National Library of Israel Receives Major Gift from Stephen A. Schwarzman for New Landmark Building in Jerusalem

A major gift from Stephen A. Schwarzman will establish the Stephen A. Schwarzman Education Center in the new National Library of Israel campus currently under construction in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – The National Library of Israel (NLI) has announced a major gift from Stephen A. Schwarzman to establish the Stephen A. Schwarzman Education Center in the new NLI campus currently under construction in Jerusalem adjacent to the Israeli Parliament (Knesset). The new campus is being designed by celebrated architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, and is scheduled to open in 2021.

Stephen A. Schwarzman, Chairman, CEO and Co-founder of Blackstone, is a renowned philanthropist with a history of supporting transformational education programs. In 2013, Schwarzman established Schwarzman Scholars, a highly selective, one-year master’s program at Tsinghua University in Beijing that is designed to prepare the next generation of global leaders to confront the most pressing challenges of their time.  Other major gifts have included a new student center and performing arts hub at Yale University, and the transformation and renovation of the New York Public Library’s main branch.

The 3,900 sq. ft. Stephen A. Schwarzman Education Center at the National Library of Israel will include a multi-purpose space with capacity of 100 people for classes, lectures, performances and more​; three distinct spaces for facilitating a diverse range of activities and workshops; and state-of-the-art technology and infrastructure to connect with peers in Israel and around the world.

Innovative educational programming is a centerpiece of the renewed mission of the NLI, as it opens access to the cultural treasures of the Jewish people, Israel and its region to diverse users and audiences in Israel and around the globe.  NLI educational programming generates meaningful learning experiences based on the Library’s extensive collections, which include manuscripts, printed works, images, music and more relating to Jewish, Muslim and Christian history, traditions and cultures.  The Stephen A. Schwarzman Education Center will function as the primary location for these activities, serving people of all faiths, including tens of thousands of student visitors annually, and millions more online.

The new National Library of Israel campus will feature an open and transparent building showcasing the Library’s treasures with an iconic three-level main reading hall at its center. It will house a 430 seat auditorium, permanent and temporary exhibition spaces, digitization and conservation laboratories, state-of-the-art facilities for storing and presenting rare items and more. A landscaped park with a commissioned sculpture, “Letters of Light,” by renowned Israeli artist Micha Ullman, will feature prominently.

The new National Library of Israel building has been made possible through the generosity of the Rothschild Family (Yad Hanadiv), the David S. and Ruth L. Gottesman Family of  New York and the Israeli Government.

© Herzog & de Meuron


Stephen A. Schwarzman:

“My hope is that the Stephen A. Schwarzman Education Center will serve as the crossroads for its new campus, bringing together future generations of students from around the world and creating a hub for cutting-edge innovation and education. Now, more than ever, our focus must be on fostering cross-cultural relationships. I’m pleased to support the NLI as it furthers this mission by sharing artifacts and resources from Jewish, Muslim and Christian history and encouraging deep cultural understanding.”

David Blumberg, Chairman, National Library of Israel:

“The new center will enable us to optimize impact for generations to come, engaging learners of all backgrounds with meaningful educational programming based around the National Library treasures. It will certainly be a highlight of our new home and we are very grateful to Mr. Schwarzman for his generosity and vision.”

Lord Rothschild:

“I couldn’t be more delighted that Steve Schwarzman has decided to establish the Stephen A. Schwarzman Education Center in our new National Library of Israel building. It is a truly great project, and I am happy indeed that Steve’s name will be there. With a wide range of cultural, educational, and technological initiatives, the National Library will attract new audiences, connect Jewish communities throughout the world as well as carry out its principal function of being the pre-eminent library not only to Israel and Jewish communities worldwide but, in addition, to all faiths.”

