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

The Eternal Road was an epic musical drama that ran in the Manhattan Opera House for 153 performances in 1937. At the time, it was the largest, most grandiose and costly production ever mounted in New York. Produced by Max Reinhardt, with music by Kurt Weill and script by Franz Werfel (all three were German-Jewish refugees) the production had three purposes: to respond to Germany’s state sponsored persecution of Jews, to relate the historical wandering and suffering of the Jewish people through bibilical stories, and to suggest that a Jewish homeland is the alternative to 2,000 years of the “eternal road” of helplessness. For the last performance Reinhardt proclaimed: “The light that we lit together… will shine undimmed in the history of the theater and of the Jewish people.” Find more from David Matlow at herzlcollection.com.

New People on Ancient Soil by author Felix Salten is based on his visit to Palestine and is a tribute to the dream of a Jewish state of his friend Theodor Herzl, who Salten credits with inspiring him to embrace his own Jewishness. He is better known for the 1923 book Bambi: A Life in the Woods, the inspiration for Disney’s fifth animated feature, which premiered 80 years ago this week. An outdoorsman and naturalist—and, ironically, also a hunter—Salten wrote Bambi as a plea for greater care for and understanding of the world of nature, yet some commentators suggest it’s a parable about Jewish persecution. When the Nazis seized Austria he fled to Switzerland, where he died in 1945.

Aryeh Shenkar (1877-1959) was one of the founders of the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) movement in Ukraine. He moved from Russia to Palestine in 1924 and bought the Lodzia textile factory—whose workers originated in the Polish town of Lodz. It became profitable while he promoted the local textile industry and other manufacturers. For 29 years, he served as the president of the Industrialists’ Union in the Land of Israel (later the Manufacturers Association of Israel), and Ramat Gan’s Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art was named after him. This is his 1938 share certificate for 90 common shares of The Lodzia Textile Co. Ltd. The Lodzia business was acquired by Israeli public company Delta Galil in 2014.

The Monteith Inn was a 150-room hotel on Muskoka’s Lake Rosseau, a two-and-a-half-hour drive north of Toronto. Harry and Jennie Shopsowitz—the founders of Shopsy’s Delicatessen, which started as an ice cream parlour in Toronto’s garment district—purchased the property for $25,000 in 1935. It was one of the local “Jewish resorts” (along with Muskoka Lodge in Huntsville, Gateway Hotel in Gravenhurst, and Smith’s Bay House, Arcadia Lodge and Taub’s Lodge in Port Carling) that thrived because Jews weren’t welcome elsewhere. When the Monteith opened, a one-week all-inclusive stay cost $14. This 1937 advertisement promotes kosher meals by a famous chef from Miami. The Shopsowitz family operated the hotel until 1949. (The next year, it was destroyed by a fire.)

July 24, 1922 is the date when the League of Nations—predecessor to the United Nations—resolved to establish the British Mandate, which gave recognition “to the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine and to the grounds for reconstituting their national home in that country.” Great Britain became responsible for preparing conditions “as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home.” The resolution was unanimously approved by all 51 member nations (all League resolutions required unanimity). It implemented the agreement reached at the San Remo conference two years prior, commemorated on this 1920 Dutch-minted medal, which depicts a hammer-wielding modern pioneer meeting an ancestor from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple.

Land of Promise” was part of the Wild Man trading card series produced by the Bowman Gum Company in 1950. The set recorded the story of humanity from cavemen and Vikings to falconry and civil aviation. (One card and one piece of gum cost a penny.) A total of 72 cards were issued, including this one with this text on the back: “We live in an age of stirring events, one of which is the founding of the new nation of Israel. Thousands of Jewish people, many of whom suffered terrible persecution during World War II, are returning to Palestine, their ancestral home. By work of hands and brain, they are determined to build an Israel worthy of its glorious heritage.” Now this card is a keeper. 

