Many stories have been written about collector Ezra Gorodesky, 89, who is often referred to as the button man due to the extraordinary collection of unusual and decorative buttons he has amassed over the years and whose provenance he has researched. But he has also collected and researched many other items, including books and photographs, hundreds of which he has given to institutions such as the National Library, Shenkar College and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
Originally from Philadelphia, Gorodesky made aliya in 1960 and settled in Jerusalem, where invariably impeccably attired in a suit, he has become one of the recognizable characters of the city.
In honor of the State of Israel’s 70th anniversary, he decided to part with one of his most treasured possessions, an Israeli flag created by Rebecca Affachiner, who was often called “the Betsy Ross of Israel.”
Betsy Ross is credited with having made the first American flag.
Affachiner’s flag now has a new home at the Ben-Gurion Archives on the Sde Boker Campus of BGU. In a sense, given that it was David Ben-Gurion who proclaimed Israel’s independence, no place could be more suitable as the permanent home of the flag.
Affachiner made aliya in the 1930s. In May 1948, when an American consular official urged her to leave Jerusalem immediately, due to the expected outbreak of hostilities, Affachiner refused.
“I cannot abandon my sisters and brothers,” she told a reporter of the newly founded Maariv at the time. “I have waited my entire lifetime to see the rebirth of a Jewish state. I do not intend to miss it.”
She was confined to her apartment on Jabotinsky Street, unable to buy supplies, but she spent her time creating an Israeli flag from her bedsheets. She sewed on a six-pointed star and colored the flag’s stripes with a blue crayon.
Late in the day on May 14, when Affachiner heard Ben-Gurion proclaim the establishment of the State of Israel, she proudly went out to her balcony, within sight of the Jordanian forces gathered nearby, and hung her flag. She continued to fly the flag every Independence Day until her death in 1966, when she entrusted the flag to Gorodesky, who was her good friend and caregiver. She made him promise to take good care of the flag because “it was my personal way of welcoming Israel into existence.”
Gorodesky, preserved the flag in his small apartment for 50 years, but decided that the 70th anniversary of Israel would be the appropriate time to find a permanent home for it.
The pain of parting with it was eased by Dr. Paula Kabalo, director of the Ben-Gurion Institute, who found a letter in the institute’s archives sent by then-prime minister Ben-Gurion to Affachiner acknowledging her gift to the Israel Defense Fund in 1957. He praised her as an inspiring example of Jewish devotion: “It is this spirit which has enabled us to achieve our independence, and this spirit will ensure the success of our future endeavors,” he wrote.
“Rebecca’s original Israel flag is an excellent addition to the Ben-Gurion Archives,” says Kabalo. “It will be displayed with Ben-Gurion’s diaries.”
Affachiner was born in Nesvizh, Poland (now Belarus), and grew up on New York City’s East Side. She was the first female graduate of New York’s Jewish Theological Center in 1907, and was a teacher, administrator and charity worker. She also lived in Connecticut and Virginia, before making aliya in 1934 at age 50. Throughout her life, she was devoted to the welfare of Jews in Israel and worldwide.
The Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism addresses research, documentation, and the study of Israel and Zionism from multidisciplinary perspectives. The Ben-Gurion Archives, which is located there, is the equivalent of a US presidential library.
Established under the David Ben-Gurion Law in 1976, the archives have acquired more than five million items that tell the history of Eretz Israel from 1900 onward. Frequently visited by researchers and students from all over the world, the archives continue to be a pioneer in digitizing historical records and making them accessible to a wider public.
Also housed in the BGU archives are the complete works of controversial playwright, poet, short story writer and stage and screen director Nissim Aloni, who was awarded the Israel Prize for Theater in 1996. Once the uncrowned king of Israeli theater, Aloni had already fallen from grace when notified by Shulamit Aloni – who was then education and culture minister – that he had been chosen for the award. Considering his situation, he could not understand why he had been chosen. Because Aloni had become enfeebled by a stroke, which made it difficult for him to walk across the stage on the night of Independence Day when the awards were presented, president Ezer Weizman brought the certificate to where Aloni was standing. In a remarkable act of respect, Weizman was followed by then-prime minister Shimon Peres, who embraced Aloni; Jerusalem mayor Ehud Olmert and Knesset speaker Szewach Weiss.
The Nissim Aloni archive, donated to the university by his brother following Aloni’s death in 1998, contains original manuscripts of plays and reprints of manuscripts of plays with Nissim Aloni’s handwritten corrections, plus manuscripts of plays that he translated, edited or directed, entertainment shows that he wrote or directed, short stories, some of which have never been published, poems and lists. In addition, the archive contains all of the personal diaries, certificates and letters that Aloni received during his lifetime.
The archive has a large amount of audiovisual material (plays that were filmed, films made from his writings, and ones that were planned or made by him). The various documents are classified via subject and work. The archive also contains everything that was written about Aloni over the years and offers a rare glimpse into his world of fantasy and legend.
