Treasure Trove: a weekly piece of our history from the collection of David Matlow

The Incredible Hulk #256 (the issue dated February 1981) features Israeli superhero Sabra, whose alter ego Ruth Ben-Sera is an Israeli police officer. Ruth was moved to a special kibbutz run by the government as a child when her superpowers were discovered. Sabra wears a thick cape with paralyzing energy quills which she can fire. The text explains that a “sabra” is a native born Israeli whose name is derived from the prickly-pear fruit which has a sweet interior and “a spiny outer surface to protect it from its enemies.” This issue’s storyline deals with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with Hulk commenting “Hulk came looking for peace—but there is no peace here” and Sabra reawakening her own sense of humanity.

Jewish Cultural Reconstruction, Inc. was established in 1947 to collect and distribute Jewish property plundered by the Nazis, and run for a time by political theorist Hannah Arendt. Under American law, JCR functioned as trustee for those Jewish cultural items whose owners or heirs could not be located. As a result, approximately 150,000 heirless books were sent to libraries in Israel, the U.S. and elsewhere, mostly from the Offenbach Archival Depot in the American Occupied Zone of Germany. This label was affixed to each book as a reminder that it is a surviving relic of the great spiritual legacy of European Jewry. JCR also distributed thousands of Torah scrolls and other ritual objects to libraries, museums and universities until it ceased operations in 1952.

Expo 67 featured pavilions from 72 nations including Israel, as part of celebrating Canada’s centennial. With the permission of the Israeli government, its Pavilion showcased one of the Dead Sea Scrolls discovered in Judean desert caves. These scrolls rarely left the country, but bringing one to Montreal helped promote the connection of the land to the Jewish people, contrary to the claims of Israel’s neighbours. After the Six Day War in June, the pavilion became extremely popular—doubling its expected attendance to 5.5 million before the fair closed on Oct. 29, 1967. 

Watch the Pavilions of Promise presentation from David Matlow about Israel and the Zionist movement at World’s Fairs:

The Canada-Russia Hockey Series was most famous for Paul Henderson’s winning goal with 34 seconds left in the eighth and final game on September 28, 1972. It was watched live in Moscow by a crowd that included 3,000 Canadians—some of whom arrived with Jewish items to give to the refuseniks (Russian Jews whose application to move to Israel was denied) who were deprived of religious materials. Russian-Hebrew dictionaries, prayer books and other items for Shabbat and holiday observance were divided among the Canadian players’ wives, who willingly packed them in their luggage. But after Russian police caught on, the Canadian ambassador asked the “hockey fans” to stop distributing the gifts.

Mendel Beilis was charged with the murder of a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy in 1911, and was imprisoned for two years in a Kiev jail awaiting his trial during which the Russian press launched an antisemitic campaign that accused the Jewish community of ritual murder. The five-week jury trial began September 25, 1913, but the prosecution’s case was weak and quickly undermined by prominent Russian defence counsel. Beilis was acquitted and became a hero and celebrity, while Russia’s antisemitic policies were criticized worldwide. He moved to Palestine and then to the U.S. where he self-published The Story of My Suffering in 1925. The trial was fictionalized by Bernard Malamud in his 1966 Pulitzer-winning book, The Fixer.

The Yom Kippur War started on October 6, 1973, when Egypt and Syria launched a coordinated surprise attack against Israel. Within hours, Israel’s defence lines along the Suez Canal and on the Golan Heights were broken, and defence minister Moshe Dayan feared the destruction of Israel itself. Only with great heroism was disaster averted, with the staggering cost of over 2,500 Israeli soldiers dead and 7,200 injured. Israeli artist Yossi Stern accompanied the Jerusalem Brigade during the war. His folio of drawings, presented to supporters of the Association for the Welfare of Soldiers in Israel, included this message from Israel’s president Zalman Shazar: “Let us hope that killing will stop forever and that we shall see our land living in peace and security.” May you be inscribed in the Book of Life.

The Book of Micah contains a prophecy that every man shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and none shall make them afraid. That image is reflected in this Rosh Hashanah card from 1914, which depicts two members of a farming community in Palestine, as a place free from fear was the vision for the Jewish homeland. The biblical phrase was used more than 50 times in correspondence by George Washington, including in his famous 1790 letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island—which confirmed the new nation’s commitment to religious liberty and civil equality for its Jewish citizens. Martin Luther King, Jr., also cited this passage in his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, which described the future he foresaw. (Treasure Trove wishes everyone a New Year free from fear.)

