Developed Israel: Jerusalem Photographic Archive Captures the Incredible History of the Modern Jewish State

Long before digital cameras, cell phones and computers, a Jewish organization not only helped develop Israel, but also documented the earth’s history in pictures.

Deep in an office building in Jerusalem is a room full of filing cabinets on shelves. It may look like an old storage room, but in reality it is the KKL-JNF photographic archive, a treasure trove providing an illustrated history of Israel.

“This is the place where we can find print photographs taken from the turn of the 20th century and through the end of the print era,” said Efrat Sinai, director of Keren Kayemet The Israel-Jewish National. Fund or KKL-JNF. Photographic archive.

“Here we have amazing historical images of cities in Israel as they developed, such as Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. We have, kibbutzim, moshavim,” Sinai told CBN News.

KKL-JNF Photo Archive, Jerusalem

Decades before the birth of the Jewish state, the KKL-JNF was breaking new ground.

“KKL-JNF is an organization established 120 years ago with the purpose of buying and buying land in Eretz Yisrael [the land of Israel]right here in Israel and also developing it, which means preparing the land after buying it for housing, building new communities and helping people to come here so that they can fully settle and inhabit these homes” , explained Sinai.

The cameras continued to capture the story from the start.

“KKL-JNF used to send photographers to different corners of Israel. So they can capture what’s going on. The new places being built, the faces of pioneers and the spirit of creating something new. And that’s what was created, this unique and very important collection that we have here,” she said.

Courtesy KKL-JNF Photo Archive – Tiberius, 1925

A Sinai favorite is David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first Prime Minister in a unique pose wearing ‘cool sunglasses’.

“And there is another photo that I really like, David Ben-Gurion on the day of the declaration of independence while he is still working on the draft of this declaration,” she said.

Other photos include street celebrations as Israel celebrated its first anniversary in 1949. They include rabbis pulling out scrolls of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible.

Others show the military parades that Israel used to hold in major cities each year on Independence Day in major cities as well as the picnics and barbecues that are still popular today.

“We can see how everyone was coming out onto the balconies and watching the parade. You can also see the familiar streets of Jerusalem [including] King George Street, for example, taken in 1950,” she said.

In addition to acquiring land, the KKL-JNF prepared the land for housing, built reservoirs, rehabilitated rivers, and is probably best known for planting trees.

“We have photographs taken in the Forest of the Martyrs planted in the early 1950s,” she said. “This forest has six million trees planted to commemorate the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.”

According to Sinai, it is estimated that there were around 14,000 trees here when the Ottoman Turkic Empire came to an end over 100 years ago.

“From 1908 we started trying to plant trees here. You will find a botanical variety. And today we are talking about over 240 million trees planted all over Israel,” Sinai said.

Courtesy KKL-JNF Photo Archive – Planting trees in the Martyrs’ Forest in honor of those murdered in the Holocaust, 1951

There is also historic Jerusalem with photos overlooking the city from the Mount of Olives; the distribution of pasteurized milk to babies, the train station from 1927 and the Wailing Wall in 1941.

There are also photographs of Tiberias on the Sea of ​​Galilee, pioneers building farming communities called kibbutzim and moshavim, and glass plate negatives used before the gelatin genre.

In a glass plate negative taken in 1924, it is possible to see the beginnings of Tel Aviv and how it rose from the sand.

Courtesy KKL-JNF Photo Archive – Sands of Tel Aviv, 1910

Throughout each year, KKL-JNF shares its historic highlights at exhibitions in Israel and elsewhere, such as the one recently held at the Dubai International Expo.

“We are exhibiting two and a half meter wide photographs, historic photographs of Jerusalem that have been colorized,” she explained.

Using innovative colorization technology as well as researching the culture and fashion of the time, KKL-JNF says they are trying to breathe new life into the story.

Many photos are now digitized and the archives can be viewed online in Hebrew and will soon be available in English. It currently has over a million photos and, like the State of Israel itself, it continues to grow.

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Jack C. Nugent