The First American Consul Happened to Have Jerusalem Syndrome

Meet the missionary who declared himself the first American consul in the Land of Israel and waged war on the Christian organizations exploiting the Yishuv.

The American flag over the first residence of the American consulate, Jaffa Gate, circa 1857. Frank DeHass 1883 Courtesy MFH TAC Jerusalem LOC Washington Edwin W Holy Jerusalem, 1898

For the residents of Israel and the Middle East as a whole, the American presence in the region is as natural and as expected as the hot sun overhead in the middle of August. In truth, American diplomacy in the Land of Israel was historically random, coincidental, and at its best, it was a big, hot mess.

Samson Breaking the Pillars of Christianity, from Warder Cresson’s “The Key of David”. Click to view the item

The true history of American diplomacy in the Land of Israel is a matter of reality being stranger than fiction. No one could be so creative as to have invented a character as colorful, wild, and according to friends and family, of questionable sanity, as Warder Cresson, the man who almost became the first American consul of Jerusalem.

For those paying attention, it was easy to spot the clues that could have foreshadowed the trouble this man would cause. After all, his questionable actions and dubious personality raised eyebrows long before he left America for the mission of a lifetime.

So, who was this “almost consul?”

A portrait of Warder Cresson, circa 1840. Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society, New York and Newton Center, Mass.

During the 19th-century, many Christian Americans turned their focus towards the Holy Land. The reasons for this were many, but not least among them was the disappointment of the failed salvation that was promised to them in America. In its place, the Christians looked towards the original salvation promised in historical Israel.

One of the new beliefs preached in the revival faith that swept through America at that time was the idea that, in order for Christendom to flourish and for Jesus to return and save all of humanity, the Jews must return to their historical homeland. It was this belief that burned within Warder Cresson, a farmer from Philadelphia who came from a Messianic Quaker family.

Cresson believed so strongly in the return of the Jews to their homeland that he decided to make it his life’s mission. Through acquaintances who knew John Calhoun, the Secretary of State at the time, Cresson asked to made consul of Jerusalem. In 1844, Calhoun agreed, and indeed, Cresson became the first person to hold the position as American consul (it only helped that Cresson offered to do the work without pay).

Rumors of his eccentric nature and his not-so-secret ulterior motives made his appointment rather controversial. With the cards stacked against him, the Ottoman officials, the authority over Jerusalem at the time, did not approve of Cresson’s appointment and he was barred from holding the position.

King Solomon’s Judgement: Cresson alludes to the righteous King’s judgment as choosing between Judaism and Christianity. From “The Key of David”.

That, of course, did not stop Cresson. While the position was hotly debated in the upper echelons of American diplomacy, Cresson arrived in Jerusalem, planted the American flag, and declared himself the American Consul of Jerusalem.

Though it was originally feared that Cresson’s missionary motives would stir up trouble, he instead declared war on the Christian missions that were exploiting the poor Jews, writing up pamphlets and articles and signing them with the pseudonym “Michael Boaz Israel.”

Every time the Ottoman authorities or American diplomats told Cresson he had no authority in Jerusalem, he steadfastly ignored their claims. He himself claimed that the position was creating a huge expenditure on his part and he wasn’t even receiving a salary. He was adamant that all he wanted was protection for himself and the poor persecuted Jews.

This sense of duty became a sense of identity- to the extent that Cresson converted to Judaism. Four years after his initial appointment Cresson converted and took on his new name, the pseudonym he used on his pamphlets, and officially became Michael Boaz Israel. To justify his unconventional decision he began writing the book, “The Key of David: David the True Messiah” in 1848.

A Magen David and the Initials M.C.B.I (Michael Boaz Israel)

When he returned to America following his conversion to settle his financials, his arrival caused an uproar when his ex-wife, son and brother had an injunction issued by the Philadelphia court declaring Cresson insane and incapable of handling his assets.