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The Jewish Brigade of the British Army was the source of this 1945 Rosh Hashanah card from a Palestinian soldier wishing for a year of redemption and restoration of the Jewish state. During the Second World War, about 30,000 Jewish volunteers from Palestine served with the British forces: 700 were killed. Flying the Zionist flag, the brigade fought in Italy from March 1945 until the German surrender in May. The soldiers also helped organize displaced persons camps for Holocaust survivors and assisted the illegal immigration of Jewish refugees to Palestine. Brigade veterans served with distinction in the Israel Defence Forces and 35 rose to the ranks of general. (Treasure Trove wishes everyone a New Year of personal and national redemption and restoration.)

“The Hoachooza Plan” enabled individuals to form company syndicates that purchased real estate in the Land of Israel: to form a new colony, hire local Jewish labourers to build the village and prepare the land, then settle on it five years later—when it was ready. In the process, shareholders avoided the difficulties of house building and pioneer farming, and continued to accumulate capital. From 1908 to 1934, Achooza (estate) land purchasing companies were formed across the United States, and in Winnipeg and Montreal. Israeli cities including Herzliya, Afula and Ra’anana were founded through this system. This share certificate, from 1921, was for an Achooza formed in Chicago.

Aquacade was an outdoor theatrical attraction at the 1939 World’s Fair produced by impresario Billy Rose, who was a lyricist (“Me and My Shadow,” “Paper Moon”), nightclub owner, Broadway show producer and once married to Fanny “Funny Girl” Brice. He produced We Will Never Die, a 1943 pageant to demand American government action to save the Jews of Europe, and A Flag is Born. In 1945, he chaired UJA’s theatrical division—and secured Irving Berlin’s pledge of 10 percent of one quarter’s royalties. Fifteen years later, he donated his personal sculpture collection to the newly formed Israel Museum to create the Billy Rose Art Garden. About this gift to Israel he said, “It provides the reason for my whole idiot existence.”

Israel Bonds were featured in an advertisement for the first time in 1951 in Life, a magazine published weekly from 1883 to 1972. At a time of financial and political crisis, these raised much-needed capital “to help this valiant nation make a place in the sun of liberty” for 600,000 fellow Jews left “homeless in other lands.” After being introduced by David Ben-Gurion at a Madison Square Garden rally, 700,000 subscribers bought $145 million worth in the first three years. (More than US$46 billion have been sold to date.) As stated in this ad, with every purchase “you also invest in the dignity of man and in the future of democracy.”

Ze’ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, pictured in discussions at the 18th Zionist Congress in Prague in 1933, was a writer, translator (he translated Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven into Russian and Hebrew) and founder of the Jewish Legion (soldiers who fought for the Allies in World War One) and the Betar movement. In 1925, he founded the Zionist Revisionist movement, which called for the immediate establishment of a Jewish State. Twelve years later, Jabotinsky was named commander of the Irgun Tzvai Leumi, the military arm of the movement. He died on August 4, 1940, while visiting a Betar summer camp in New York. And his wish to be buried in the Jewish State was fulfilled in 1964, by Prime Minister Levi Eshkol.

The 1972 Summer Olympics were held in Munich, Germany, during which 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists. ABC sportscaster Jim McKay delivered the tragic news to audiences across North America: “When I was a kid my father used to say ‘Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.’ Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They have now said there were 11 hostages; two were killed in their rooms this morn—yesterday morning, nine were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.” International Olympic Committee president Avery Brundage insisted the games go on. But the surviving members of the Israeli team returned home to grieve.

King David Hotel opened in Jerusalem in 1931 with construction financing provided by wealthy Egyptian Jews and the National Bank of Egypt. Since then, it’s hosted emperors, kings and many world leaders including seven U.S. presidents. During the British Mandate, the south wing of the hotel served as the British administrative and military headquarters. In a controversial operation on July 22, 1946, the Irgun military group bombed the hotel, resulting in 91 deaths. Multiple scenes of the movie Exodus were filmed here, including Ari Ben Canaan (Paul Newman) lunching on the terrace overlooking the Old City. And stickers like this one were affixed to luggage by visitors during the Golden Age of Travel.

