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Why Is There an American Flag on this "Vehicle?"
Soon to be published
Call it a palanquin, litter or sedan. 

But we still have no idea why an American flag waves from the top of this mule-carried contraption used in Lebanon or Palestine around the 1870s.

The passenger appears to be a woman.

We discovered this photo in a collection now online in the British Library's Endangered Archives Program.  Perhaps it shows a litter used by an American diplomat or his family. We estimate it was taken in the 1870s in Beirut, Jerusalem or Jaffa.

The picture is part of the Fouad Debbas private collection in Beirut. The collection of 3,000 photographs contains photographs from the Maison Bonfils studios of Paris and Beirut (1867-1910s). The British Library undertook to "clean, list, index, catalogue and digitize" a collection that was endangered. 

We thank the staff of the British Library for their efforts and for opening the collection to the public.

Responsible librarians and archivists digitize antique photographs to preserve their treasures.

Bringing the Holy Land to America, Along with Mark Twain's Guide

(Future publication)
As American interest in the Holy Land grew in the second half of the 19th Century, entrepreneurs and Bible scholars attempted to "re-create" the wondrously exotic land of the Bible in the United States. A huge scale model of the Holy Land from Mount Hebron to Be'er Sheba was constructed as "Palestine Park" in Lake Chautauqua, NY in 1874. A Middle East Pavilion was built in the 1893 World Exposition in Chicago. And the Old City of Jerusalem was recreated at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase World's Fair in St. Louis.

The Dome of the Rock and Ferris Wheel at the St. Louis Exposition in 1904 (Library of Congress)

America Clamored for "Far-Away Moses," Mark Twain's Guide in the Holy Land

Portrait of Far-Away Moses from the Chicago fair
Mark Twain's account of his 1867 visit to the Middle East in "Innocents Abroad" launched his career as America's foremost storyteller.  In his book he dubbed his quirky Turkish dragoman (guide) "Far-Away Moses" and elevated him to a legendary figure.

In 1870, Twain reported to his publisher, "I learn from Constantinople that the celebrated guide, 'Far-Away Moses' goes to the American Consulate & borrows my book to read the chapter about himself to English & Americans, & he sends me a beseeching request that I will forward a copy of that chapter to him -- he don't want (sic) the whole book, but only just that to use as an advertisement...."

The advertising campaign for the 1893 Chicago pavilion was not very successful:  "Life in the Holy Lands! Scenes from Biblical Days!!! The Historic East as It Is and Was!!! A Moral Show!!!"

Crowds were not attracted, wrote researcher Barabara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett in Jews and the Holy Land at World's Fairs, until the Turkish proprietor changed the campaign to "Life in the Harem!! Dreamy Scenes in the Orient!!! Eastern Dances!!! The Sultan's Diversions."

Kirshenblatt-Gimblett added, "The proprietor in the doorway and belly dancer on the placard [outside] were in all likelihood Jewish. According to other sources, one of the proprietors was none other than Far-Away Moses, apparently also known as Harry R. Mandil, an American citizen.

Another partner was R.J. Levi (pictured), identified as a "Jewish chef and caterer from Constantinople [who] was manager and chief proprietor of the Turkish Village and Theatre."

R. J. Levy (Ottoman Imperial Library)

Far-Away Moses on the "set" of the Turkish pavilion 1893

Click on pictures to enlarge. Click on captions to view the original.

Future presentations: The 1904 St. Louis Fair and "Palestine Park" in Chautauqua.

Hebron's Cave of the Patriarchs Will Be Packed This Weekend. Photographs from the Cave 100 Years Ago

Cave of the Patriarchs, Hebron (All pictures are from the Library of Congress, circa 1900)

Republishing an earlier posting.
In synagogues around the world this Sabbath, congregations will read the Torah portion describing Sarah's death and burial.  Abraham purchased the Mearat HaMachpela [literally the "double cave" -- so named either because it had two chambers or it would eventually contain pairs of husbands and their wives].

Genesis 23:  And these were the days of Sarah, 127 years. Sarah died in Kiryat-Arba which is Hebron....Abraham spoke to the Sons of Heth: grant me legal possession of land for a burial site... for its price in full ... 400 shekels of silver.... Thus it was established, the field and the cave that was in it, for Abraham as legally possessed for a burial site from the Sons of Heth."

"Inner entrance to
Machpelah showing mammoth
 stones in Herodian wall"
In Israel, despite the recent terror knifings in Hebron, tens of thousands of Jews will converge on Hebron to pray in the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs during the Sabbath. Security will be tight.

The massive building surrounding the gravesite was built by King Herod two thousand years ago.  The actual graves are located in subterranean caverns beneath.  Their locations are marked above ground by cenotaphs -- empty tombs that serve as monuments.

Cenotaph above the Tomb of Sarah (circa 1900)

In the 11th and 12th century Jewish travelers documented visiting the caves.  One of them, Binyamin of Tudela, described "two empty caves, and in the third ... six tombs, on which the names of the three Patriarchs and their wives are inscribed in Hebrew characters. The cave is filled with barrels containing bones of people, which are taken there as to a sacred place."  


The great Jewish scholar Maimonides visited the tombs in 1116 and declared it a personal holy day.   