The trial was heavily covered in the media as it included an indictment, a declaration of insanity and an appeal that Cresson eventually won.  Cresson ended up leaving most of his property to his family and returned to Jerusalem in 1852.

Cresson attempting to bring pilgrims over to the Holy Land by breaking down the travel and accommodation costs

Upon his return, Cresson, or Boaz, worked in the building of the Jewish Yishuv in Jaffa and Emek-Refaim in Jerusalem. His goal was to reduce the dependency of the Jews on Christian charities in the hopes of making the Jewish Yishuv as self-sufficient as possible for he knew the Christian institutions were mainly interested in converting the Jews away from the true religion.

He made a new life for himself in Israel and became a prominent leader in the community, living the life of a prominent Jew. He remarried a woman name Rachel Moledano and had three children, Abigail, Ruth and David Ben-Zion, all of whom died young. Following his death in 1860, he was buried on the Mount of Olives.

Fake News Creates Fake History: Why We Archive the Web

Preserving and archiving the internet will have tremendous impact on the way future generations experience our world.

For many, internet browsing in the 1990 to the early 2000’s came with a belief that, if it was published on the internet, it must be true. While this belief has since faded away, there are still those who carry the belief that if it is on the internet, it will stay on the internet. In actuality, what is on the internet today could easily be gone tomorrow. You may find that the information you are looking at is no longer available by the time you pour your second cup of coffee.

The World Wide Web is an intrinsically ephemeral being. In a world where a 24-hour news cycle has been reduced to minutes with information spreading and sharing moving faster than ever before, web pages are constantly being updated; information is removed, changed or altered so the readers and visitors of the site can begin absorbing and sharing the next wave of information. This fast paced, ever-changing exchange of materials can leave a gaping hole in internet history and in the documentation of materials published on the internet.

It is important to recognize that the internet of today will be crucial in giving future researchers and historians a glimpse into our present, an understanding of what the world looked like, how the political atmosphere impacted society, what daily life included, how people behaved and how civilization operated. As information is deleted or removed from the internet, a significant part of history and future research goes along with it.

The practice of archiving the web preserves the internet and the content being produced and erased every day. In preserving our digital heritage, web archiving is the process of gathering, preserving and creating open access to the historical information published online, ensuring the materials will live on and long beyond their transitory purposes.

In celebration of 20 years of the Israeli internet and in recognition of the critical importance of web archiving, The National Library of Israel and the Open Media and Information Lab (OMILab) at the Open University of Israel, organized an international conference on “Web Archiving: Best Practices for Digital Cultural Heritage,” in April 2018. The conference brought together leading researchers and practitioners in the field of web archiving and web historical research from the United States, France, United Kingdom, Denmark, The Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal and Israel.

Prof. Niels Brügger from Aarhus University, Denmark explained that web archiving, a form of deliberate collecting and preserving of web material, is critical to conserving our digital heritage. “Without that preservation internet materials are doomed to disappear,” he said.

“The online web is not an archive,” explained Brügger. “It is volatile, subject to deletions and changes at an unprecedented pace compared to other media types.”

Brügger suggested that the maximum lifespan of the average webpage is about a year – and once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. The importance of archiving the web is significant – without it, the internet would have no memory.

Prof. Niels Brügger. Photo: Hanan Cohen

Social Media: Our personal web archives

Web archiving has also begun to play an important sociological role in preserving the personal history of the everyday person. The internet has become a gold mine of memories – of family photos, personal narratives and videos of special moments.

With the rise of social media, people are sharing and uploading more information about themselves, their families and their friends than ever before. By sharing statuses or tweets, we provide a synopsis of our day-to-day lives. By sharing images and videos, we give a primary look at our personal experiences and present a picture of what our greater world looks like. This wealth of valuable data is uploaded by users to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media sources – data that could be invaluable to future generations.

“Social media makes preserving and archiving the internet more challenging but it also makes it even more important because what humans are sharing is inherently ephemeral,” explained Mark Graham, Director of the Wayback Machine, a digital time machine in which over 20 years of internet archives are accessible.

