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A diary of an administrator

A clerk: Raphael Kohn, and a cop : Joseph Kuperman

Not a yet a city  but not a village anymore..

I live in Zichron Yaakov, a small medium-sized town in the northern part of Israel. We have grown from a dusty village on a hill top in the middle of nowhere to a large vibrant nearly city. 

Though we still do not have any traffic lights, I am pretty sure that the Romanian founding fathers and mothers would not recognize the place anymore. They bought their land in 1882 but had no luck growing anything in the rocky soil. Also the nearby swamps were totally invested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes causing the death of far too many people, especially children.

Cue the (rich) hero.. the French Baron Edmond de Rothschild!

With the help of his money (lots of it!) and advice from the smartest agronomists of the day, the plight of the farmers slowly started to look better. Vineyards were planted in the rocky soil, kosher wine was made and the settlement slowly grew. Today the area of Zichron Yaakov is known as the 'wine country' of Israel and there are several wineries in the area.

To oversee the Baron's work and to keep the farmers in check, a bunch of clerks were appointed. The farmers were not happy about all their rules and regulations but in the end decided to shut up and take the money provided by the Baron and doled out meagerly by the clerks.

"Don't bother the workers." and   "You are not allowed to have overnight guests.
Were just some of the local laws enforced by the Baron's clerks.

A clerk but a 'good' one

Raphael Kohn was one of these clerks and though not perfect, he was a local and not scared to get his hands dirty. He tried to look out for the interests of the pioneers and was known as the "Good Clerk".

His work for the Baron took him all over Israel for nearly 40 years, creating and helping to build settlements with money provided by the Baron. Some of the major projects during his career were to plant orange grooves and to drain the Kabara swamps to put an final end to malaria in the area.

 On his retirement he was given a photo album by JCA (Jewish Colonization Association) filled with photos of his career.

An album of officials, ditch diggers and other administrative duties

This amazing, comprehensive album spanning the career of Raphael Kohn was recently donated to the First Aliyah museum in Zichron Yaakov by a family member. This in turn led to the creation of a new exhibit called:

"Dual Loyalties: The Builders, the Barons and the British" 

The exhibit curated by Avital Efrat and Yoram Fogel consists mainly of various blown up photos from the photo album and shows Kohn being dignified with the dignitaries, looking serious while inspecting new building sites and receiving important guests at his wedding.

Entertaining an Englishman

One of the important officials who visited the town was Arthur Balfour. He was the prime minister of Britain and the guy who wrote the Balfour Declaration.

In the exhibit one can see a blown up of the schedule for this visit. It goes something like this:

Hanging with Balfour:

9.00 am -   Welcome Arthur Balfour and ask about the weather on the trip
9.30 am -    Climb the water tower
9. 45 am -   Discuss the weather from the top of the tower
10.00 am -  Have a cup of Ceylon tea with a drop of milk
10.30 am -  Enquire about the weather in England

I am joking with this schedule but a copy of the real hand-written schedule (with a very nice penmanship I might add) exists and can be seen in the exhibit.

A bunch of Englishmen inspecting the water tower

Enter the fuzz

The fuzz in Raphael Kohn's case was KupermanJoseph Kuperman. He was not only the local policeman, but was also married to Raphael Kohn's daughter Rebecca. He was a loyal servant of the British empire from 1918 (when the Turks were thrown out of Israel) until 1948 when Israel finally gained its independence.

He slowly rose the ranks from the local cop in Zichron Yaakov to the highest ranking Jewish official in Israel during the British Mandate. Kuperman was even awarded an Honorary MBE (Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) by King George the 6th.

The Locals vs. Rothschild vs. the British Empire

The dual loyalties mentioned  in the title of this exhibition refers to the friction between bosses of the father and son-in-law and their friends, family and fellow Jews. 

Raphael Kohn was loyal to the Baron and his vision to help Jews re-settle in Israel but he also tried to help the local settlers as best as he could. 

Kuperman was a British government official who often acted against the British policy to help fellow Jews. During the British Mandate period the Brits tried to curb Jewish immigration and land purchases in Israel and often clashed with Jewish underground groups such as the Lechi.

A career-long balancing act

Joseph Kuperman walked a fine balancing act between acting as a hard-working administrator for the British Mandate by day and helping the Jewish underground groups at night. Thousands of Jews fleeing the Holocaust in Europe had to be 'smuggled' into Israel under the noses of the British. Kuperman not only turned a blind eye to these smuggling activities but also wrote residence permits for the refugees.

A nod to the admins

In the history books one often reads about heroic generals and clever presidents but rarely about the people who did the actual work. The people who planned schedules and made sure that projects got completed. The ones who threw the baddies in the jail and organized housing for the destitute.

This exhibition not only shows a glimpse into the life of such administrators but also shows us how a small dusty hilltop in the middle of nowhere became the town where I live in today. 

Many thanks to my friend Sharon Ainspan who translated the text for this exhibition into English and who told me about it.

The exhibition runs until November 2016. The photo credits go to Yoram Fogel and the historical archive of the First Aliya museum in Zichron Yaakov.

28 April, 2016
Zichron Yaakov


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