From the 14th century, however, Jews were not permitted to pray at the shrine.  The Mamluks (an Islamic army of slave soldiers) forbade Jews from visiting the site other than standing on stairs outside.  The practice continued until 1948 when all Jews were banned from the Jordanian-occupied West Bank.
Tomb of Abraham

"Cenotaph of Isaac showing distinctive
features of Crusader Church"

Hebron today, where school boys from near
 Jerusalem recently celebrated
completion of the book of Genesis

When Israel captured the area in 1967 Jews were allowed to visit the Cave of the Patriarchs, but Israel allowed the Islamic Waqf authorities to maintain control of large portions of the site. 

Many Jewish families in Israel celebrate weddings, bar mitzvas and circumcisions at the shrine.

Click on pictures to enlarge.
Click on captions to view original picture. 

The Photogenic Sukkot Festival -- 100+ Years Ago. Another Mystery Photo
The Jewish festival of Sukkot is called by several names: the Harvest festival, the Joyous festival, and the festival of Booths.  Jewish families construct temporary huts -- Sukkot -- where they eat and some even sleep for the week-long holiday.  Jews traditionally pray during the holiday while holding a citron fruit and branches of myrtle, palm and willow branches -- called the lulav and etrog.

Jews sitting in their Samarkand Sukka (circa 1870, Library of Congress). More on Samarkand Jewry here.

Bukharan family in their Jerusalem sukka (circa 1900). Note the man on the right holding the citron and palm branch
(Library of Congress collection).  Compare this sukka to one photographed in Samarkand 30 years earlier
And Now the Mystery Picture -- The Occasion for this Photo

We recently found this photograph of Australian soldiers at the Western Wall in an Australian library archives and posted it on this site. The men fought in World War I in Palestine in 1917-1918.

Australian soldiers at the Western Wall, picture taken by "R. F. Ingham, 1st L."
 (Mitchell Library, State Library of New South Wales, Australia)
What was going on at the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City?

The reason for the kittel
We went back and inspected the photo closely.    
The shadows suggest it was photographed around noon. Several men appear to be wearing white caftans, called a kittel, normally worn on Yom Kippur. But if the day were Yom Kippur, where were the throngs of worshippers?

Another section of the picture may provide the answer.  It suggests the day was actually the seventh day of Sukkot, a day called Hoshana Rabba, when some men have a custom to wear a kittel. The hour was well beyond the traditional morning prayer period so the crowd was sparse.

The lulav and etrog
The woman conversing with the Australian soldier may be holding a lulav (between her left shoulder and knee); the soldier may be holding the etrog.

Sukkot 1918 would have been a holiday for everyone in the picture: The Jews were liberated from the oppressive Turks, and the Australians Light Horsemen were on their way home after hard-fought battles in the Sinai, Beer Sheba, and east of the Jordan River. 

 The date: September 27, 1918.

Yom Kippur at the Western Wall 100 Years Ago

Reposting a feature from last year
Jews at the Kotel on Yom Kippur (circa 1904) See analysis of  the graffiti
on the wall for dating this picture. The graffiti on the Wall are memorial notices. (Library of Congress)
On Tuesday night, September 22, Jews around the world will commemorate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  For many centuries, Jews in the Land of Israel prayed at the Western Wall, the remnant of King Herod's retaining wall of the Temple complex destroyed in 70 AD.

Several readers noticed and commented on the intermingling of men and women in these historic pictures. It was not by choice. 

The Turkish and British rulers of Jerusalem imposed severe restrictions on the Jewish worshipers, prohibiting chairs, forbidding screens to divide the men and women, and even banning the blowing of the shofar at the end of the Yom Kippur service.  Note that the talit prayer shawls, normally worn by men throughout Yom Kippur, are not visible in the pictures.

Jews at the Western Wall (Ottoman Empire Archives)

Editor' note: In September 2015, the Ottoman Empire Archives tweeted this picture of Jews at the Western Wall, circa 1900 when the Turks ruled Palestine.  Note the small tables permitted at the time, a very unusual concession.

The men are wearing their festival/Sabbath finery, including their
fur shtreimel hats. Note the prayer shawls.  (Credit: RCB Library1897)

We found one rare picture in an Irish church's archives, dated 1897, showing men wearing prayer shawls at the Kotel.

View this video, Echoes of a Shofar, to see the story of young men who defied British authorities between 1930 and 1947 and blew the shofar at the Kotel.

Another view of the Western Wall on Yom Kippur. Note the various groups of worshipers: The Ashkenazic
 Hassidim wearing the fur shtreimel hats in  the foreground, the Sephardic Jews wearing  the fezzes in the
center, and the women in the back wearing white shawls. (Circa 1904, Library of Congress)
For the 19 years that Jordan administered the Old City, 1948-1967, no Jews were permitted to pray at the Kotel.

Many of the photo collections we have surveyed contain pictures of Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall over the last 150 years.

After the 1967 war, the Western Wall plaza was enlarged and large areas of King Herod's wall were exposed.  Archaeologists have also uncovered major subterranean tunnels -- hundreds of meters long -- that are now open to visitors to Jerusalem.
Click on the photos to enlarge.  Click on the captions to see the originals. 

Don't miss the Festival of Lights 5k Night Run Dec. 8 at the First Station!