“This information that people are sharing has real time value that emphasizes the ephemerality of the internet, replacing longer-term and more physical objects like books and magazines,” he explained.

Mark Graham. Photo: Hanan Cohen

How do we choose what to preserve?

Web archiving is accomplished with the use of web crawlers that comb the web, gathering information in real time. The material is then stored in its (sometime fragmented) HTML form. The vast expanse of the internet makes it difficult to conceptualize what it would take to preserve all of the information on the web. The ethical question presents itself – what should be stored and what should be prioritized in the current expanse of the internet? What should be preserved and how do we ensure that what is being digitized is real information and not “fake news?”

For experts like Brügger and Graham, the answer is simple: digitizing everything – or as much as possible. Nothing should be left behind.

According to Brügger, “The archiving of web material is collecting what should be preserved – whether it was real or fake-if it was online, it should be preserved.”

Fake news is a part of our reality. It existed on the internet and therefore it should be preserved for future generations to study and understand. If we succeed in archiving as much as possible, the fake news will fall by the wayside in real time context.

“Just as we can’t stop people from producing fake news, we cannot expect to protect the internet archive from fake news,” Graham explained. “What we can do is use sunlight as a disinfectant. We can help people differentiate fake news from real news within the greater context.

“We need build tools to allow people to evaluate the information more easily and to allow them to make smart and educated decisions. The longer-term work needs to be done through education to give people what they need to exercise good judgement,” said Graham.

The ultimate goal of web archiving

The objective, and ultimately the most difficult challenge of archiving the web, is to find a way to open the archive to researchers and to the public at large, noted Oren Weinberg, the Director General of the National Library of Israel (NLI).

“The National Library of Israel serves as the collective memory of the Jewish people…the web is the history of tomorrow so we need to take it upon ourselves to preserve it for generations to come.”

In archiving the web, we can retain and appreciate an entire generation’s way of thinking and existence. Without these efforts, we lose that piece of history – the art, the photos, the videos, and the overall experiences of the human collective. By archiving the web, by looking at the past and recognizing its significance, we open the door to societal progress and a greater historical appreciation.

When the Future King of England Celebrated Passover With the Chief Rabbi

In 1882, the young Prince George, later King George V, joined his brother on a tour around the world, recording his impressions of the locations he visited - including the Holy Land.

Jaffa Gate and the Citadel. Jerusalem from the west as Prince George probably saw in 1882. Oil painting by Vasily Polanov from 1882.

“… Its children [of the Land of Israel] will come here from all over the world, and a new Jewish Nation will be resurrected in the Holy Land …” – Prince George, the future King George V, supposedly wrote  in his diary, during his visit to Jerusalem in the spring of 1882.

This quote attributed to the future ruler of the United Kingdom was published as part of Yakir Warszawski’s article in the Yiddish newspaper “Di Presse” on April 23rd, 1948, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Although the author passed away in 1942, his article was published as an allusion to an event that was to take place in three weeks: the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14th, 1948.

“When the King of England Celebrated the Passover Seder in Jerusalem” – Yakir Warszawski’s article in the Yiddish newspaper “Di Presse”, April 23rd, 1948

Thirty-one years before his coronation, young Prince George joined his elder brother, Prince Albert Victor (Eddy), who was serving as junior officer aboard HMS Bacchante.” Together, they toured much of the globe. In March 1882 the royal siblings reached Egypt and from there they made their way to what was then Ottoman Palestine. During the voyage, Prince George also  became a junior naval officer. He began keeping a private diary in 1878, recording his time on the tour.

Prince George in 1882 as a junior officer

The unofficial visit of Prince George and his brother to Jerusalem, including their participation at the Passover Seder held at the home of the the Sephardi Chief Rabbi Raphael Meir Panigel, is also documented in the Hebrew booklet “The Visit of the Princes of England in Jerusalem” (Hebrew) written by the famous writer and scholer Pinchas Graiewski (1873-1941) together with Baruch Priver.

