(April 13, 2018 / Ben-Gurion University) NEW YORK—In honor of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has donated an Israeli flag created by Rebecca Affachiner, often called “the Betsy Ross of Israel,” to the Ben-Gurion Archives at the university’s Sde Boker Campus.
Affachiner immigrated to Israel in the 1930s. In May 1948, when an American consular official urged her to leave Jerusalem immediately due to the expected outbreak of hostilities, she refused to do so.
“I cannot abandon my sisters and brothers,” she told the newspaper Maariv. “I have waited my entire lifetime to see the rebirth of a Jewish state. I do not intend to miss it.”
She was confined to her apartment on Jabotinsky Street, unable to buy supplies, but spent her time creating an Israeli flag from bed sheets. She sewed on a six-pointed star and colored the flag’s stripes with a blue crayon.
Late in the day on May 14, when Affachiner heard David Ben-Gurion proclaim the formation of the new State of Israel, she proudly went out to her balcony—within sight of the Egyptian forces gathered nearby—and hung her flag. She continued to fly the flag every Israel Independence Day until her death in 1966, when she entrusted it to her friend and caregiver, Ezra P. Gorodesky. She made him promise that he would take good care of the flag because “it was my personal way of welcoming Israel into existence.”
Gorodesky, who made aliyah from Philadelphia in the early 1960s, is widely known in Israel as an avid collector of books, buttons and photographs, which he has donated to the National Library and the Shenkar College of Engineering and Design in Ramat Gan, among others. He preserved the flag in his small apartment for 50 years.
‘A symbol of creative passion’
Gorodesky decided that the 70th anniversary of Israel would be the appropriate time to find a permanent home for the flag. Gorodesky contacted his friend, Rabbi David Geffen, who made aliyah from Delaware in the 1970s, and asked him to help find it a permanent home. Geffen, a longtime friend of Toni Young, president of American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, contacted her—and a new home was found.
“I am incredibly honored to be a link in this chain of Americans who created, preserved and understood the value of this flag,” she says.
“Since the beginning, American Jews have worked side by side with Israelis in creating and sustaining the State of Israel,” describes Young. “In its new home, the flag will remain as a symbol of the creative passion that brought Israel into existence and the sustaining passion that helps ensure Israel’s future. Ezra has fulfilled his promise to Rebecca and enabled the flag to reach its rightful place as part of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism.”
Paula Kabalo, director of the Ben-Gurion Institute, found a letter in its archives from former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion sent to Affachiner, acknowledging her gift to the Israel Defense Fund in 1957. He praised her as an inspiring example of Jewish devotion: “It is this spirit which has enabled us to achieve our independence and this spirit will ensure the success of our future endeavors.”
“Rebecca’s original Israel flag is an excellent addition to the Ben-Gurion Archives,” says Kabalo. “It will be displayed with Ben-Gurion’s diaries.”
Affachiner was born in Nesvizh, Poland (now Belarus), and grew up in New York. She was the first female graduate of New York’s Jewish Theological Center in 1907, and was a teacher, administrator and charity worker. She also lived in Connecticut and Virginia before making aliyah in 1934 at the age of 50. Throughout her life, she was devoted to the welfare of Jews in Israel and worldwide.
The American Associates of Ben Gurion University of the Negev, which is headquartered in Manhattan, has nine regional offices throughout the United States. For more information, visit www.aabgu.org.