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

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.

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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.

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