How Israel Advertized Aliyah in 1948

In 1948, Israel sought to encourage Aliyah to Israel by promoting a strong work ethic, Jewish identity, and showcasing that the newcomers would not be alone.

Tenacity and determination were always part of the story of Aliyah but once the State of Israel was established, the narrative had to change as well. No longer was it about fighting against the British who quashed Aliyah. It quickly became about the pioneering Olim who would become part of the Israeli collective.

In 1948, the newly minted State of Israel was recovering from war while absorbing an influx of refugees from Europe and working to make sure every citizen was provided with what they needed on a day to day basis.

During this time, the fledgling state began encouraging immigration to Israel from English speaking countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Africa. Previously, immigration to the Land of Israel had been about circumventing the British Mandate’s cap on Jewish immigration while escaping the horrors of Europe after the Holocaust all before the creation of the State of Israel.  Now it was about drawing in a different demographic that would keep the Jewish State going.  In order to accomplish their goals, they published an informational pamphlet with the goal of inspiring people to make the move.

Cover of the Pamphlet

The pamphlet titled, “Aliyah Olim” (Immigration Immigrants) boasted that “In 1948 we had 125,000. In 1949 we shall have 250,000,” referring to their goal number of new immigrants.

The pamphlet contained various and sundry propaganda images and slogans, telling the new Olim that the Jewish State needs hard working hands to help build a country and boasted that every third Jewish citizen in Israel is a newcomer.

Images From the Pamphlet

Have things changed all that much since 1948 when it comes to advertising Aliyah?




Hannah Senesh’s Final Letter

The letter addressed to her brother George was written in English to ensure it would pass through the British military censors.

Hannah Senesh at Kibbutz Sdot Yam

My dear George!

I send to you again a short letter to make you know, that we are quite ‘O-K,’ and that’s all. I guess all my acquaintances and relations are cross with me, that I never wrote and are perhaps even angry with me. Please try to explain the situation, if possible, if not they will forgive me later.

Hannah and George Senesh (Szenes), from the Senesh Family Collection in the Kibbutz Sdot Yam Archives.

To mother I do not write now either and your letters must replace the mine. For this reason, I give you the right even to forge my signature, hoping you will not use it for “high financial obligations.”

Letter sent from Hannah Senesh to her brother George. Click to enlarge the image. From the National Library of Israel collections

No use writing that I would like to see you, to talk to you and at least to write more detailed letters. I hope you know that very well, and I get your letters with great delay but sooner or later they reach me, and I am always ever so glad to hear about you. Thousand kisses to you and warm greetings to your friends from home.

From Hannah

Letter sent from Hannah Senesh to her brother George. Click to enlarge the image. From the National Library of Israel collections.

On May 20th, 1944, the Jewish paratrooper Hannah Senesh found herself in Croatia, not far from the Hungarian border. Two months earlier she had been parachuted into the region by the British Royal Air Force, in a desperate attempt to save Jews of neighboring Hungary from the Nazi death camps. On this day, Hannah Senesh sat down to write what would become the last letter she ever sent to her beloved brother George. At the time of writing, she had joined up with a group of local partisan resistance fighters.

In just a few short weeks, they would be be captured and tortured by Hungarian forces loyal to the Nazi regime. Six months later, Hannah would be executed by firing squad.

Hannah Senesh and her brother George Senesh . From the Senesh Family Collection in the Kibbutz Sdot Yam Archives.

Hannah Senesh’s last letter was written in English. This was because all letters were required to go through the British army censor before they were sent on to their intended recipients. Senesh wanted to be sure the letter would be approved without any issues so that it would make it to her brother.

Hannah Senesh was executed on November 7, 1944.

 

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Let My People Serve! How a Jew Became Mayor of London Against the Odds

David Salomons made it his life’s mission to put an end to the religious restrictions imposed on the Jews of England that forbid them from participation in political and civil life.

