Reaching two million

Lenny Ben-David hits a milestone on his website of vintage Palestine photos.

‘Jeune fille juive de Damas en grande toilette’: A Jewish girl of Damascus in her best outfit (photo credit: PARIS/MUSÉE D’ORSAY)
‘Jeune fille juive de Damas en grande toilette’: A Jewish girl of Damascus in her best outfit
(photo credit: PARIS/MUSÉE D’ORSAY)
Lenny Ben-David has been a busy man since leaving his post as deputy chief of mission at the Israeli Embassy in Washington in 2000 to return to Israel to work as a Jerusalem-based public affairs and strategic consultant. Besides working for AIPAC and Media Watch and leading a crusade against J Street, he is director of publications at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a contributor to The Times of Israel.
Ben-David’s newest project has been establishing, a free e-zine that displays historic photos of Palestine and Jews in the pre-independence Middle East. Beginning with photographers from Jerusalem’s famed American Colony Hotel, Ben-David has expanded his research to include digitized images of scores of photo pioneers preserved in archives around the world. On Sunday, the Internet site attracted its 2,000,000th hit. More than 15,000 subscribers have signed up for Ben-David’s daily blog about Israeli and Jewish history.
In honor of his two millionth hit, Ben-David posted four 19th-century photos of Damascus Jews. The lead photo, taken by French photographer Charles Lallemand in 1865, depicts a young Syrian Jewess wearing her fanciest outfit, including inlaid mother-of-pearl and silver hammam (Turkish bath) shoes. The photo comes from the newly digitized archives of the D’Orsay Museum in Paris.
The other photos in the series are from the Library of Congress in Ben-David’s place of birth, Washington, DC, and Le Maison Bonfils studio, which was established in Beirut in 1867. Some 3,000 Bonfils photos were amassed by Lebanese collector Fouad Debbas. In 2001, upon the collector’s death, the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme acquired the collection, digitized it and posted the photos online.
Ben-David (who Hebraicized his birth name Davis) has created nearly 1,000 Holy Land photo essays. He originally began his research examining the American Colony trove – snapped between 1898 and 1946 – preserved in Washington.
In addition, Ben-David has researched the vintage photo collections of 19thand 20th-century Palestine housed at the London-based Palestine Exploration Fund; Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia; Chatham University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon; the University of California – Riverside Museum of Photography; the Central Zionist Archives in Jerusalem; the New York Public Library; the Ottoman State Archives in Istanbul; and the archives at the medical school of the University of Dundee, Scotland. The latter preserves the collection of David Watt Torrance (1862-1923) and his son Herbert (1892- 1977), doctors who ran the Church of Scotland’s mission clinic in Tiberias from its establishment in 1884 until its closure in 1959 when the government- built Poriya Hospital opened.
Of special interest are Ben-David’s photo essays documenting “mystery photos” with unlabeled, misidentified or incomplete captions. One recent posting pieced together the extraordinary story of general Erich Von Falkenhayn who, while in command of German forces in Palestine during World War I, was able to prevent Turkish plans for the genocide of the Jews of Palestine, along the lines of the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians slaughtered by the Ottomans in 1915.
Given that there are of 22,000 historic photographs archived at the Capitol Hill library, this is a research opportunity that promises Ben-David a long period of self-employment.
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