A tiny factory fights to keep the flag made in Israel

Small factory part of Israel's history since before state was established.

israel 60 224 promo (photo credit: )
israel 60 224 promo
(photo credit: )
Yuval Greenvald, 30, stood waiting impatiently for the 5-by-1.6-meter flag the people in his small settlement had ordered. Hadassa Berman and one of the veteran workers of the small flag factory quickly cut the leftover fabric around the blue Star of David in the center of the white sheet, which was decorated with two symmetrical blue strips stretched lengthwise. "Here, here, the flag is almost ready," the worker kept telling Greenvald, a father of four from the small settlement of Kida near Shilo. "We thought it would be nice to hang a big flag on the settlement's water tower because of the wild winds we have there," Greenvald explained. "Besides, this is our country and we love it and are proud of it." "Ninety percent fewer individuals buy flags nowadays, because they either get it for free as a gift or don't feel as patriotic as before to fly a flag," Berman told The Jerusalem Post on Monday as she oversaw the busy production of Israeli flags on the eve of the state's 60th anniversary. "And there's the National Religious public, who stopped flying Israel's flag after the disengagement [from Gaza in 2005] because of the anger they feel. The depreciation in public sentiment toward the Israeli flag is completely noticeable," Berman added, unable to hide the sadness in her voice. Berman, 60, has been working for the past 41 years in the Berman family's flag factory in Jerusalem, where it has been operating since 1944. Berman's Flags and Emblems Factory has seen three generations of the family in its management: Kalman Berman and his wife Halla; their children Ruthi and Yitzhak, Hadassa's late husband; and Hadassa's son Kalman, who made headlines in 1971 as one of the babies in the first set of quintuplets born in Israel. Kalman currently runs the family business. The small factory, situated today in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul neighborhood and previously on Rehov Heleni Hamalka, has been part of Israel's history since before the state was established. From the declaration of independence, through the young state's victories and failures, to the historic formal visits to Israel of world leaders, this little place was a partner for secret and the manufacturer of local pride in the shape of flags. Although the Berman's factory still tries hard to keep up the old Israeli pride and the pioneer spirit of the Zionists who literally built this state with their own two hands, it is impossible to ignore the general feeling that those winds are now blowing in another direction. Ten workers besides the Berman family members are employed at the flag factory. Three are Israeli Arabs, two made aliya years ago from the former Soviet Union, and the rest are native Israelis whose families came here in one of the state's first massive immigration waves, before and after May 14th, 1948 - the date Israel's independence was declared. Though the demographics of the factory's employees nearly match those of the rest of the country in that it comprises veteran Israelis, Arabs and olim, the place's warm atmosphere of acceptance seems to work better than the one outside the factory's doors. Berman said that during all these years, the factory was and still is strict about using fabrics and materials made in Israel. "I could have imported the fabrics from China and produced cheaper flags, but we chose not to do it because this was and still is the founders' ideology," she said. Ninety percent of Israeli flags, including those used by the government, are made in China. According to Berman, individuals hardly buy flags today. "And even if they wanted to buy flags, why would they when they could get them for free?" Berman said, referring to the flags handed out as gifts by Bank Hapoalim. "No one cares that the materials we use are made in Israel and that the flags we produce enjoy a higher quality. For instance, a made-in-China flag weighs 20-30 grams, while ours weighs 90 grams," she said, adding that people would hang flags they received as gifts even if those flags had mistakes in them. "Bank Hapoalim handed out flags in which the vertices of the Star of David are facing the wrong sides. And people don't care, they hang it anyway, and this disrespect toward our flag, which symbolizes so many things, still makes me mad," Berman said. Berman went into the small office and pulled a file called "regulations and rules" in the manufacture of the Israeli flag. The blue-and-white flag, which used to be dark sky-blue and white and served as the flag of the Zionist Movement prior to the establishment of the state, was accepted in 1949 as the young state's official flag due to the popularity it enjoyed in Israel and worldwide. The flag was designed to be reminiscent of the tallit, or Jewish prayer shawl, which is white with blue fringes and stripes. The Star of David in the center first became a Jewish symbol in late medieval Prague and was adopted by the First Zionist Congress in 1897. According to the rules, the Israeli flag should have proportions of 8:11, and more specifically of 3:5:16:5:3. "The size of the flag is 220 by 160 centimeters. Its color is dark sky-blue and white. Each of the stripes, 25 cm. wide and 15 cm. from the length sides, stretches from one width side to the other width side in the rectangle that is the shape of the flag. The Star of David, exactly in the center of the flag, is composed of six stripes, which are two equilateral triangles whose bases are parallel to the flag's two stripes, which are stretched to the length of the flag," the law read. Bank Hapoalim said in response that "for the past four years, Bank Hapoalim has been proud to hand out the Israeli flag to the residents of Israel, in an attempt to paint the entire country on Independence Day with the colors of white and blue. "This year, in which the state marks its 60th anniversary, the bank chose to distribute a flag that is hung lengthwise, and is similar to the one that was hung in the Tel Aviv Museum above the heads of the members of the Nation's Council and David Ben-Gurion on the day of the declaration of independence." "Regarding the query about the production of the flags, this year the largest quantity of flags was ordered because of the celebrations of the 60th. For technical reasons, the order was divided between [factories in] Israel and abroad," the response read. Although she has been manufacturing Israeli flags for decades, Berman still can't get enough. "The Israeli flag is my favorite. It is very symmetric, proportional and elegant. Besides the emotional [connection] I have to this flag, to this day I feel awe toward it, and I regret that others don't feel the same," Berman said. "The fact that people are saying that a flag is just a piece of fabric says it all." And apparently Berman is not alone. "Colleagues from around the world with whom I stay in touch regularly tell me that hanging flags with mistakes in them can create big scandals, especially in the US where the sensitivity to the flag makes me appreciate them better. Here, there is no patriotism anymore, the details are no longer important and a flag is not that worth delving into," Berman said. Berman's son added that other common mistakes occur in the proportions of the flag. "There are people who call to order a quadrangle flag to fit a certain wall in the house, and I explain to them that I cannot make changes in the flag, not even because of commercial demands. A flag is a flag is a flag," Kalman Berman said. Hadassa Berman remembers former Egyptian president Anwar Sadat's visit to Israel in November 1977 - a visit that required them to work two days and nights without a break, as well as efforts to obtain the right sample of the Egyptian flag which eventually decorated the route from the airport to Jerusalem. She also recalls the excitement of walking with the rest of the people of Israel down the newly cleared road to the Western Wall following the Six Day War in June 1967 - a road decorated with Berman's flags. However, these and other memories that are a source of pride for Berman are not so for Nasser Barak, one of the Israeli Arabs who has worked at the factory for the past 16 years and lives in Jerusalem's Old City. "What I can say?" he sighed. "I don't have an Israeli flag back home. This is a job that puts food on my table, and I love the people here like my family. But other than that, if you and I had to pass through a checkpoint, you would cross it with no questions and I would be detained and questioned. And why is that? Are we really that different? We are different in that you have a flag to fly and I don't. And flag is pride, and I don't have this pride you talk about," Barak said.