We want the world to see us!”

The tremendous creative energy generated by her father, Zvi Berger, yielded a veritable stockpile of works that had never reached publication. For Adi, it was an exciting journey into the world of her father’s work. She was thrilled by the power and quantity of the previously undiscovered works she found. In the four years following the collapse of the shelf, Adi Berger-Ram managed to publish two full books based on Zvi’s work, both of which she composed herself. Adi has dedicated her time to commemorating her father’s works and to instill his passions within each publication – his love of the land and her people. In the spirit of this sentiment, she organizes multi-generational get-togethers between children and adults and between new immigrants and veteran Israelis.


Tel Aviv-Jaffa promenade: Berger-Vilnay, Lithograph No. 12 and the accompanying photograph by Yelena Grof, Tel Aviv-Jaffa promenade, 2017

The first of the two books, On His Own Path, is a collection of art that describes the life of Zvi Berger extensively, including paintings from various periods of his life. The book was published in 2016 on the third anniversary of the artist’s death. The second book, In the Cycle of Months (Hebrew), was published just one year later. The book was a collaboration between Benjamin Bilavsky, an experienced book designer and Hebrew language student, and his teacher, Adi Berger-Ram. The book tells the story of the Hebrew months. It is written a first-person perspective in basic Hebrew. It features original illustrations by Zvi Berger that inspired his daughter to write the book.

Berger and Vilnay’s excursion in the wake of Roberts’ initial journey convinced Adi to embark on her own small journey. She painstakingly sought out the points from which her father composed his drawings and sought to photograph them from the same angle. The result is an enthralling comparison between “then and now.”

Of the ten points captured on film by the team of Adi Berger-Ram, Yelena Grof and Arthur Grof, three of them were also painted by Roberts almost two centuries earlier. The three locations are: Ashkelon, Ashdod and Jaffa/Tel Aviv Promenade.

In the photograph of Ashkelon we can see the beach captured from the same angle that her father chose (as opposed to Roberts’ choice). “The Old City,” as Berger called it, has since developed. The beach now features a lifeguard stand and a number of buildings that have been erected in the distance.


Ashkelon: Berger-Vilnay, Lithograph No. 16 and the accompanying photograph by Yelena Grof, 2016

In a photograph taken by Yelena Grof, we can see that the port of Ashdod has developed since the 1963 sketch made by Zvi Berger. Adi, who appeared on the far right in her father’s sketch, makes a cameo appearance as the grown woman standing to the right of her husband in the photograph.

In February 2017, equipped with the original lithograph of the city of Ashdod, Adi climbed with her husband and friends to the same lookout point. They were faithfully guided by a childhood memory, preserved by the perpetuation of its image in lithography.


Port of Ashdod: Berger-Vilnay, Lithograph No. 15 and the accompanying photograph by Yelena Grof, 2017


As you have noticed by now, the passing of a relatively short amount of time (even in an ancient land) can yield enormous changes. A comparison between a current photograph of Be’er Sheva with Berger’s 50-year-old drawing illustrates this point wonderfully.


Beer Sheva from the northwest: Berger-Vilnay, Lithograph No. 17 and the accompanying photograph by Yelena Grof, 2017


Elsewhere, it seems that not much has changed. Tel Hai’s lion is still roaring and the dramatic cliffs of Rosh Hanikra have not yet fallen into the sea.


The Roaring Lion of Tel-Hai: Berger-Vilnay, Lithograph No. 55 and the accompanying photograph by Hadas Ram, 2016


The White Cliffs of Rosh Hanikra: Berger-Vilnay, Lithograph No. 55 and the accompanying photograph by Yelena Grof, 2016


Adi’s photographs, when combined with Berger’s drawings and (in some cases) Roberts’ paintings, allow us to look at each location through the perspectives of two (and sometimes three) different centuries.

And for the finale – here is our addition to the collection, accompanying Berger’s drawing of the National Library:



Many thanks to Adi Berger-Ram for her assistance in the research and composition of this article.


Further reading:

Israel Horizons by Zvi Berger and Zeev Vilnay – scanned version

You can find our more about the Zvi Berger Memorial Project by contacting his daughter Adi Berger-Ram at this email

A Facebook group in memory of Zvi Beger and his work



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A Life Story in One Picture: The Photographer Who Fell in the War of Independence

The discovery of an obscure picture in a family photo-album led Adva Magal-Cohen to embark on a journey to piece together the life story of the mysterious Moshe Weizmann.

