Treasure Trove: David Matlow explores the symbolism of Israel’s national emblem

The national emblem of Israel was adopted in February 1949, nine months after the state was proclaimed. Following a competition with 450 submissions, the winning entry was designed by brothers Maxim and Gavriel Shamir, Latvian-born graphic artists who came to Israel in 1934-5.

The menorah (seven-branched candelabra) is based on the one on the Arch of Titus in Rome which depicts a victory procession after the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Its inclusion on the emblem symbolically links the past defeat to the modern triumph, and the restoration of the Jewish state to its former lustre. 

The new country’s desire to live in peace is represented by the two olive branches, which have been a symbol of peace since the dove returned to Noah’s ark carrying one in its beak. Another biblical connection to the emblem is found in the book of Zechariah where the prophet twice describes a menorah between two olive trees.

This image appears on a postcard, the back of which reads: “On the first anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel, the KEREN HAYESOD which laid its foundation and which now faces the great task of upbuilding, ingathering of exiles and rooting them in the Homeland, conveys to you its blessing.” 

Keren Hayesod still continues its work, with the support of local federations and Jewish Federations of Canada-UIA.