Ask any Israeli child about Hannaleh’s Shabbat dress and chances are he or she
will instantly recall the angelic blonde in her simple white dress. The Ofer
Library’s classic story of Hannaleh’s Shabbat Dress, published in 1957, is still
found in many Israeli homes and schools today, and is one of dozens of beloved
Ofer books from the 1950s-1970s on display at The Israel Museum’s nostalgic
“Days of Innocence” exhibition, displayed in the youth wing library through
Shlomo Aluf, 77, the founder and director of the Ofer Library
book collection, says that in 1957 when he started the publishing company,
Israeli children were mainly reading European stories, and did not yet have
their own, original books. He wanted to create Israeli literature for the masses
of children pouring into the country and teach them the values that would
build a strong next generation.
“[I wanted] to give children a sense of
responsibility because they are our future,” he says during an interview in his
charming bookshop in Petah Tikva.
Though the story of Hannaleh
, a girl
whose white dress gets dirtied but is cleaned magically by the light of the
moon, has made Ofer iconic, Aluf says it does not reflect the true message of
“It’s not educational,” says Aluf, of the second book he
published. “It’s just a story... it’s positive.”
Books like Nili Helps
, his first book, about a five-year-old girl who bathes and dresses
her little brother, sets the table and does grocery shopping, illustrate Aluf’s
belief that children should help their parents.
“This is higher,” says
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Aluf made aliya with his family at 15 and a half from Baghdad –
escaping via rooftops, he says – with the help of the Jewish Agency, and learned
the meaning of responsibility early on in his life.
As a teenager and the
oldest son, Aluf worked in an orchard near their home in Or Yehuda to help
support his parents and four brothers. His father, who had worked as a math
teacher in Iraq, was 50 when they made aliya, and could not work.
boy I grew up believing that I had everything,” he says. Suddenly, his father
who had taken care of them, was sidelined.
“Our luck was that we had good
neighbors,” says Aluf, who brought fruits and vegetables to his family from the
orchards as well.
After his army service, Aluf continued to help provide
for his family. While he worked during the day, he studied in the evenings
toward an engineering degree in Tel Aviv.
Aluf would buy books for his
brothers to read, though the family didn’t even have electricity.
a responsible boy,” he says. “I didn’t want to abandon [my parents].”
he decided engineering wasn’t for him, and he shifted gears to
Aluf partnered with illustrator Eva Itzkowitz from 1957 until
1975 on such iconic stories as Hannaleh, Children from Around the World
, I Work
Like My Dad
, Hurrah! I’m All Grownup
and A Visit to Jerusalem
no kid that’s grown up without seeing these books,” says curator and Youth Wing
Librarian Orna Granot in an interview with The Jerusalem Post
. “You feel like a
child when you open her books.
It’s so deep. It’s so initial. For me it’s
very emotional to read her books.”
Granot notes the clarity and simple
beauty of the illustrations, which allow very young children to follow along in
the story. It is the drawings that have become etched on the Israeli cultural
landscape, burned in the memories of every youngster who has fallen in love with
the comforting and colorful world Itzkowitz fashioned.
Itzkowitz, born in
Saxony, Germany in 1922, fled the country in 1939 during the rise of Nazism. She
eventually arrived in Greece, after the British stopped her and her family from
entering Palestine. When the Nazis reached Greece, her father was taken to a
camp where he was killed, but Itzkowitz and her mother hid for five years and
survived. She studied portraiture at the Academy of Athens where she lived until
the end of WWII. She made aliya in 1945 and soon afterward began working with
Aluf, and the writers Uriel Ofek, David Pe’er, Yemima Sharon and others to
create the sweet drawings of typical childhood scenes and teach basic lessons
like how to tell time and count, and more complicated ones such as what it means
to be a pal (I’m a Good Friend
), how life will change with the new baby brother
or sister at home and coping with being afraid.
Aluf saw a kindred spirit
“I was a refugee, she was a refugee, and we met each
other,” he says.
According to Aluf, Itzkowitz illustrated children’s
books and games for various publishers, but was not appreciated by them or even
paid on time. It was after being mistreated that she teamed up with Aluf and
found a home with Ofer for the next 18 years.
The Israel Museum’s exhibit
closes an unsolved mystery about whose hand was behind the enchanting drawings,
which critics at the time largely dismissed as unsophisticated and only for
The exhibit redeems her as a talented artist who pays attention
to detail. Until now, Itzkowitz kept her identity as the illustrator a
Different theories exist as to why she wished to remain
anonymous, but the private artist was not available for an interview, the
publishing company said.
“I think it’s because of modesty,” says Granot.
“Everybody wants to be famous [today]. Once it was the opposite.”
agrees, that her modesty, experience as a refugee and of not being treated well
by her previous employers, made her not want to publish her name.
Aluf, who is married to Shlomo Aluf and works with him at the company, says it
was Itzkowitz’s choice not to attach her name publicly to the books.
was enough for her,” says Ilana Aluf.
Itzkowitz, who lives in Ramat Gan,
loved her work, but never thought she would become famous or be asked about her
Today she is proud of the books, Ilana Aluf says, and even
attended the exhibit’s opening in late January.
The Ofer books gained
fame in the 1960s and 1970s when the Education Ministry purchased the books for
kindergartens, the Jewish Agency dispersed them among Diaspora communities and
the Hebrew University for immigrant camps. Each book has a seal in its back for
parents and teachers from the Hebrew University signifying its educational
While the Education Ministry still distributes the books and
Aluf is still publishing new stories, cookbooks and other literature, including
translating some of his stories into Arabic for Israeli Arabs and readers in
Jordan, he says they are unfortunately not widely read in the
The books, albeit dated, teach children about societal roles
and gender expectations of those decades, Zionism in the first generation of the
state and the world outside of Israel. The picture books illustrate the ideal
family to children who are not yet part of the world outside of their homes, and
illustrate how fathers and mothers behave.
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