■ ANOTHER VALUABLE archive that will offer insights to future historians is that of Toldot Israel founded by American expatriate Aryeh Halivni, known in the old country as Eric Weisberg.
After making aliya in 2002, Halivni, who had worked on various academic and historic projects, decided to collect first-hand stories of people who had been involved in the creation and development of the State of Israel. He recruited an impressive advisory team as well as experienced cameramen and seasoned professional interviewers. So far, Toldot Israel has completed interviews with more than 1,000 people.
Interviewed himself on Reshet Bet last week, Halivni said that as a researcher of American background, he also wanted to focus on Americans who had not necessarily been politically, diplomatically or militarily active in contributing to the creation of the state, but who raised money for the purchase of weapons. Of course there were Americans who fought or who were active in illegal immigration. Asked to name his favorite, Halivni chose Harold Katz, a World War Two veteran who was enrolled at Harvard Law School. When he learned that the British were preventing Holocaust survivors from coming to the Land of Israel and were incarcerating them in camps in Cyprus, he decided to join the ranks of Aliya Bet, saying “Harvard Law School will always be here. This is the time to be part of Jewish history.”
Katz was apprehended by the British and placed in the Atlit detention camp where he was seen by Hadassah President Judith Epstein who exclaimed: “Harold, why are you behind barbed wire?” To which he replied: “Judith why are you not behind barbed wire?”
■ DNA TESTING for the purpose of establishing family relationships gained new impetus with revelations of official inquiries into the disappearance of Yemenite and other immigrant children in the early years of the state. The general belief is that they were hijacked from hospitals and kindergartens and taken to America where they were given to childless Holocaust survivors. Aside from that, many adoptees who are aware they were adopted have a strong desire to find their biological parents and to learn of their roots.
Last month the MyHeritage genealogy site launched DNA Quest, a pro bono initiative to help adoptees and their birth families reunite through genetic testing. The initiative, initially launched solely in the USA, received an amazing response. More than 10,000 applications have been submitted to receive free DNA kits so far, from the quota of 15,000 free DNA kits pledged by MyHeritage, worth more than one million dollars, according to genealogist Daniel Horowitz. The deadline for submissions was originally to be the end of April 2018, but in light of the many requests received, the initiative has been expanded worldwide regardless of place of residence and regardless of where the adoption took place. Further information is available at thewww.dnaquest.org website.
■ WITH NEW emphasis in nearly all fields of consideration for the needs of people with disabilities, the Eden Center’s annual conference will focus on how to respectfully and properly help women with disabilities who come to immerse in the mikve (ritual bath). Hundreds of mikve attendants from across the country have registered to attend the conference, which will be held on April 23 at Hadassah University Medical Center on Jerusalem’s Mount Scopus, in partnership with Tahareinu, the Shalem Foundation and the Jerusalem Municipality.
Approximately 750,000 women in Israel regularly immerse in mikvaot, with an average of one in six having some kind of disability that is not necessarily visible to the naked eye.
With this in mind, challenging questions will be raised at the conference and appropriate tools and guidelines will be provided to enable dealing with such situations in the most sensitive manner.
“We mustn’t forget emotional challenges such as OCD [obsessive-compulsive disorder], depression and many other issues,” said Eden Center founder Dr. Naomi Marmon Grumet.
“For these women, too, the mikve should be a personal, spiritual and positive experience.”
Knesset member Shuli Moalem-Refaeli will be among the speakers, sharing her own personal story as a woman struggling with breast cancer.
Other topics of the conference will be women’s health and unusual situations that mikve attendants face. “The purpose of educating the attendants in women’s health isn’t for them to diagnose or treat a woman, but rather that they know what to look for to direct women to a professional when necessary. There are many stories of women sharing personal medical concerns during this most intimate time of coming to the mikve. It’s critical that the mikve attendants know where to direct the worried woman,” says Grumet.
■ CHINESE INVESTMENTS world-wide and acquisitions of major companies include those with a national image. But things went sour when China tried to break into Hollywood. Actually, that was no big deal because an enterprising Chinese businessman, Wang Jianlin, who is rumored to be the wealthiest man in China, began building China’s own Hollywood in Quingdao. In addition to a large, sprawling film studio, the project, for which the original investment was $8.2 billion, hit a few snags and the Dalian Wanda Group, which is headed by Wang, was forced to offload some of its assets, selling them to rival real estate giant Sunac China Holdings. The overall project, which is scheduled to formally open on April 28, includes a 4,000-room resort hotel complex, a shopping mall, a theme park, a celebrity wax museum and a 30-berth yacht club. According to a Deloitte assessment, China is now home to one of the fastest-growing film industries in the world, and is expected to be the world’s largest film market by 2020. China’s box office revenue in 2017 was $8.6 billion. Chinese filmmaker Henry Zhang was in Israel last week doing preliminary research for a documentary film on the Jews of Shanghai, most of whom were refugees who had fled from the Nazis. Zhang is the president and producer of Shanghai Global-link Film and Television Investments, Ltd.