Eight fun and fascinating facts surrounding the founding of Israel

(Israel21c via JNS) Israel celebrates 74 years of independence on May 5 this year. The passage of time and the solemn black and white photos of the time give the impression that the first steps of the nascent country were orderly and well thought out affairs. In reality, things couldn’t be more different: the very name of the country was hotly debated, the declaration of independence was not ready in time and a state emblem had to be found.

Below are eight fun and fascinating facts surrounding the founding of Israel, proving that the country’s famous atmosphere of balagan (chaos) and ingenuity has been present from the beginning. Happy holidays!

1. 1948 was not the first time a government was declared

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It is common knowledge that the State of Israel was founded in 1948, but few people know that some people tried to create it about five years earlier. In 1943, with World War II still raging, veteran Zionist leaders called a large public meeting in Ramat Gan called “The People’s Congregation,” from which a temporary Jewish government would be elected. As the National Library of Israel’s blog “The Librarians” recalls in detail, nothing of importance came out of all these long speeches. Yet they tried.

2. The country name was not an obvious choice

Other options included Zion (rejected because it is a biblical name for Jerusalem, and also to distinguish between the general Zionist movement and Israeli citizenship), Ever (after the biblical figure Eber), and Judea ( rejected in order to differentiate between Jews and Israeli citizens).

Israel, by the way, was the name suggested by the country’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

3. The famous backdrop of the Declaration of Independence? Rather fortunate.

Israel’s independence was solemnly declared at the entrance to what was then the Tel Aviv Museum. The famous photos show long curtains, Israeli flags, a portrait of Zionist visionary Theodor Herzl and serious-looking men assembled on stage and in chairs in front of them. The curtains, it seems, have been hung to hide the paintings of nudes on the walls.

The chairs were taken from surrounding cafes, and Herzl’s portrait and flags were borrowed from the United Israel Appeal because the decoration budget was not enough to buy them. The whole thing took 24 hours to put together, but the results ended up looking absolutely timeless.

4. The signers of the Declaration of Independence didn’t actually sign it

Israel’s Declaration of Independence, in addition to being a canonical text, is a fine work of painstaking calligraphy. So thorough that he wasn’t completely ready in time for the signing ceremony. Accordingly, its signatories did not add their names to the bottom of the text, but rather on a piece of parchment which was then sewn by its designer’s wife into the full scroll.

Ben-Gurion, in case you were wondering, read the text from a single sheet of typed paper to which he added a few handwritten notes.

5. The first flag flown in Jerusalem was colored with pencils

Rebecca Affachiner was a true pioneer, becoming one of the main Zionist figures of the early 20th century and dedicating her life to the Jewish community and the Zionist cause. Among her notable accomplishments was the amusing fact that she flew the first Israeli flag in Jerusalem on May 14, 1948, after the announcement of the establishment of the state. The resourceful woman that she was, she sewed the flag herself and used simple blue crayons to color in her Star of David and stripes. Ingenious.

6. The government invited the public to design the state emblem, then rejected hundreds of submissions

Creating a state emblem is not an easy task and must consider design, history and functionality. Shortly after the founding of Israel, the new government invited the public to submit proposals, specifying that said emblem should feature a candelabra with seven lamps, seven stars and the colors blue and white.

Dedicated artists sent in 450 submissions, and ultimately a design by Gavriel and Maxim Shamir of Shamir Brothers Studio was selected. Their design included a modern-looking candelabra and stars alongside olive branches, but was later changed to feature the candelabra of the Arch of Titus in Rome and the word “Israel”. The stars were dropped, and the result is what we see everywhere on pins and coins.

7. Tel Aviv’s first annual Independence Day Parade didn’t work

During Israel’s first two decades, a military parade was held every year as part of Independence Day celebrations. But in 1949, a year after the establishment of the state, things did not quite go as planned. The parade got off to a good start, but soon the over-enthusiastic crowd in the streets of Tel Aviv prevented it from going any further.

The sham was considered highly embarrassing and led one editor to wonder how the same army that had successfully defended the whole country a year earlier had failed to cross a single street.

8. Israel’s first Knesset met in a movie theater

The Knesset, or house of parliament, is a real landmark here in Israel, with its majestic architecture, sculptures and famous stained glass windows. But the first home of the Legislative Assembly, oddly enough, was a large cinema in Tel Aviv called Kessem (“Magic”) Cinema.
The site of Israel’s first Knesset, formerly the headquarters of the Magic Cinema in Tel Aviv. Photo by Benno Rothenberg, Meitar Collection, Pritzker Family National Photograph Collection, National Library of Israel.

The huge building, built in 1945, had over 1,000 cushioned seats and enjoyed a fabulous beachfront location. For most of 1949 it hosted Israel’s first parliamentarians until they moved to Jerusalem. Later, the building was used by the tax authorities and the Israeli Opera. It was then demolished and rebuilt as a residential building with quite a history. PJC

This article was first published by Israel21c.

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