Anti-Semitic cartoon published when David Salomons ran for public office. From "Life of Sir David Salomons from Newspaper Cuttings 1831-1869", the National Library of Israel collections

For the Jews of England in the mid-19th century, the idea of holding public office was not only outlandish, it was practically impossible due to the religious restrictions, known as religious disabilities, imposed on the Jewish community that excluded them from participation in the political, municipal and civil life of the country.

For David Salomons, the emancipation of the Jews of England became his life’s mission. Born in London in 1797 to Levi Salomons, a prominent stockbroker, David joined the family business and under the tutelage of his father, he became a successful member of the stock exchange.

David felt that a person’s religious beliefs were meant to be private and should be of no public concern – assuming the principles were moral and in line with the views of the state – and that his beliefs and his religion should in no way limit his personal rights or ability to serve the public.

David Salomons. From the Abraham Schwadron Collection at the National Library of Israel

Eager to remove the religious restrictions imposed on the Jewish community, David decided it was time to break down barriers and boldly announced his candidacy for the Office of the High Sheriff. While his candidacy initially faced opposition, on June 24, 1835, David Salomons became the first Jew to ever be successfully elected to the sheriff’s office. Little did he know that this was just the beginning of the difficult fight he would face throughout his political career.

In order to officially take up his position as sheriff, David was required to take the oath of office – an oath including the phrase, “I make this declaration upon the true faith of a Christian.” This was an oath that no professing Jew could take. Thankfully, just as it seemed David would need to forfeit his seat, the government stepped in and the Sherriff’s Declaration Act was quickly passed, allowing David to take on the role without making the declaration. This declaration was hailed as a triumph over prejudice and a furtherance of civil rights and privileges.

Unfortunately, the law did not take David’s side when he was elected Alderman of the City of London in December of 1835. When David would not take the oath, his election was declared null and void and a new election was held.

Campaign poster. From Life of Sir David Salomons from Newspaper Cuttings 1831-1869, the National Library of Israel collections

David, with the help of other prominent Jews, petitioned the court to make changes to the law, to no avail. David took a chance and again ran for the position of Alderman – this time for the Portsoken Ward. This political race brought with it a new wave of anti-Semitic rhetoric that reared its ugly head in the articles and cartoons in the local papers. Though he was successfully elected, he was once again barred from holding office after refusing to take the oath.

Cartoon published in the local paper when David Salomons ran for Alderman of Portsoken. From Life of Sir David Salomons from Newspaper Cuttings 1831-1869, the National Library of Israel collections

Finally, after years of petitioning and legal action, in 1845, the Jewish Disabilities Removal Bill was successfully passed and a different declaration was composed for Jews elected to public office. Instead of professing to the Christian religion, Jews would vow not to act in a way that would undermine the power of the church.

The oath to be taken by Jews entering public office. From Life of Sir David Salomons from Newspaper Cuttings 1831-1869, the National Library of Israel collections

“I, being a person professing the Jewish religion, having conscientious scruples against subscribing the declaration contained in an act… do solemnly, sincerely, and truly declare that I will not exercise any power or authority or influence which I may possess… to injure or weaken the Protestant Church as it is by law established in England.

The next time David ran for Alderman in 1847, he was granted his seat and was permitted to take office after reciting the new oath. That did not stop the anti-Semites from continuing their tirades against him in the press with journalists referring to Salomons as “only half an adlerman.”

The Lord Mayor, David Salomons. From The Abraham Schwadron Collection at the National Library of Israel

Years later, having served now as sheriff and alderman, and with no religious hindrances in his way, David was elected to the high office of Lord Mayor of London. On November 9, 1855, Mayor-Elect Alderman David Salomon was officially sworn in as Lord Mayor, taking a vow that did not deny his own faith.

Program for the Lord Mayor’s Show on November 9, 1855. From Life of Sir David Salomons from Newspaper Cuttings 1831-1869, the National Library of Israel collections

The Lord Mayor’s Show, a lavish procession and banquet celebration in honor of the new mayor, took place in accordance with tradition. The newly minted Jewish mayor was paraded through the streets with flag bearers, soldiers, drummers and trumpeters walking ahead of his carriage on the way to a bountiful banquet featuring over 1,000 bottles of wine and a decadent dinner. The cost of the celebrations totaled 2,813 pounds, approximately 100,000 dollars today.