A picture of a young man wearing short trousers, with a brief caption scribbled on the back: “Moshe Weizmann. He came with the Youth Aliyah organization and lived with the Teuber family. He was killed in the War of Independence in the Battles of Jenin.” This one image discovered by Adva Magal-Cohen while leafing through a family photo album, is what set her on a journey to trace the life story of a man she had never heard of before, who was killed decades earlier when he was only 26 years old.

“A young man in three-quarter-length trousers. In the background is a tent. Cypress trees on a hilltop. An unknown relative. I turn the picture over and the backside reveals a short explanation in my grandmother’s handwriting.”

This is how Magal-Cohen describes the moment she discovered the picture, completely coincidentally, while going through the family’s notebooks and albums to research and document the story of her grandmother, Rachel Teuber.

The Hebrew caption on the back of the mysterious photograph: “Moshe Weizmann. He came with the Youth Aliyah organization and lived with the Teuber family. He was killed in the War of Independence in the Battles of Jenin.” Click to enlarge.


The photograph of Moshe Weizmann discovered in Rachel Teuber’s photograph collection. Click to enlarge.

Rachel, who fled the pogroms in Podolia, built her home in Balfouria, a Jewish farming community in Mandatory Palestine. There, she opened her home to the young Moshe Weizmann, who arrived in Israel without family through the Youth Aliyah organization. Adva’s older family members knew that Moshe was a photographer and that he had photographed Adva’s father when he was a little boy. It was a picture Adva knew well, but it had never occurred to her to search for the photographer’s identity. Now, the thought would not leave her. Adva continued to investigate, but apart from the limited details provided by her family, she did not know anything else about Moshe’s life.

Adva’s continued search took her to the memorial archives for fallen soldiers of Israel. There, she was able to locate the memorial page dedicated to Moshe Weizmann.


Moshe Weizmann. Click to enlarge.

The page tells that Moshe Weizmann was born on July 9, 1922, in Vienna. There, he learned the art of photography from his father who was a reputable professional. Moshe immigrated to the Land of Israel in 1939 and underwent agricultural training in Balfouria for two years. Later, he was assigned a post as a guard at the British base in Ramat David. Moshe’s father Zvi managed to reach Mandatory Palestine and open a photography shop in the northern city of Afula. After his father died, Moshe continued to run the store until he was drafted into the Golani brigade and mobilized to the Jenin front. On July 10, 1948, the day after his 26th birthday, he was hit by an enemy bullet and died. His body and the bodies of his comrades remained on the battlefield for ten days or more, until they were finally recovered. He was buried in the military cemetery in Afula.

Yet this was just the beginning of the story.

Try as she might, Adva could not stop thinking about Moshe and she continued to dig deeper into the story of the young man she had never known. Little by little, she discovered details in the archives and managed to document Weizmann’s life and the lives of some of his family members.

Her research first led her to the story of Moshe’s father, Zvi Weizmann, a Viennese photographer, who died in April 1941.

In Vienna in 1938, the Weizmann family suffered at the hands of Nazi abuse. In one markedly difficult event, Zvi was forced to lift a heavy motorcycle, an incident which seriously damaged his health.

In the Zionist archives, Avda was able to discover Moshe’s Youth Aliyah file. It revealed that he immigrated on board the ship “Galil” in April 1939, after bearing witness to the riots in Vienna. Four months later, he wrote a desperate letter (in German) to the Youth Aliyah offices at the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, asking for permission to travel to the town of Rishon LeZion. In the letter, he explained how his mother had died in Vienna a month earlier and that he was trying to enlist the help of a relative in Rishon LeZion to rescue his father from Austria (which was already under the control of Nazi Germany). And so he wrote: “Now it is in your hands, to grant me permission to save my father, therefore, I urgently request to give me permission to embark on this critical journey …” He signed the letter: “Maximilian Weitzmann, Moshe Weizmann, staying with the Teuber family, Balfouria”. The special leave was granted and Moshe successfully helped his father escape to the Land of Israel.

Zvi Weizmann boarded the illegal immigrant ship “Sakaria” in early February 1940. The ship was subsequently stopped by the British and Zvi was sent to the Atlit detention camp for six months. In August 1940 he was released, allowing him to join his son in the Jezreel Valley. He would spend less than a year in Afula, where he would reside until his death.

Aboard the “Sakaria”, the ship that brought Zvi Weizmann to Palestine, February 13th, 1940.