© Herzog & de Meuron

About the National Library of Israel

Founded in Jerusalem in 1892, the National Library of Israel (NLI) is home to the intellectual and cultural treasures of the Jewish people, the State of Israel and its region throughout the ages.  It is home to the largest collection of textual Judaica ever amassed, as well as world-class collections related to Israel, Islam and the Middle East, and the Humanities. NLI has recently embarked upon an ambitious initiative to transform itself into a cutting-edge global center at the forefront of knowledge dissemination and cultural creativity.  This process is being driven by the principle of opening access to its treasures through a wide range of cultural, educational, and technological initiatives, as well as through the construction of its new home adjacent to Israel’s Parliament (Knesset) in Jerusalem. The new home of the NLI, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, is schedule to open in 2021 and will provide a world-class venue for NLI to engage new audiences, while continuing to serve as Israel’s pre-eminent library for people of all faiths.

About Stephen A. Schwarzman

Chairman, CEO and Co-founder of Blackstone, Stephen A. Schwarzman founded the Schwarzman Scholars program in order to give the most talented future leaders the power to change the course of history. An active philanthropist, Mr. Schwarzman has personally donated $100 million to this effort and is leading a campaign to raise $500 million more to fully endow the program—the single largest charitable effort in China’s history coming from largely international donors. In both business and education, Mr. Schwarzman has dedicated his career to developing transformative solutions to some of the world’s great challenges. His charitable giving has included anchor support for the New York Public Library, the establishment of the Schwarzman Center at Yale University, and sponsoring educational opportunity for talented children.

About Herzog & de Meuron

Herzog & de Meuron is a partnership led by five Senior Partners – Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Christine Binswanger, Ascan Mergenthaler and Stefan Marbach. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron established their office in Basel in 1978. The partnership has grown over the years – Christine Binswanger joined the practice as Partner in 1994, followed by Robert Hösl and Ascan Mergenthaler in 2004, Stefan Marbach in 2006, Esther Zumsteg in 2009, Andreas Fries in 2011, Vladimir Pajkic in 2012, Jason Frantzen and Wim Walschap in 2014 and Michael Fischer in 2016. An international team of about 40 Associates and 380 collaborators is working on projects across Europe, the Americas and Asia. The firm‘s main office is in Basel with additional offices in Hamburg, London, Madrid, New York City, and Hong Kong.

Herzog & de Meuron have designed a wide range of projects from the small scale of a private home to the large scale of urban design. While many of their projects are highly recognized public facilities, such as their stadiums and museums, they have also completed several distinguished private projects including apartment buildings, offices, and factories. The practice has been awarded numerous prizes including The Pritzker Architecture Prize (USA) in 2001, the RIBA Royal Gold Medal (UK) and the Praemium Imperiale (Japan), both in 2007. In 2014, Herzog & de Meuron were awarded the Mies Crown Hall Americas Prize (MCHAP).

© Herzog & de Meuron



When Israeli Citizens Acquired Tanks for the IDF

In 1955, amidst rumors about a weapons deal between Czechoslovakia and Egypt, the Israeli government decided to once again employ the familiar Israeli pioneering spirit and camaraderie and to make an unconventional appeal to its citizens.

As soon as the leadership of the State of Israel became aware of the gargantuan arms deal occurring between Czechoslovakia and Egypt in 1955, they rushed in search of resources that would fund new weapons.

Picture it like this: A young country (barely 7 years old), bravely fighting to establish itself on the international stage, all the while absorbing enormous waves of immigrants that more than doubled its population, and developing the desolate swaths of desert it contains.

In addition, Israel was attempting to persuade other countries to warm up relations and adopt the fledgling state as a new strategic ally.

If that doesn’t make your head spin, consider how one would feel if they heard on the radio that a colossal arms deal had been signed between and a former partner that assisted you significantly in the War of Independence. And by the way, this neighbor would occasionally voice terrifying threats about your future.



‘A national rally in the face of the enemy plot’ in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, a poster for donations to the Defense Fund

This is precisely the situation the brand new State of Israel found itself in in March 1955, when its leaders discovered the enormous arms deal Egypt had signed with Czechoslovakia. “The second round” the Arab countries had promised Israel after its victory in the War of Independence went from being a threat to a promise.