The Western Wall is seen on this stereoscopic card with a picture (actually two pictures—you’re not seeing double) capturing how “the outer wall of Solomon’s Temple” appeared in Jerusalem in 1896. Produced by Underwood & Underwood, the largest publisher of stereoviews in the world—with an office in Toronto—it was designed to be placed in a viewing device called a stereoscope and appear as a three-dimensional image. The card’s reverse quotes Psalm 79 in English, French, German, Spanish, Norwegian and Russian: “How Long, Lord? Wilt Thou Be Angry Forever?” There are several hundred of these cards of Palestine, which enabled people to see the Holy Land at a time when a trip to the region was costly and difficult. 

The Romance of a People historical pageant was performed before 125,000 people at Chicago’s Soldier Field on Jewish Day at the 1933 World’s Fair. With its depiction of 4,000 years of Jewish history from Abraham to the pioneers in Israel, the event was a fundraiser to resettle German Jews in Palestine. To ensure a large audience, organizer Meyer Weisgal included schools and youth groups among the 6,000 performers—rightly concluding that parents and grandparents would attend. The show helped raise the profile of Zionism in Chicago and unified its Jewish community. After a four-day run at New York’s Polo Grounds was rained out, it ran for 20 performances at an indoor location instead and raised an additional $100,000 for German Jewry. (The equivalent of $2.1 million today.)

The American Colony was a Christian utopian society formed in Jerusalem in 1881 by Horatio and Anna Spafford who left Chicago for the Holyland in search of peace after a series of personal tragedies. Colony members lived a communal life and engaged in philanthropic work benefiting all religions—like a soup kitchen and an orphanage. The group purchased a curio store just inside the Jaffa Gate of the Old City, which was renamed the American Colony Store. Profits supported the group through the sale of images, souvenirs, artifacts and archaeological objects. The community dissolved in the 1950s, but one of its communal residences became the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem, which remains owned and operated by descendants of the original founding community.

Keren Hayesod (Palestine Foundation Fund) was established in 1920 in London, England, to finance the Zionist movement’s work to bring about the return of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. Leading figures from Chaim Weizmann to Ze’ev Jabotinsky were involved in its fundraising efforts. Keren Hayesod helped raise the seed money to establish the Hebrew University and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. It also helped develop the Haifa Bay suburbs to settle German Jewish refugees in the 1930s, and established dozens of communities to house the waves of immigrants after Israel’s creation. It continues to serve as a link between the people of Israel and Jewish communities around the world. This plaque recognizes a contribution made 100 years ago.

Yitzhak Rabin and Moshe Dayan were Israel’s Chief of Staff and Minister of Defence at the time of a miraculous military victory. The Western Wall of the ancient Temple had been inaccessible to Jews since 1948, as the Old City of Jerusalem was under Jordanian administration. That changed on June 7, 1967, when Jerusalem was reunited. When the war ended after six days, Israel controlled three times as much territory as it had before. Rabin was given the honour of naming the conflict: War of the Daring, War of Salvation and War of the Sons of Light were all considered. He chose The Six-Day War as it evoked the wonder of the six days of creation.

Ein Harod is a kibbutz (communal farm) founded in 1921 by Russian pioneers in northern Israel. Four years later, it was the centre of the kibbutz movement. Its members continue to live the kibbutz way of life, sharing the burden of working in its fields, industry, dairy barn and stables. This “magic lantern” slide is one of a 1920s Palestine series made by Toronto’s Charles Potter company, which also sold optical equipment and mathematical instruments. It depicts the bringing of the first fruits (bikkurim), part of the celebration of the holiday of Shavuot, which in the days of the ancient Temple—and in this picture—consisted of the land’s seven species: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates.

The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (a.k.a. “The Joint”) was founded in 1914, initially to save the Jews of Palestine from starvation. Since then, it’s been involved in rescue, relief and renewal of Jews around the world. The Joint assisted 190,000 Jews to leave Germany in the 1930s, helped care for 420,000 Holocaust survivors after the war, and assisted 167,000 Jews reach Israel from Muslim countries. Having operated in 85 countries—including Russia, Ethiopia and the former Yugoslavia—its non-sectarian work provides a unified Jewish response to global disasters. The Joint remains active wherever Jews are in distress: currently, it’s providing critical help in Ukraine, both to those inside the country and new refugees. This label publicized a food drive for Holocaust survivors.