Tisha B’Av, a commemoration of the destruction of both Temples (this year starting at sundown July 17), has a focal point for mourners at the Wailing Wall—as depicted in this 1915 sculpture by Boris Schatz (1866-1932). Widely considered the father of Israeli art, he founded the Bezalel School in Jerusalem in 1906 to nurture visual expression for national and spiritual independence that combined European and Jewish traditions. While the original Bezalel closed in 1929 for financial reasons, it reopened in 1935 and has continued since: a 400,000 square foot campus for 2,500 students and 500 faculty is currently being built in Jerusalem’s City Centre.

The Flag of Zion and the Zionist movement was among those given away by tobacco companies between 1911 and 1916 to encourage smoking, especially by women: the printed fabrics included in cigarette packages could be sewn into quilts. The flag’s earliest version was designed by Boston’s Rabbi Jacob Askowith in 1891 for the B’nai Zion organization. It flew at the Second Zionist Congress in Basel in 1898, and was brought to Montreal one year later to be displayed at a Zionist event. After Israel’s independence, the State’s founders debated what flag the country should have, and suggestions were sought from within the country and around the diaspora. In the end, in November 1948, the flag of the Zionist movement became the flag of Israel.

Operation Thunderbolt gave Israel a chance to demonstrate the lengths it will go to save Jewish lives. July 4, 1976 was when 100 Israeli commandos in three airplanes rescued 102 hostages at the Entebbe Airport, 3500 kilometers away. They were on an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris, which was hijacked on June 27 by Palestinian terrorists aided by two German terrorists, and routed to Uganda. The terrorists threatened to kill the hostages if their demands for the release of prisoners weren’t met. Three hostages died in the operation, along with one Israeli soldier—Jonathan Netanyahu, brother of Benjamin. This medal commemorates the daring rescue with a quote from Psalms 91: “Surely he shall deliver thee.”

Hart Trophy

The Hart Trophy is awarded annually to the most valuable player in the National Hockey League. It was donated in 1924 by Dr. David Hart—the father of Cecil Hart, who coached the Montreal Canadiens to three Stanley Cups. The family descended from Aaron Hart, one of the first Jewish settlers of Lower Canada, and a founder of Montreal’s Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue. Despite these associations, the trophy hasn’t been won by a Jewish player… yet.

El Al, Israel’s national airline, made its maiden international flight in July 1949. Before its formation, the brand name (taken from the book of Hosea meaning “to the above”) was used on a flight to return Israel’s first President, Chaim Weizmann, from Geneva as an embargo required Israel to convert a military transport to a civilian plane. The airline code LY is derived from Lydda, the prior name for Lod, where Ben Gurion Airport is located. Between 1949 and 1951, El Al carried over 160,000 immigrants to Israel from Yemen, Iraq and the South Arabian peninsula as part of Operation Magic Carpet and Operation Ezra and Nehemiah. There was a time when airline passengers received a travel bag like this with their printed plane tickets.

Moshe Dayan

Moshe Dayan became a hero in June 1967, as the minister of defence led Israel from feared destruction to miraculous victory in the span of Six Days. It ended a month of heightened tensions between Israel and its neighbours as Egypt ordered UN observers out of Gaza, closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping (an act of war under international law) and threatened to wipe out Israel. Egypt’s air force was pre-emptively destroyed on June 5, and in the next five days Israel captured the Sinai, Golan Heights and the West Bank unifying Jerusalem. (The Old City was off-limits to Jews from 1948 to 1967.) Israel’s foreign minister Abba Eban concluded his June 6 address to the UN Security Council: “Let us discern across the darkness the vision of a better and a brighter dawn.”

Paul Newman in Exodus

Paul Newman played Ari Ben Canaan in the 1960 film adaptation of Exodus, based on the 1958 historical novel by Leon Uris (short for Yerushalmi—from Jerusalem) that topped the New York Times bestseller list for five months. The depiction of Jewish empowerment, at a time of high levels of anti-Semitism and discrimination, led to the book’s success. David Ben-Gurion’s review: “As a literary work it isn’t much, but as a piece of propaganda, it’s the best thing ever written about Israel.” The movie was filmed on location in Israel and Cyprus, and won one Academy Award for best original score. Pat Boone later added words to the instrumental theme—which became his hit song “This Land is Mine.”

