Kristine L Ming

New project digitally archives testimonies of hundreds of 1948 veterans

Tolodot Yisrael (Chronicles of Israel), a Jerusalem based nonprofit organization dedicated to recording the firsthand testimonies of men and women who helped found the State of Israel, unveiled on Wednesday the launch of a new partnership with the National Library of Israel.

“These are people who are witnesses to history, people who were at the right place at the right time,” said Aryeh (Eric) Halivni, founder and executive director of Toldot Yisrael at a press conference announcing the collaboration on Wednesday.

The project marks the first comprehensive digital project recording the history of the State of Israel into one national archive, enabling online access for the widest possible audience.

“I was inspired by the work Spielberg did with Holocaust survivors,” said Halivni, who modeled the interviews with the 1948 veterans after the Holocaust survivor testimonials at Yad Vashem.

Halivni, originally from the United States, initiated the project seven years ago, and since then the organization has conducted some 700 interviews, consisting of 3,000 hours of raw footage.

“One of the questions we ask in the interview is ‘where were you on November 29, 1947 [the day of the UN General Assembly vote to partition Palestine]? That day everybody remembers and you slowly start to find unique and special stories like that of Elad and Zimra,” said Halivni.

The organization recently signed an agreement with the National Library, where the collection will be permanently housed, to upload all 3,000 hours of footage into one digital archive.

“The merge is perfect for us because it provides an opportunity for the library to enter into the video medium on a large scale,” said Danny Streifler, director of Digital Photo Archive and Interactive Services at the National Library of Israel.

According to Streifler, the National Library, celebrating 120 years since, has in the past several years set as its aim to provide public access to all its materials and to expand its collections to include video, photographs, and music.

“We hope to provide added value, and use speech to text technology available today so that a person can search for an historical event and be directed to a list of videos with first hand testimonies describing the event,” said Streifler.

In the next two years the library will undertake the upload of all the testimonies gathered by Toldot Yisrael onto a dedicated website made available to the general public.

Retired Major-General Elad Peled and his wife Zimra recounted one such testimony at the press conference.

Peled was only 20 years old when he was wounded commanding a unit defending the Jewish community of Safed, a northern Galilee town, a few days prior to the declaration of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948.

Reisfeld was evacuated to a hospital in Tel Aviv, where his parents lived, and as he lay in the hospital bed he wrote a letter to his then girlfriend, Zimra, who also served as a radio operator and first aid nurse in the Palmach, the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the underground army.

“If we won’t meet now, who knows if we will ever meet again,” Reisfeld recounted writing in the dramatic letter.

Zimra, then stationed in Jerusalem, showed the letter to her battalion commander who urged her to rush and join a convoy making the dangerous route to Tel Aviv. Less than two weeks later on June 18, 1948 the couple was married and this year celebrated their 66th wedding anniversary.

“Being part of the ’48 generation in the history of a country is unique,” concluded Peled. “To be part of generation ’48, there is no comparison, myself and most of us were lucky to take part in Jewish history.”

“And to survive,” added Zimra.

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