Chaim Nachman Bialik (1873-1934), pictured here on Israel’s 10 lira banknote from 1970, was a poet who wrote primarily in Hebrew. Ukrainian born, he earned the status of “national poet” for his depiction of Jewish life in exile—and descriptions of the future in which we controlled our own destiny. “City of Slaughter” was written after the 1903 Kishinev pogrom, in which 47 Jews were murdered: it reflects Bialik’s bitterness about the absence of justice, and it’s also critical of those who didn’t act to defend themselves. Today, his surname is still famous thanks to a distant relative, The Big Bang Theory star and Jeopardy co-host Mayim Bialik, a modern Orthodox Jew and very public supporter of Israel.

The Jewish Territorial Organization was founded in 1905 under the leadership of British author Israel Zangwill. It was dedicated to “obtaining a large tract of territory (preferably within the British Empire) wherein to found a Jewish Home of Refuge.” Could you imagine the Jewish state in a different location than where it’s located now? Alaska, Angola and Australia all had areas investigated as possibilities. The obviously unsuccessful effort faded away by the time Zangwill died in 1926. This humourous postcard, which depicts the Territorialists scanning the globe for a home, was drawn by Menachem Birnbaum—a Viennese-born artist, and the son of Nathan Birnbaum, the man who coined the term Zionism. Menachem perished in Auschwitz.

Haggadat Ha’atzmaut (or the Independence Day Haggadah) was commissioned by the State of Israel in its early days as a way to celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut within a traditional Jewish framework. This edition from 1952 combined the structure of a Passover seder, and the Zionist spirit, to tell the story of soldiers and civillians defending and building the new country—plus the history of immigration, resistance to the British, and the declaration of independence. But after 10,000 copies were printed, it roused fierce opposition due to the secularization of the Passover liturgy, and the absence of God from the story. In response, prime minister David Ben-Gurion halted further distribution of the book.

We Will Never Die premiered at Madison Square Garden on March 9, 1943, with two performances before an audience of 40,000. Written by Ben Hecht with music by Kurt Weill, and produced by Billy Rose, its purpose was to make America do something to stop the destruction of European Jewry—which was well underway. “These are the 2 million Jewish dead of Europe today,” the show began. “The 4 million left to kill are being killed, according to plan.” After the debut, it was performed in five other cities, including before Eleanor Roosevelt in Washington, D.C. According to historian Rafael Medoff, the dramatic pageant helped shatter the curtain of silence surrounding the Holocaust, by drawing attention to a crisis that much of the mainstream news media were ignoring. Listen to the Los Angeles radio performance from July 1943:

The Montreal Expos hosted the St. Louis Cardinals at Jarry Park on April 14, 1969, for what was the first Major League Baseball game played in Canada. The team’s majority owner was Charles Bronfman, a member of the family that controlled distilling giant Seagram. Bronfman initially agreed to be one of 10 equal partners funding the US$10 million expansion fee—but as other investors withdrew, he increased his investment ensuring that Montreal (and not Buffalo) got the team. He sold the Expos in 1991—and they left Montreal to become the Washington Nationals in 2005. Among his many philanthropic initiatives, Bronfman co-founded Birthright in 1999, which has since taken over 750,000 young Jews to Israel for free.

Schapiro’s Kosher Wines billed its product as the kind “you can almost cut with a knife” in marketing its appeal. The company was founded in 1899 by Sam Schaprio in the basement of his Manhattan restaurant: as sales increased, he focused exclusively on making and selling wine. Business was good during the U.S. Prohibition era due to an exemption allowing a family to buy up to 10 gallons of sacramental wine per year. The era of drink-slicing ended when Schapiro’s closed in 2007. We have better Passover seder options today—as wines from Israel compete favourably with the world’s best. L’chaim and Chag Sameach.

The Partition Resolution passed by the United Nations on Nov. 29, 1947, called for the creation of a Jewish State and the end of the British Mandate. The British then started to wind down their administrative duties including ending postal services in April 1948. But, to ensure the public would still be able to send and receive mail, the provisional Jewish government in Palestine improvised and authorized the use of pre-existing Jewish National Fund stamps (overprinted with the word “Doar” or post) as valid postage stamps. These are two JNF stamps—one depicting the partition map of the independent Jewish state and the other the Negev water pipeline—which were used to send mail and postmarked by Minhelet Ha’am (People’s Administration). Israel issued its own stamps right after independence.