“… Mr. Nissim Bekhar, the principal of the Alliance Israélite Universelle school, translated the Haggadah for them all and explained the rituals. The guests were moved by the ceremony, listening to every word and every whisper, paying attention to every custom with great interest until the reciting of ‘Ga’al Yisrael’… On their return to London, their father sent a letter of thanks to the Rabbi, accompanied by a souvenir picture of himself. “

Graiewski’s and Friver’s booklet from 1935. The two dedicated the booklet to the occasion of the jubilee celebration of the coronation of King George V. (The text regarding the king’s participation in the Passover Seder was written in 1925 and was published again by Graiewski in 1929)

Prince George documented this emotional event in his personal diary as well. His diaries received special attention in the book “King George the Fifth – his Life and Reign”, a biography written by Harold Nicholson published in 1953. However, other than the visit to the Land of Israel, Nicholson’s book contains no reference to the Passover Night spent at the home of the Chief Rabbi. In fact Nicholson notes in his work:

“They went up the Nile as far as Luxor and the month of April was spent on a tour of the Holy Land. Prince George was not impressed by the stories related to him by the local guides: ‘All the places’, he wrote on April 20, 1882, ‘are only said to be the places”.

All of King George V’s diaries, written between 1879 and 1936, were officially published by his granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II, in 2005. The Queen approved the reading of the diary over several days on the British radio station, Channel 4. Craig Brown of The Telegraph wrote on 31 June 2004: “…The advance publicity proudly trumpeted it as a major exclusive; up to now, King George V’s diaries had not seen the light of day.”

Sections of the diaries of Prince George and his brother Prince Albert had in fact been published already in 1886 in the book “The Cruise of Her Majesty’s Ship ‘Bacchante’ – 1887-1882”. Warszawski, who apparently relied on the above book, quoted Prince George’s diary as follows: “Around 6:30 in the evening we went to Passover Seder at the house of Sephardic Rabbi Rafael Meir Panigel, an old man with a white bonnet and a long coat that he wore over other clothes. There we also met a second old man, Rabbi Nissim Baruch [Apparently referring to Nissim Bekhar, the director of the Alliance Israélite Universelle school mentioned by Graiewski and Friver in their booklet]. (The Yiddish text of Warszawski’s quotations is not an exact translation of the respective English text in the book published in 1886).

“The Cruise of Her Majesty’s Ship ‘Bacchante’ – 1879-1882”, published in London, 1886

Warszawski notes that the future King repeatedly mentioned his visit to the Holy Land in his diary. This is the text of his quote:

“… I moved from the Temple to the Western Wall, where the Jews pray to God. I saw the presence of the Divinity, which seemed to me like a seagull spinning in a storm in the form of lightning.
At the Seder table I heard verses from the Passover Haggadah which is the story of the Exodus from Egypt, a story about a people who came through the hot desert to the Land they remember until this day; It’s children will come here from all over the world and a new Jewish nation will rise in the Holy Land. “

(These quotations in Warszawski’s article do not appear in the compiled diaries and letters published in London, 1886).

King George V in 1923

It is no wonder that Yakir Warszavski’s writing, despite that fact that he died in 1942, was published on the eve of Passover in 1948, about four months after the UN General Assembly’s historic vote approving the Partition Plan, and about three weeks before the declaration of independence of the State of Israel. Apparently, the editor of the Yiddish newspaper “Di Presse” sought to link two historical events: the Exodus from Egypt and the Eve of Passover prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, with a Passover stopover in the Land of Israel in 1882, taking it as a sign of British support for the gathering of the Jewish Diaspora, at a very early stage of  the modern Jewish settlement enterprise in the Land of Israel.


Yakir Warszawski’s article is part of the Zvi and Lea Schwarz Archive at the National Library of Israel. The Schwarz’s were the publishers of the Yiddish monthly “Shriftn” in Buenos Aires.