Birobidzhan was established as the Jewish Autonomous Region by the Soviet government in 1934. The Communist Party hoped Jewish culture rooted in Yiddish and secular principles would take hold, undercutting the Zionist focus on Palestine while eliminating the severe anti-Semitism experienced by Soviet Jews. During its first decade, more than 35,000 of them endured the five-day train trip to the region, located 8,000 km from Moscow. But most didn’t stick around, despite this booklet declaring that “having his Jewish national Soviet state unit, the Soviet Jew is indeed an equal among equals.” The experiment failed and few Jewish people remain in the area. But there is a Chabad house—fittingly, on Shalom Aleichem Street.

“Hatikvah” (“The Hope”) was written in 1878 as a nine-verse poem by poet Naphtali Herz Imber. Each verse spoke to the Jewish desire to be free in our homeland. Imber moved from Ukraine to Palestine in 1882—where he read his poem to great acclaim from the early pioneers. The source of the tune is disputed, but it’s generally attributed to Samuel Cohen: in 1888, he composed a melody based on a Romanian folk song “Cart with Oxen,” which itself was based on “Die Moldau” by Czech composer Bedrich Smetana. “Hatikvah” was not officially ratified as Israel’s anthem until 2004—some 56 years into the life of the state—but it had already spent a century representing the yearning for a Jewish homeland, and the realization of that hope. 

The 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis celebrated the centenary of the Louisiana Purchase. One of the main attractions—other than the ice cream cone that debuted there—was an 11-acre model of Jerusalem with 22 streets and 300 structures including the Jaffa Gate, Wailing Wall, Dome of the Rock and Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Several hundred Jerusalemites were brought to the Fair to live and work, dressed in colourful costumes, pretending to be at home and accompanied by camels and donkeys for full effect. Funded by mostly Christian investors, it was the largest replica of Jerusalem ever built, and the closest the Old City came to having a Ferris wheel.

Golda Meir served as Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, from 1969 to 1974. Born in Kiev on May 3, 1898, and raised in Milwaukee, she trained as a teacher. But after becoming a staunch Labour Zionist, she moved to Palestine in 1921—a condition of marriage Golda required of her husband. She was one of two women who signed Israel’s Declaration of Independence (“After I signed, I cried”). As the country’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union, she was mobbed by thousands of Jews when attending high holiday services in Moscow. As foreign minister, she met President John F. Kennedy, as depicted in this drawing. “We can forgive [the Arabs] for killing our children,” she said. “We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children.”

The Kova Tembel (whose exact translation is “dunce cap”) was the symbol of Israeli pioneers from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1970s. Some think the word tembel is a derivation of Templar, a Christian sect active in Israel over a century ago, whose members wore similar hats. Tembel is also the Turkish word for lazy—although the early Jewish pioneers wearing them were anything but. The cap fell out of style, but its influence was immortalized in a 2017 fashion exhibit at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

The San Remo Resolution of April 25, 1920, saw the victorious allies in the First World War (Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan) commit to “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people,” confirming the pledge made by the British Government in the Balfour Declaration. The resolution required the allied countries to pick one “Mandatory” to put this commitment into effect. The League of Nations selected Britain in 1922, thus creating the British Mandate as a temporary trust to facilitate the establishment of the Jewish national home. It was such a momentous event that a posh seaside resort in Tel Aviv took the name, San Remo. 

November 29, 1947 was when the United Nations voted to partition Palestine to create separate Jewish and Arab states. The British decided to end their mandate on Saturday, May 15, 1948, but the State of Israel was declared before sundown the night before, by David Ben-Gurion. The invitation to the Declaration of Independence ceremony—the most momentous Jewish event in 2,000 years—was a plain piece of folded printed paper delivered by bicycle courier. Guests were invited to the Tel Aviv Museum, but asked to keep it a secret. Great excitement was combined with fear, as all in attendance knew a long, hard fight to protect the Jewish state would follow. 

