Israel Revealed to the Eye” is the literal translation of the Yad Ben-Zvi initiative “ Yisrael Niglet La’ayin ,” which was established in 2009 to document life in several of the country’s well-known towns through personal photographs, from the towns’ founding to the present day.
Ra’anana is one of the participating towns, and the institution heading the project there is the city archives, Merkaz Toldot Ra’anana. Archives director Rahel Reinstein has been in volved with the project from the outset and is passionate about the work she and her team of volunteers do.
“This is our flagship project,” she says. “We are able to go into the homes of people around the city and document their stories.”
Yad Ben-Zvi, named for the country’s second president, is a research institution that was originally set up to document and collect material relating to Jews who came to Israel from Arab lands. Today its activities have expanded, and the “Israel Revealed” project extends to all immigrant communities – especially if they have interesting family photos to display.
Reinstein’s team of 50 volunteers visits homes around Ra’anana with a mobile scanner, which they use to scan old family photos. These are then used to illustrate the project on its Internet site. The volunteers also interview the family and record that material.
The story of Ra’anana’s founding is familiar and much like the establishment of other pioneering towns in the country, but there are major differences. For a start, Ra’anana was started almost exclusively by American immigrants.
In 1912, the Ahuzat Alef company was set up in New York to buy land in Eretz Yisrael. Michael Shalit, the chairman of the company, arrived to look for suitable land and found it – in Tivon. But the war intervened, and he returned to New York. The proj - ect was canceled until Yehuda Leib Kazan and Yeshayahu Yarko came in 1920 to scout out the area that is now Ra’anana. They decided that this was the place for the new moshava and bought the land from the local Arabs, selling plots of .2 or .3 hectares at a time to the shareholders back in New York .
On April 2, 1922, four partners in the Ahuza Alef project set out from Tel Aviv together with three workers and two armed watchmen. The jour - ney took five hours, and they arrived in the place destined to be Ra’anana.
In the beginning, the settlement was called Ahuzat Alef, but the Arabs called it “Little America,” as most of the settlers came from New York and spoke only English. Later it received the name Ra’anania, which soon be - came the name by which it is known today.
In the city’s archives, the Hadar Rishonim (Pioneers’ Room) section has a permanent display of photos and objects from those early days.
In addition to the standard early agricultural implements, rakes and wagon wheels, there are some Ra’anana-specific items, such as the sculpted bust of Theodor Herzl that David Ben-Gurion gave as a wedding gift to the town’s first mayor, Baruch Ostrovsky. His daughter, also a town resident, donated it to the archives.
It is here that the “Israel Revealed” project is in full swing.
One of the latest people to tell his story is former police minister Shlomo Hillel, who moved to Ra’anana recent - ly and is happy to share his memories and photos of his childhood in Bagh - dad. Another is the nearly 100-year- old builder David Perelstein, who came to Ra’anana at the age of eight in 1920 with his parents and built some of the first buildings in the town.
“For us it makes no difference if they came in 2003 or 1923,” says Reinstein.
“We want their albums, we want to see how they looked, the clothes they wore, because all this tells the story of Ra’anana and of Israel.”
The volunteers enjoy their work because they meet interesting people and hear incredible stories. To do the work, they had to take a course that trained them to interview, document and catalogue family photos. Among the volunteers is one old resident whose job is to peruse the many pho - tos reaching the archive and identify any unknown people in them.
As Reinstein sees it, it is the peo - ple who built Ra’anana who are the town’s most important treasure.
“They are the most cherished part of our history,” she says, “so we put a lot of our resources into documenting the families. Without them – these people who came to nothing but sand and camels – we would not have the city we have today.”
Ostrovsky’s story is typical of the people who started Ra’anana and made it into the town it is today.
He was born in Ukraine, but reached America in 1913 and became the prin - cipal of a Jewish school in New York.
Always a fervent Zionist, he had been in Israel in 1912 as a young man, working with the pioneers of the Sec - ond Aliya and joining the Hashomer movement, but stayed there for only a year. He became a respected educa - tor in New York, but he felt he had to express his Zionism by settling in the Land of Israel, which he did in 1930.
He served as mayor of Ra’anana for 26 years and died in 1960.
His daughter, who died this year, recalled the culture shock the family experienced. Her father had taught in a school with an elevator, she said, while here the school was partly open to the elements.
In addition to collecting these sto - ries, Merkaz Toldot Ra’anana offers bus tours of old local farmsteads, conserved old trees and several Bau - haus-style buildings from the ’30s, as well as guided tours of the archives for schoolchildren.
Reinstein, who has been in her post for 12 years and comes from a back - ground in design and computers, is now planning a photographic exhibi - tion that is an offshoot of “Israel Re -vealed.” Called “With This Ring,” it is a visual record of wedding customs of the Jewish people from around the world and will open in the lower exhi - bition hall of the Yad Lebanim com - plex in November.
“We took wedding pictures from the many albums we had scanned,” she ex - plains. “So far we have 90 which will be displayed, with many more appearing on a screen in a continuous loop. Not everyone has access to the Internet, so we felt we should have a more tangible approach.”