The account from the Lord Mayor’s Show. From the National Library of Israel’s European Ephemera Collection

For the Jews of London, the celebration was about more than the appointment of a new mayor; it was a celebration of new rights and new opportunity.

Image from a souvenir featuring drawings of the full procession from the Lord Mayor’s Show on November 9, 1855. From the National Library of Israel’s European Ephemera Collection

Despite facing tremendous opposition and shocking anti-Semitic rhetoric, David Salomons never lost sight of his ultimate ambition: to bring equality and respect to the Jewish community of England.

His persistence and passion drove him to serve in the British parliament, a position that required even more changes in the law to allow for Jews to serve in the government on a national level. His dedication and determination to change the discriminatory laws helped pave the way for future Jewish British leaders and politicians to leave their marks on history.

This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.




The Egyptian Belly Dancing Sisters with a Secret Jewish Identity

Meet Leila and Lamia Jamal, the nearly identical sisters who took Cairo – and later, the rest of the world - by storm with their exhilarating belly dancing routines.

The Jamal sisters in Cairo

The foreign military forces that filled Egypt’s main cities in the post-World War II era brought about many changes in the local entertainment culture. Many nightclubs were opened and musicians, actors and dancers – both male and female – took advantage of the tremendous thirst for entertainment, which they were more than happy to supply.

One of the most popular and well known nightclubs at that time was Helmieh Palace on the outskirts of Cairo. The entertainment offered by the proprietor of this club was not the regular fare – the special attention paid to costumes, appearances by leading musicians and precise dance choreography, turned the nightclub into a breeding ground for new eastern culture.

The jewels in the crown of the Helmieh Palace were “The Jamal Twins -” belly dancers who introduced a new flair into this ancient eastern dance style. The sisters, Leila and Lamia, became the biggest stars of the Egyptian entertainment scene towards the end of the regime of King Farouk I. Their audiences were always packed and the Egyptian monarch was one of their greatest admirers. But what was the magical secret that launched their star-studded careers?

The Mediterranean Sharkiya dance was one of their specialties. The musicians who accompanied the pair practiced with them for hours at a time to match the choreography to the musical repertoire, which was carefully selected. Grueling practice sessions, endless exercises and daily rehearsals produced extraordinary results. The Jamal sisters’ performance was bright and innovative; the two dancers moved in wonderful harmony, with the dance and the music completely in sync.

Their performances, in which they also used various stage props, were not simply another example of exotic oriental dance. They knew how to create a symmetrical picture, and then reverse it virtuosic fashion, while vibrantly expressing the music they moved to. The connection between them and the musicians was lively and exciting for the audience.

The Jamal sisters’ musical talents were wholly unsurprising. They were daughters of musicians and had learned to play instruments from early childhood. Their father, Fishel Alpert was a violinist in the Vienna symphony orchestra. His name reveals his origins as a Jew who had moved from Chernowitz to the Austrian capital, where he became a professional musician. The reason for his immigration in the 1920s to Egypt is unknown. It could well have been the great economic crisis which propelled him far away from Europe, to a place where he would have a dignified position in an orchestra and a decent income.

In Alexandria, Fishel met his wife, Jini (Janin) Elpert. The impressive presence and the beauty of this opera singer, the daughter of Jewish emigrants, captured his heart. Their firstborn daughter, Helena, was born just a year after their wedding and her younger sister, Bertha, was born two and half years later, in 1932.

Helena and Bertha grew up in a musical home, and were sent by their parents to ballet lessons from a young age but, the environment in which they were raised seemed to influence them to go beyond the usual classic ballet lessons and the sisters began to study Mediterranean dance as well. To their teachers’ great surprise, they revealed extraordinary talent in the eastern dance movements. It was not long before they began to receive offers to appear in public. For their mother, this led to a serious deliberation. She was worried about the future of her young daughters, aged only 12 and 14, who would be exposed to a world she saw as promiscuous. On the other hand, the temptation was great.