The Israeli Declaration of Independence as You’ve Never Seen It Before

Arthur Szyk's magnificent artwork on the Declaration of Independence highlights the deep, meaningful connection between the new Jewish state and the ancient Jewish past.

On May 22, 1948, Jewish-Polish artist Arthur Szyk finally received his long awaited American citizenship. He loved and cherished his adoptive country. America had spared Szyk the horrors of the Second World War. It was where he established himself as a well-known artist with a passion to combat the fascist, Nazi ideologies that destroyed Europe. Yet for Szyk, the experience of becoming an American was entirely dwarfed by the realization of his ultimate dream that occurred just eight days prior to his receiving his citizenship: The establishment of the State of Israel.

His wife, Julia Szyk, would tell the story of her husband, the famed artist, who burst into tears as he listened to the founding of the Jewish state on the radio.

The Artist Who Refused to Shirk the Burden of History

Arthur Szyk in his home, 1945. Photographer unknown

For as long as he could remember, Arthur Szyk found himself torn between the two opposing forces of history and modernity. From an early age, growing up in a secular Jewish family, Szyk found himself drawn to the stories of the Hebrew Bible. As a teenager, Arthur was sent to Paris by his family who encouraged him to cultivate his craft and to experience the modern art movement in the capital of European culture. It was there that Szyk developed his artistic style that combined his love of comic caricatures and the decorative illustrations of Medieval manuscripts.

At age 20, Szyk returned from Paris to his hometown in Lodz, Poland, and was quickly swept up in the activities of the local Zionist movement. In 1914 Arthur had the opportunity to join a delegation to the Land of Israel and got to see the developing Jewish Yishuv with his own eyes. He was especially taken by the first Hebrew city, the fledgling five-year-old Tel Aviv. When the First World War broke out, Szyk returned to Poland. Szyk lived in Paris and London between the two World Wars and by the time the Second World War was in full force in 1940, he left Europe for good and made his way to the United States.

“The Dangerous Enemies of the Third Reich are to be Shot!” by Arthur Szyk, 1943, New York

When Adolf Hitler initially came to power, Szyk recognized the danger that the dictator posed to the entire world. With the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Szyk abandoned his personal projects and committed himself to fight with the Allies against the Axis of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Nationalist-Imperial Japan. His caricatures earned him a reputation as a single minded artist, relentless in his pursuit of justice and in following the tumultuous politics of his day. His critics however, labelled him as nothing but a propagandist – an opinion that is still commonly held today.

“We Declare…”

The Declaration of Independence designed by Arthur Szyk

Upon hearing of the establishment of the State of Israel, Arthur Szyk turned to the new Israeli government and requested permission to illustrate the Israeli Declaration of Independence and the  declaration that immigration to Israel was now free and open for the Jewish Diaspora.

A Weeping Farmer Seeds a Field: Image from the Israeli Declaration of Independence Illustrated by Arthur Szyk

As befitting a Jewish Modern artist with a passion for Zionism, Szyk created a series of magnificent images for the declaration scroll. These images included multiple Stars of David, prayers to the Almighty, famous biblical figures including Moses and Aaron, as well as the depictions of more modern characters, including a Jewish farmer planting a field and an IDF soldier bearing a flag in one hand, and rifle in the other.

Defending the Newborn State – “If not me, then who?” – Image from the Israeli Declaration of Independence Illustrated by Arthur Szyk

It is possible that in this project, Arthur Szyk worked to artistically settle the conflict between the traditional position of trusting in God to protect the Jewish people from their enemies and the Zionist declaration that the Jews must stand strong and independent, protecting themselves from their enemies. As the phrase from Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of our Fathers, states, “If not me, then who?”

If you liked this article, try these:

Naming the Soldiers: A Special Joint Project by the National Library and Facebook

The Initial Proposals That Fell Short: How the Israeli National Emblem Was Chosen

What was Hidden Behind the Curtains at the Declaration of Independence?