8 fun and fascinating facts surrounding the founding of Israel
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 historical events and the first steps of the nascent country were orderly and well-thought-out affairs.
But in reality, things couldn’t be more different: the very name of the country was hotly debated, the declaration of independence was far from ready in time, and a state emblem had yet to be found.
Scroll down to discover the main fun and fascinating facts surrounding the founding of Israel, and you will see that the famous atmosphere of balagan (chaos) and resourcefulness are there from the start. Happy holidays!
- 1948 wasn’t really the first time a government was declared
It is common knowledge that the State of Israel was founded in 1948, but it is much less known that some people tried to bring it into existence five years earlier.
In 1943, with World War II still raging, veteran Zionist leaders called a large public meeting in Ramat Gan called “The Congregation of the People” from which a temporary Jewish government would be elected. As “The Librarians” blog of the National Library of Israel recall in detail, nothing important came out of all these long speeches. Yet they tried.
- The country name was not an obvious choice
Israel is obviously called Israel these days, but 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 (from after the biblical figure Eber, and similar to the Hebrew word for Hebrew, Drunk) 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.
- The famous backdrop to 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 seemswere hung to hide the paintings of nudes on the walls.
Chairs were taken from surrounding cafes and Herzl’s portrait and flags were borrowed from the United Israel Appeal as the decoration budget was not enough to purchase them. The whole thing took 24 hours to put together, but the results ended up looking absolutely timeless.
- The signatories of the Declaration did not in fact 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.
- 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 20and century and dedicated his life to the Jewish community and the Zionist cause. Some of her notable accomplishments include the fun fact that she piloted the first Israeli flag in Jerusalem May 14, 1948, following the announcement of the creation 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.
- Government invited public to design 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 proposalsspecifying that the said emblem must comprise 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 candelabrum 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.
- 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 an editor to wonder how the same army that had just come from a year earlier had managed to defend the whole country. failed to cross a single street.
- Israel’s first Knesset convened 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 house of the Legislative Assembly, oddly enough, was nothing but a large cinema in Tel Aviv called Cinema Kessem (“Magic”).
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.