The above was the backdrop of the Israeli government’s decision to once again employ the famous Israeli pioneering spirit and camaraderie, and to make an unconventional appeal to its citizens: help us purchase new and superior equipment for the IDF.


Time is short, rush to donate to the Defense Fund! A poster from the Shamir Brothers Collection


This grassroots operation was given the name “Keren Magen” [Defense Fund]. Dozens of posters and notices were distributed throughout the county. The poet Haim Hefer wrote the appropriately titled song “Totachim Bimkom Garbaim“[Canons Instead of Socks] for the Nachal choir.


Rush to donate to the Defense Fund. A poster from the Tel Aviv Municipality Collection


Between autumn of 1955 and spring of 1956 the Israeli public donated en masse: the Netanya Municipality collected money from its citizens for a combat airplane which was going to be named “Netanya 1”, the Haifa Municipality funded a fleet of torpedo boats from its residents’ donations and Ramat Gan decided to purchase a cargo aircraft and 100 parachutes for Battalion 890.

No, you are not looking at a hostile civilian commandeering of IDF weaponry, but a military parade in King George Street in Jerusalem in support of “Defense Fund”. Photographs from the Eddie Hirschbein Collection in the National Library


It wasn’t just cities that donated to the acquisition efforts: the professional soldiers donated towards the purchase of two airplanes out of their wages, the National Kibbutz Movement and the Shomer Hazair movement jointly purchased two combat planes. The Union of Laborers made do with purchasing one airplane. Even commercial companies joined the effort: the Discount Bank and Bank HaPoalim each purchased a tank.


We are all united for the Defense Fund. A poster from the Tel Aviv Municipality Collection


Throughout the country, teachers, laborers, children, moshavim and kibbutzim, pupils and students joined the effort, and in reality the entire Jewish people donated money, equipment and sometimes even jewelry and other valuables. In the spirit of recruitment and of the times, the President’s wife, Rachel Yanait Ben Zvi called for bereaved parents of soldiers who had been killed in the War of Independence to donate their compensation payments to the “Defense Fund” in memory of their dear ones.


Arms for the IDF – Defense Fund. A poster from the Tel Aviv Municipality Collection


“Residents of Netanya! Donate to the “Netanya 1” Airplane. A poster from the National Library’s ephemera collection


Translating “The Hobbit” in Captivity

In 1970 ten Israeli prisoners of war in Egypt, captured in the War of Attrition, used their abundant free time for an unusual project: translating J.R.R. Tolkien's first book into Hebrew

The Israeli POWs were allowed to celebrate Passover while being held in Egyptian captivity

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.”

(The opening words of ‘The Hobbit‘)

Anyone who knows anything about the work of J.R.R. Tolkien – the vast, fictitious history and captivating action his books are famous for – will almost certainly have started with the first novel the English linguist and author wrote, “The Hobbit: Or There and Back Again“. The book is certainly not lacking in heroic battle scenes and tales of high adventure, but in contrast with the later Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit is also a sweet and enjoyable children’s book.

It is a book that can bring pleasure and hold the attention of its readers (and its translators) during even their darkest hours.

This is not the story of how the book was written, but the story of one of its translations into Hebrew. It is the story of the special edition “translated by air force pilots and their comrades in Egyptian captivity in Abbasiya Prison, Cairo (1970-1973)”, who were captured during the War of Attrition.


The story of a strange and adorable creature

Conditions were not pleasant, to say the least, in the cramped cell where ten Israeli were being held in the prison on the outskirts of the Egyptian capital. Yet after undergoing many interrogations and tortures (and while many still lay before them), there was now something of a bright side – a small flickering light at the end of the tunnel. Firstly, after several months in separate cells far away from each other, the prisoners were now allowed to stay in the same cell and be comforted by other Israelis in the same state. Secondly, the fact that not all the prisoners spoke sufficiently fluent English proved to be significant to the rest of their stay in captivity.

Not all the cell’s inhabitants could enjoy the gift which Yitzchak Fir, one of the four pilots in captivity, received from his brother in America. This was “a paperback containing the story of a strange and adorable peace-loving creature who enjoys the pleasures and comforts of life and who finds himself thrown into hair-raising adventures in the war for a more peaceful and greener world” (a description taken from the foreword to the pilots’ translation).