Pupier was a French chocolatier that included trading cards with its products. In 1938, they depicted scenes from countries including Palestine featuring religious sites, views of Jerusalem, a map and a Zionist flag. Another card depicted the camp at Ben Shemen: founded in 1927, and still running to this day, the youth village and agricultural school counted Shimon Peres among its students. The back of this card—remember, this was 1938—calls it “a Jewish colony for children, located on the outskirts of Tel Aviv, where a number of young German Israelites are grouped together, having left Germany as a result of political events.” One can’t help but wonder if the “political events” detracted from anyone’s enjoyment of the chocolate.

The New Palestine was published by the Zionist Organization of America, which commemorated the April 1925 dedication of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem with this 175-page edition (“An event of outstanding importance in Zionist and Jewish history”). The editor was Meyer Weisgal: in 1930, at the request of Canadian community leader and philanthropist Rose Dunkelman—founder of the Balfour Beach cottage area—he moved to Toronto for two years to become editor of The Jewish Standard. It was a pro-Zionist periodical founded to counter an anti-Zionist one, The Canadian Jewish Review. 

Kutsher’s Country Club was one of the great resorts of the Catskills, alongside Grossinger’s, the Nevele and the Concord. “The Borscht Belt” welcomed over 500,000 Jewish visitors each summer, including many from Canada. Performing comedians included Mel Brooks, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Joan Rivers and a young Jerry Seinfeld; the athletes that trained there included Muhammad Ali, Joe DiMaggio and Wilt Chamberlain—who worked as bellhop while playing on Kutsher’s basketball team, coached by Boston Celtics stalwart Red Auerbach. The resorts also served their own Kosher for Passover wines, made by Schapiro’s Wine Company (“The wine you can almost cut with a knife”). While the resorts closed as their appeal waned, Kutsher’s survived until 2013: for the final 25 years of business, its legendary status was enshrined as the inspiration for the film Dirty Dancing

David Ben-Gurion (1886-1973) appeared on the Aug. 16, 1948, cover of Time, which reported on his first three months as Israel’s prime minister. “In their long and brilliant history the Jews have displayed great genius for religion, ethics, husbandry, commerce, literature, music and art. The one skill they have never shown as a people is a talent for politics,” concluded the article. “That is the talent they need now. Perhaps the Israeli has it.” Ben-Gurion ended up in office for 15 years (with a short break in the mid-’50s) and lived on Kibbutz Sde Boker until his death, after which a university was named in his honour. And the printed premonition proved right in the end: Ben-Gurion was named one of Time’s 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century. 

Max Nordau (1849-1923) was a prominent physician, author and social critic who worked with Theodor Herzl to found the Zionist movement and organize the early Zionist Congresses. While speaking out against anti-Semitic stereotypes, he coined the term “Muscular Judaism” to promote mental and physical strength, agility and discipline, qualities he believed were necessary for the national revival of the Jewish people. He was also a family man who kept a diary describing the life of his daughter Maxa from the day of her birth on Jan. 10, 1897. She grew up to become a notable painter. Max Nordau died in Paris—three years later, he was reburied in Tel Aviv.

Ahuzat Bayit (“homestead”) was a group seeking to form an urban community outside of Jaffa in 1906, which approached the Jewish National Fund for a loan to purchase land. The JNF were supportive but for one problem: local laws prevented it. The Anglo-Palestine Company, formed four years earlier to fund settlement and development initiatives, determined the loan was too risky, but came up with a plan: the JNF loaned 300,000 French francs to Anglo-Palestine, which issued a series of 300 bonds against the loan, at 1000 francs each. Anglo-Palestine loaned the funds back to the founders of Ahuzat Bayit, which became the original name of Tel Aviv. The proceeds allowed 60 residents to build homes, while the Anglo-Palestine Company became Israel’s largest bank: Bank Leumi.

A Flag is Born, a play written by Ben Hecht, opened on Broadway on Sept. 4, 1946, and ran for 120 performances with a cast that featured a 22-year-old Marlon Brando. It was presented by the American League for a Free Palestine, whose ambitions were patterned after the Spirit of 1776—as reflected in this playbill cover. The production raised $1 million, which helped to purchase a ship to transport Holocaust survivors: the S.S. Ben Hecht was intercepted by the British on March 8, 1947, and its 600 passengers and 21 crew members were sent to a detention camp in Cyprus. But it also helped to turn public opinion against the British administration, which led to the creation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948. Now that’s a successful show.