Later, Adva was able to locate people who knew the father and his son. They told her about the boy Moshe, who was the only Betar (a right-wing Jewish youth movement) supporter in a group of socialist youth. They told her of Moshe’s move to Afula with his father and that the two had established a photography shop. They worked there successfully for a few months. However, at the age of 55, only a short time after he arrived in Israel to begin a new life, Zvi passed away due to complications from the injury that had compromised his health years prior. Moshe was left alone and continued to run the photography shop without his father.

A friend of Moshe in Afula, related that he received a camera from him for his 18th birthday. Slowly, the story of the photography shop began to unravel. Magal-Cohen next discovered photographs taken by Zvi Weizmann. The photographs were taken in Vienna and were now being sold at auction. She also discovered photographs taken by Moshe Weizmann, on the back of which he stamped the words: “Photo-Weizmann, Afula.” The photographs are of Afula during the British Mandate, a demonstration against the White Paper, a pro-British rally during the war and a few pastoral photographs of palm trees in the city. Magal-Cohen also found photographs of a group of boys from the Youth Aliyah organization, with Moshe Weizmann appearing among them.


A photo of a Zionist march by Moshe Weizmann. Click to enlarge.


In the Afula municipal archives, Magal-Cohen found a handwritten letter by Moshe Weizmann. In July 1943, he requested a waiver for a fee required by the local council to maintain a signpost for his shop. Weizmann had been drafted by this time and was serving as a guard. His father had died two years earlier and it was difficult for him to pay the fee.

Adva also found a list of those who were called upon to be drafted from Afula. The name “Weizmann, Moshe” appears on the list as number 22. A document of those who reported for service was also published. Moshe Weizmann is number 36 on the recruitment list.

In December 1949, the secretary of the Afula Council wrote to the district officer and listed residents of the Afula area who had recently fallen in the war. Under the number 7 is written: “Weizmann, Moshe”. A note was added stating that the exact date of death was unknown. The location was listed as “near Zir’in.”


A letter in Hebrew by Moshe Weizmann to the Afula city council, requesting the waiving of a signpost fee. Click to enlarge.

The journey that began with one photograph revealed not only the image of Moshe Weizmann, a fallen soldier of the War of Independence, but also a complex family history and the story of a man whose family was shattered to pieces.

Finally, Magal-Cohen learned that Siegfried, Moshe’s brother, immigrated to London from Vienna around the same time Moshe arrived in Palestine. He was also a photographer and established a thriving event-filming business. He even photographed weddings of the British nobility and royal family. Siegfried and Moshe had planned to meet at the London Olympics after the war, but this reunion enver took place. Siegfried visited Israel once and went to see his brother Moshe’s grave. One of Moshe’s friends bestowed upon him two albums of photographs taken by Moshe during his years in Balfouria and Afula.

During her investigation, Magal-Cohen was able to contact Siegfried’s children – Moshe’s nephews. They told her that their father had continued to engage in photography and became the first importer of Japanese cameras to England. The family eventually shut down the photography business; today they run a successful real-estate agency. Siegfried’s children plan to travel to Israel soon and visit their uncle’s grave. They also hope to find more lost photo albums.

Thus, the story of the life and death of the late Moshe Weizmann, one Israel’s fallen heroes, was discovered in all its richness and history. Were it not for the persistent research that eventually became the book: “A Woman Sits and Writes – Rachel Teuber” (which can be found on the shelves of the National Library), Moshe Weizmann would be just another name, another number. A man killed at the age of 26, who today would be well over 90 years old.

For further reading (in Hebrew): “Memory on the Margins of Memory: Moshe Weizmann – An Oleh, a Photographer, a Casualty” from the bi-monthly periodical “Et-Mol,” Issue 243

"A Woman Sits and Writes - Rachel Teuber" by Adva Magal-Cohen
“A Woman Sits and Writes – Rachel Teuber” by Adva Magal-Cohen (Hebrew)

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Before and After the Holocaust: The Life of a Jewish Doctor in Niš

Rare documents shed light on the life of Isak Albahari, who served as a military doctor during the war that claimed the lives of his wife and children.


Image of the Niš tram. From the City of Niš.

Isak Albahari was born on Jun 19th, 1904 in a small town called Smederevo, to loving parents, Danilo and Eliza Nee Levi. Isak graduated from Medical school in Zagreb in 1931 and, after finishing his residency at the General State Hospital in Belgrade, he married Berta Pinto. In 1935, their first son, Danilo, was born and one year later Isak Albahari was moved with his family to Niš, the third largest city in Serbia, to open his medical practice. It was there that their second son, Benjamin, was born 1938.

