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Israel library’s ‘Operation Diary’ collects 40 personal accounts from 1948 era

“These are not retrospective descriptions of reality but living descriptions,” Matan Barzilai, the library’s head of archives and special collections, told JNS. “They do not know what we already know.”

Diary written by Abraham Francesco Cerrone of the Italian-Jewish convert community of San Nicandro, Italy. Photo by Uri Bareket/National Library of Israel.
Diary written by Abraham Francesco Cerrone of the Italian-Jewish convert community of San Nicandro, Italy. Photo by Uri Bareket/National Library of Israel.

A campaign to collect diaries and other personal stories from the 1948 era has already yielded 40 diaries for the National Library of Israel’s collection.

“The idea is to tell the story of the State of Israel from a collective point of view,” Matan Barzilai, the library’s head of archives and special collections, told JNS. “Not only from the point of view of historians, military commanders and political policymakers, but of the many people who lived here in Israel or in the Diaspora in the 1940s and 1950s, and were partners in the Zionist enterprise.”

The library is partnering in the project, “Operation Diary: The Founding Generation,” with Israel Hayom and the Jerusalem nonprofit Toldo Yisrael.

Among the “everyday” people the project documents are Yehudit Entin, who handled messenger pigeons as a young girl, and Asher Fisher, a tailor whose journal records measurements for dress uniforms he sewed, including for the likes of Israeli notables such as David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Dayan and Yigal Yadin.

Yael Shimron wrote of cutting class to hear violinist Bronislaw Huberman, who founded the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, perform.

Michal Ashin holding a photograph of Yehudit Entin with a carrier pigeon. Photo by Uri Bareket/National Library of Israel.

The growing collection taught Barzilai that “there was a real culture of documentation and diary writing in Israel. Not only at school were the children taught to write diaries, but in the army as well.”

Rami Moran’s diary is one of the most moving that Barzilai examined. The young boy wrote almost daily from 1938 to 1946, from first to eighth grades.

“The diary describes the experiences of a child in a cooperative kibbutz and all the familiar historical events, but from a child’s point of view,” Barzilai told JNS.

Amir Livnat with the diary of his grandfather, Avraham Weiss Livnat, who fought on the southern Israeli front. Photo by Uri Bareket/National Library of Israel.

Sleuthing has been a necessary part of the project, as in cross-referencing the name and birthdate of a father mentioned in an anonymous diary purchased at a flea market to learn that the diary author was Zohara Bar-Daroma, who died in 2016. “We would like to know more about her,” he said.

What is interesting about the diaries is that they “are genuinely written in real-time,” added Barzilai.

“These are not retrospective descriptions of reality but living descriptions, where the writers do not know how historical events will unfold. They do not know what we already know,” he said.

He urged the public to search cellars, attics and other spaces to find more gems to submit to “Operation Diary.”

Dov Kantrowitz with his diary from the 1940s in Jerusalem. Photo by Uri Bareket/National Library of Israel.
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