The four pilots in the cell – Avinoam Kaldes, Rami Harpaz, Menachem Eini and Yitzchak Fir decided “to translate The Hobbit for those who would find it hard to understand”. The pilots initially translated specific words and expressions. It did not take them long to discover that the work distracted them from their life in captivity, and soon they found themselves working day after day, for many long hours, on translating the entire book.

The work was done in pairs – one reading the text in English and translating it into Hebrew on the spot. The second’s job was to be an editor, to improve the Hebrew translation and adjust it to the high level of Tolkien’s original work. The many poems in the book presented a complex challenge, and the four turned to their cellmates for help. They later related that “we failed slightly with the poems in the book”. Under the circumstances the unprofessional translators found themselves in, this labor of love would suffice. The entire project took four months and it is unlikely they thought the translation they worked so hard on while in captivity would ever be read outside the walls of their crowded cell.

‘Hobbit’, the translation of the pilots and their fellow captives. It is interesting that the word ‘The’ has been deleted from the book’s title, as well as the subtitle “Or There and Back Again”. You can find this edition at the National Library of Israel.

The POWs were only released from captivity after the Yom Kippur War, bearing a well-used copy of The Hobbit, along with seven full notebooks. In 1977, the Hebrew translation completed by the pilots and their cellmates was published by Zmora Bitan Publishers, with funding from the Israeli Air Force.

“Here, I’ve arrived” – Rami Harpaz said when meeting his twin girls for the first time. The first words of the Israeli POWs upon their return to Israel. From an article in Ma’ariv, November 18th, 1973 (Hebrew).

There are currently three Hebrew translations of The Hobbit. A year before the translation of the pilots and their fellow captives was published, Zmora Bitan Modan published Moshe Hanami’s translation. Another translation, by Yael Achmon, was also published by Zmora Bitan Publishers in preparation for the release of the first part of The Hobbit film trilogy directed by Peter Jackson. The translation of the pilots and their comrades is considered the lowest quality translation of the three, but it’s the translation I grew up on, and as such will always have a warm place in my heart and my years as a hormonal bespectacled, fantasy-loving adolescent.

Professor Amiah Leiblich documented the story of the ten Israeli captives in Egypt in the book ‘Chutz Mitziporim’ [Other than Birds] which was published by Schocken Books in 1989.


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Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Birmingham Jail, 1965

Word of the jailing and release of Martin Luther King Jr. from an Alabama jail in February 1965 reached Jerusalem quickly and drove some of Israel’s intellectual elite to write to President Lyndon B. Johnson about it.

The letter, discovered in the Martin Buber Archive at the National Library of Israel, is dated February 14th, 1965. It was written shortly before Buber’s death and is the only letter to an American president found among the philosopher’s personal papers.

Just a few months after receiving the Nobel Prize, King had been jailed on February 2, 1965 after leading some 300 protestors in Selma, Alabama. He would quickly be released and meet with President Johnson just a few days later to discuss voters’ rights.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was deeply influenced by the Israeli Jewish philosopher Buber. In 1963’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, one of the defining statements of the United States civil rights movement, King referenced Buber directly, using his famous  “I and Thou” principle to argue against the evils of segregation and “relegating persons to the status of things.”

The professors’ letter to President Johnson, February 14th, 1965. From the Martin Buber Archive, National Library of Israel

Full transcript of the letter:

Jerusalem, 14.2.1965.

Dear Mr. President,

We are taking the liberty to express our deep satisfaction that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is now again a free man and can continue his righteous fight for the equality of his people, a fight to which you Mr. President, have given your full assistance.

We are not equally sure that all of the other emprisoned [sic] 300 liberty fighters have meanwhile been released. If this suspicion should prove correct, we submit that urgent steps should be taken to return all of them as soon as possible to their families.

Believe us, Mr. President,

Respectfully yours

Professors at the Hebrew University