The Jewish population in Niš at the time included 350 citizens with permanent residence, 51 with temporary residence and 155 immigrants for a total of 556 Jews.

Personal data of Doctor Isak Albahari in the Medical Chambers Register
The personal data of Doctor Isak Albahari in the Medical Chambers Registry. Image courtesy of the Historical Archives of Belgrade.

With the start of World War II, life changed drastically for the Albahari family and for the entire Jewish population of Niš. The first Nazi concentration camp in the occupied Kingdom of Yugoslavia was set up in Niš. Most of the Jews in the city were killed in that camp or were transported to the Sajmište concentration camp that was intended specifically for Jewish women, children and old men.

In 1941, Isak was drafted into Yugoslav army as a military doctor and after Yugoslavia surrendered to the Axis forces, he was sent to a military camp in Germany. In early 1945 he returned to Belgrade to find that his wife and two sons had been killed in the Sajmište concentration camp in 1942. He appears in the records as having reported their deaths to the authorities.

ID residency card
Citizenship card indicating permanent residence for Isak Albahari. Image courtesy of the Historical Archives of Belgrade.

During his time in Belgrade after the war, Isak met a woman who shared a similar life story. Mara was from Zagreb, Croatia and had been married to an Ashkenazi Jew who was killed by the Nazis at the start of the war. She managed to survive along with her two sons by hiding in different Serbian villages for four years. With the conclusion of the war, she traveled to Belgrade together with her sons to start a new life. Unfortunately, along the way, both of her sons were killed in a train accident. It was soon after this horrible tragedy that she met Isak Albahari and began her healing process.

Dr Isak Albahari signed a form with details on the death of his son Benjamin Albahari, 3 ½ years old, killed in Sajmiste concen
The form signed by Dr. Isak Albahari with details on the death of his son Benjamin Albahari who was just 3 and a half years old when he was killed in the Sajmiste concentration camp.

In October 1945 they moved together to Peć, a small town in the South of Serbia, where Isak resumed his medical practice and together they started a family. They had two children, a son, and a daughter. Their son, David Albahari, was born in 1948 and grew up to become one of the best and most renowned Serbian writers alive today.

Doctor Isak Albahari died in 1981. He was buried in Sephardic cemetery in Belgrade.

The Newspaper That Put the Jews of Egypt on the World Stage

The story of the newspaper that was not afraid to take on anyone: "Let us destroy to rebuild - we are all suffocating in the dark atmosphere of a community dominated by greedy money-grubbers."


Celebrations of the fall of the Nazi regime in a synagogue in Alexandria, Egypt. Photo: Rudi Goldstein, the Bitmuna Collection

British control of Egypt, which began in 1882, is considered the golden age of Egypt for many reasons. Technological advances and modern modes of thought began to penetrate into the country. Another trend introduced in the wake of British control was an influx of immigrants, specifically Jews, to the country.

The end of the First World War brought about a golden age of Egyptian journalism as well, and saw the proliferation of the Jewish Egyptian press. Jews produced more periodicals than any other minority in Egypt. There were ninety periodicals overall, two-thirds of which targeted Jewish audiences. Most of these were written in French but others appeared in Judeo-Arabic, Yiddish and Ladino. A third of the Jewish-owned periodicals were marketed to the general Egyptian public.

Browse issues of the newspaper on the Historical Jewish Press website

One of the most important Jewish newspapers in Egypt was L’Aurore (The Dawn). Its owner and first editor was Lucien Sciuto (Thessaloniki, 1886 – Alexandria, 1947), a writer and educator, who originally founded the paper in Constantinople, Turkey. Conflicts with leaders of the local Jewish community led to its closure, and, in 1919, Sciuto immigrated to Egypt. L’Aurore was published in Cairo from 1924 to 1941.

The weekly newspaper, characterized by its Zionist and Jewish affiliation, covered many areas of interest – Religious affairs, local Jewish community leaders, relations with world Jewry including the Jewish community of Mandatory Palestine and relations with the Egyptian regime. In addition, the paper published translated articles from newspapers in Mandatory Palestine and starting in 1938, it even included a page written in Italian.

L’Aurore was considered a critical and provocative newspaper. It was not afraid of criticize the heads of the local Rabbinate and Jewish community in Egypt. It was also the first Jewish Egyptian newspaper to send reporters into the field, rely on sources and carry out investigative journalism to expose the reader to deficiencies in the local Jewish leadership.