Moe Berg (1902-1972) played for five American League teams, and was with the Boston Red Sox when he ended his 15-year baseball career in 1939. He also spoke 10 languages—including Hebrew and Yiddish—read 10 newspapers a day, and graduated from Princeton and Columbia Law School. During the Second World War, he was a spy for the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the CIA. In 1944, Berg was tasked to kill German physicist Werner Heisenberg in Switzerland if he concluded that the Germans were close to developing a nuclear bomb—but he concluded they weren’t. Paul Rudd played Berg in the 2018 biopic The Catcher Was a Spy. This baseball card is from the Jewish Major Leaguers set issued in 2003 by the American Jewish Historical Society.

The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire erupted on March 25, 1911, on the eighth floor of a building in Greenwich Village, New York. The death toll of garment workers was 146—who were mostly Jewish and Italian immigrant women, aged 14 to 23. Stairwells and exits had been locked in a common practice to prevent break-ins and thefts, but it meant many couldn’t escape the fire, and jumped to their deaths. Subsequently, new safety standards were introduced for factory workers, and unions were formed to fight for improved working conditions. “Mameniu” (“Dear Mother”) is an elegy for the victims which begins: “Hearts torn by the horror, the Jewish nation wrings its hands, weeping.” 

Unzer Sztyme, the monthly newspaper of the Holocaust survivors in the British Zone of occupied Germany, was published in Yiddish at Bergen-Belsen’s Displaced Person’s Camp from 1945 to 1947. This illustration of “The Modern Haman” was published on March 17, 1946—the date on which Purim falls in 2022. Adolf Hitler is depicted leading a Jewish soldier on horseback: “This is what is to be done to the person the king wants to honour,” a passage from the book of Esther. The drawing depicts 10 Nazi leaders hanging from gallows like the 10 sons of Haman—the caption notes this punishment was the Jewish dream during the time of Hitler. The artist was survivor Berl Friedler who published his sketches in a book called Back from Hell.

The city of Eilat was nothing but a police station in a place called ​​Um Rash-Rash when it was captured by the Israeli army in the last operation of the War of Independence on March 10, 1949. This important victory without a battle extended Israel to the Gulf of Aqaba and gave it a shipping route through the Red Sea. A makeshift flag—made out of a bedsheet with two stripes made of ink and a Star of David from a first-aid kit—was hoisted to signify the victory. This postcard shows Eilat shortly after its lagoon opened in 1967. Anyone who’s visited the luxury hotels and tourist attractions in the past half-century knows how much the city has changed. 

Night of Stars was an annual benefit performance by New York’s film and entertainment industry to raise much needed funds for the development of Eretz Yisra’el and refugee relief and rehabilitation. The first production was in 1934, before a crowd of 45,000 at Yankee Stadium—donated for the evening by team owner Col. Jacob Ruppert—with proceeds sent to help German Jewry. Macy’s department store owner Nathan Strauss was the key driver behind the event, which inspired large-scale fundraisers by the U.S. Army and Navy, the Red Cross and others. This program is from the 1948 performance, the first after Israel’s independence.

Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish officer in the French army who in 1894 was wrongly convicted of spying for Germany. His conviction and later exoneration became known as the Dreyfus Affair, a miscarriage of justice rooted in antisemitism, which divided France. Imprisoned on Devil’s Island for five years, Dreyfus was convicted again in a second trial, and ultimately pardoned. He was exonerated in 1906 and reinstated in the French Army, in which he served through the First World War. The yellow jersey worn by the leader of the Tour de France is related to the Dreyfus Affair—as the bicycle race was founded in 1903 by the anti-Dreyfus sports paper, L’Auto. (To celebrate Family Day, here’s Dreyfus with his children, Pierre and Jeanne.) 

DIG DEEPER: Read more from the first year of Treasure Trove…