At that time her husband lost his fixed source of income and the family ran into financial trouble. Jini did not dare tell him about the girls’ performances, and they decided to keep it a secret between them. The devoted mother accompanied her daughters to every rehearsal and performance, zealously preserving their innocence. She continued to do so for many years, accompanying them on their journeys around the world.

However, the three women of the Alpert family couldn’t keep their secret from the father of the family for long. The talented pair of sisters became a hit almost overnight and their success was dizzying. With the help of their mothers and teachers, they built an inventive performance which showcased their flexibility and abilities as professional dancers.

The stage names they selected, Lelia and Lamia (or: Lyn and Liz) also needed a surname and a cover story which would attract the audience. So Helena and Bertha Alpert, daughters of Fishel from Chernowitz, became “The Jamal Twins”.

The Helmieh Palace nightclub was only the springboard from which the pair leaped to international stardom. Their appearances in a string of Egyptian movies, which began with brief cameos, became longer and more central due to the high demand from the audience. Their names soon became known throughout the Arab world. They don’t appear to have denied their Judaism, but they were rather successful in concealing their origins. The cover story was perfect, and it can be assumed that none of their many admirers – in Egypt and beyond – realized that these girls were not Arab.

The military coup in Egypt and Nasser’s rise to power gradually changed the atmosphere in the country, which had enabled the sisters’ meteoric rise. The two were invited to more and more shows outside of their native country, and they were most popular in Singapore and in India.

A dance routine in one of the Indian films they starred in was censored due to “immodesty.” The military authorities in Egypt became suspicious of the Jamal sisters’ frequent trips, a suspicion that may have been driven by their knowledge of their Jewish origins.

In late 1957, in the midst of a successful tour in the far east, their father, who had stayed in Cairo, suddenly received a telegram. He quickly warned the girls, accompanied as always by their mother, not to return to Egypt. The Egyptian police had issued an order for their arrest – they were wanted for investigation, for the crime of espionage.

It was not hard for the Jamal sisters to find an impresario to invite them to appear in the United States. America had attracted them for a while, and they considered it to be a suitable place of refuge. Now they had only one troublesome problem: how would they manage to quickly attain the necessary visas to enter the US?

That very evening, a delegation of American congress members who were visiting Bombay came to the nightclub where the Jamal sisters were scheduled to appear. Their enthusiasm for the belly dancing performance was boundless. The next morning, the coveted entry visas were in their hands.

The vibrant artistic scene in New York’s Latin quarter welcomed the Jamal sisters with open arms. The refreshing feel the pair brought with them from the east integrated well into various trends which were extremely popular in 1950s America. Their collaboration with the musician Eddie ‘the Sheik’ Kochak and his band contributed to their success.

Regrettably, it is not clear what caused the sisters, now simply known as Lyn and Liz, to turn their backs on their successful career. Was it the girls’ Jewish mother who put pressure on them to marry quickly and leave the entertainment business?

The sisters soon settled down with new husbands, one after the other, not long after arriving in America. The men they chose to share their lives with, both respectable businessmen, were apparently not so enamored by their careers as dancers in nightclubs.

Within a short time, the Jamal sisters’ schedule of performances dwindled. The passion for dance and music, which still burned in them, was expressed in teaching belly dancing in various frameworks. During the 1960s and 70s the pair – especially Liz – were considered the most professional teachers in the field in the west.

Lyn died in Long Island in 1992. Liz outlived her by many years and passed away in 2016. She had re-married a man named David Marks, a Holocaust survivor who came to Israel a year before the establishment of the Jewish State aboard the illegal immigration boat “Moledet.” He later moved to America, where he became a successful furniture manufacturer.

The photo albums, mementos and stories from his wife Liz’s glory days always fascinated David. As one who had personally experienced the tumultuos fortunes of Jewish life in the twentieth century, he believed that his wife’s story should also be part of the multi-colored mosaic that documents the story of the Jewish people, and in April 2017, he donated her archive to the National Library. Liz, or Bertha Alpert, to give her true name, will now dance for eternity in the archives of the National Library, and the story of the Jamal Sisters, will live on.