Israel’s History in Photos: Women Who Built Israel

May 9, 2014  

“Grandfather helping his granddaughter to plow” in the Jezreel Valley (Library of Congress, 1920s)

The Aliya movements — encouraging young Jewish Zionists to move to Palestine — were launched when the Turks ruled Palestine, but immigration increased after the British captured the land in 1917-1918.  The stream of Jews escaping an increasingly hostile Europe became a fast-flowing river until 1939, when Britain shut the gates.

Harvesting grapes in Zichron Ya’akov (notice the armed guards). 1939 View more here

The young, often secular, Jews were usually not attracted to the seminaries of Jerusalem or Bnai Brak.  They were drawn by the socialist dreams of the kibbutz, moshav, and workers industrial cooperatives.  Universities were established, factories were built, and large tracts of land were purchased and cleared for agriculture.

Into this socialist and egalitarian society women were welcomed.  

In this Part II of the Salute to the Women of Israel, we present the “New Yishuv’s” women and their contribution to the formation of Israel through agriculture, industry and political activism.

Preparing a new settlement (circa 1920)

Men and women pioneers at the  Ein Gev kibbutz on the Sea of Galilee, 1937. The man second from  right is Teddy Kollek who became mayor of Jerusalem. See women mending fishing nets here

Women in Industry

Diamond polishing (1939)

Most of the Library of Congress’ photographs were taken by the photographers at the American Colony Photographic Department in Jerusalem between the 1890s and 1946.  The LoC’s archives contain hundreds of pictures of the New Yishuv’s industries. We present several photographs of the women workers.

Making safety blades (1939)

Making cigars (1939)


Producing yarn (1939)


Women packing cheese in factory (1939)

Women and Public Affairs

Women protest the British White Paper (1939)

In 1939, the British government, headed by Neville Chamberlain, issued the “MacDonald White Paper,” a policy paper which called for the establishment of a single Palestine state governed by Arabs and Jews based on their respective populations. 

The White Paper was approved by the British Parliament in May 1939, thus signing the death sentences of millions of Jews precisely when the Nazi tide was threatening to engulf Europe. 

In May 1939, the American Colony film team photographed a protest by the women of theYishuv, led by some of the leading women figures in Jerusalem at the time: Ita Yellin, Rachel Yanait Ben-Zvi, and Rabbanit Sarah Herzog.

Women led by (right to left) Ben-Zvi, Herzog and Yellin protesting the British White Paper (May 22, 1939). Library of Congress  caption: “The procession of young women raising their right hands in attestation to their claim.”

Young women outside of a “recruiting office” during the protests against the British White Paper. The women on the right are identified as “revisionists” or “brown shirts.” (1939)


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  1. IsraeliGirl143 says:

    Wow! This is just Amazing! I love seeing old pictures like that, how inspiring!

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