Several months after publication began in Egypt, the newspaper printed a bold claim:

“Community leadership should be managed by people who can give more of their time than their money. What is the point of a president who does not fulfill his duties and is absent for long periods of time? Before we decide on the identity of the president, we must ensure that the community council is composed of people who are active, respected and involved in the community, who will immediately dedicate themselves to the necessary reforms in the administrative apparatus, which is not functioning. “

(L’Aurore, Edition 14, May 23rd, 1924, page 2)


L’Aurore, Edition 14, May 23rd, 1924. For the full newspaper, click on the image.
L’Aurore, Edition 14, May 23rd, 1924. For the full newspaper, click on the image.

Sciuto began to vigorously advocate for the revival and national renewal of the Jewish public and the protection of its rights. Later that year he wrote the following in one of his headlines:

Let us destroy to rebuild – we are all suffocating in the dark atmosphere of a community dominated by greedy money-grubbers. Join us and we shall take control of this fortress and, stone by stone, destroy it to build a Jewish house with its windows wide open to progress.”

(L’Aurore, Edition 22, July 18th, 1924, page 1)


L’Aurore, Edition 22, July 18<sup>th</sup>, 1924. For the full newspaper, click on the image.
L’Aurore, Edition 22, July 18th, 1924. For the full newspaper, click on the image.


Sciuto frequently attacked the leaders of the Jewish community and drew fire from the community establishment, which boycotted the newspaper and attempted to characterize Sciuto as a “trouble-maker.”

In 1931, Sciuto decided to resign from his management position and pass it on to a more moderate and financially stable executive. He appointed Jacques Maleh, a well-educated, Cairo-born banker as editor. Maleh breathed new life into the periodical by improving its financial management and rehabilitating its public image. He managed to establish a proper relationship with the leaders of the Jewish community and enlisted the help of senior members of the B’nai B’rith organization.

With Hitler’s ascension to power in January 1933 and the beginning of Jewish persecution in Germany, Egyptian Jews mounted a public campaign against German anti-Semitism. They established an umbrella organization, “The League for the Struggle against Anti-Semitism”, led by another Turkish transplant to Egypt, Leon Castro (Izmir, 1883 – Cairo, 1948). Castro, a lawyer, journalist and public figure who was one of the heads of the Zionist Federation in Cairo, acquired part ownership of L’Aurore. He also took part in its editing and turned the newspaper into a mouthpiece for “The League”.

In an open letter to the Acting Prime Minister of Egypt, the newspaper declared:

“Hitlerism in Egypt: This revelation should serve as a warning that if the Jews of the world do not mobilize all their resources to suppress anti-Semitism while it is in this early, hostile stage, it will spread like an epidemic”

(L’Aurore, Edition 50, February 16th 1933, page 1)


L’Aurore, Edition 50, February 16<sup>th</sup>, 1933. For the full newspaper, click on the image.
L’Aurore, Edition 50, February 16th, 1933. For the full newspaper, click on the image.

The propaganda effort organized by the Egyptian Jews, combined with their absolute boycott of all German products, sparked a reaction: The Germans threatened to impose a counter-boycott on the import of Egyptian cotton. Nationalist groups in Egypt warned the Jews that if they continued to boycott Germany and its products, Egypt would begin to assist the Arabs of Palestine in their struggle against the Jewish community there.

Despite the obstacles and crises, L’Aurore managed to survive for many years. However, the economic fallout from the Second World War sealed the fate of the weekly periodical and led to its closure in 1941.

In December 2018, issues of the newspaper were uploaded to the Historical Jewish Press website, which is managed and maintained by the National Library and Tel Aviv University, with assistance from the Union des Juifs d’Égypte en Israel Association, des Juifs d’Égypte en Grande-Bretagne, ASPCJE en France



Bibliographical Sources

  1. L’Aurore, 1924-1941
  2. Hagar, Hillel / “Israel” in Cairo: A Zionist Newspaper in National Egypt 1920-1939, Tel Aviv: The Chaim Weizmann Institute for the Study of Zionism and Israel, Tel Aviv University, Am Oved Publishers.
  3. Egypt, Editor: Nahem, Ilan. From the series “Jewish Communities in the East in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries”, Jerusalem: Ben-Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, 5768.
  4. Kimche, Ruth / Zionism in the Shadow of the Pyramids: The Zionist Movement in Egypt 1918-1948, Am Oved Publishers, 2008.