Early Zionists in the 1920s helping to resurrect Israel as the land of milk and honey

In response to my plea for more pictures about Jews as survivors, not victims, Murray Lawrence forwarded me these incredible pictures from his father showing the 1920s in Tel Aviv, when he was working on construction projects there.  I’m just blown away by these images. I’ve prefaced each image with the information Murray Lawrence included.

1. Father at a tar or asphalt barrel – he’s the short one, fresh from Romania by way of Istanbul and Alexandria. A historian friend of mine told me that a good deal of construction in the city in those days was done by Romanian Jews:

Construction workers, Tel Aviv, 1920s


2. Father and friends at the beach, perhaps from the same construction crew. They clearly do not fit the conventional image of a shtetl Jew:

Construction workers enjoying a day at the beach, Tel Aviv, 1920s


3. Construction site in Tel Aviv, early 1920s:

Construction site in Tel Aviv, 1920s


4. Neve Shaanan Street under construction. Wikipedia says that the neighborhood was founded in 1922 and that it is now a major transportation hub that includes both the old and new bus stations in Tel Aviv. It also notes that the street, whose name means “peaceful abode” in Hebrew, is the main one in that quarter and is now a bustling pedestrian mall. Hence, by stark contrast, it became a prime target of suicide bombers, who killed 37 people and wounded 170 between 2002 and 2006:

Neve Shaanan Street under construction, Tel Aviv, 1920s


5. Group photo at a building site, father in makeshift head-dress, probably taking his cue from his Arab friends, one of whom invited him to his wedding some time in the late ’20s, only to warn him soon after not to attend, because a local sheik had just forbidden further contact with Jews:

Construction site, Tel Aviv, 1920s


6. Boating party, most likely at some point on the Yarkon River as it flows through Tel Aviv. The practical idealism of these young people, their love of life, and sheer civilized natures never cease to impress me:

Boating party on the Yarkon River, Tel Aviv, 1920s

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. says

    This is what the Israel haters really hate. To see that the country is beautiful, the citizens healthy and that life there continually improves.
    Jealousy and hate are very intertwined emotions.  A lot of the “I used to support Israel but” group have this kind of hatred. Who are they to succeed? Who are they to make me feel challenged?

    • Murray Lawrence says

      My father told me a good deal about his years in Tel Aviv and further north, but about his entry I only have a vague memory of him telling me that he came in by way of the desert. 

      • SADIE says

        I mentioned it because my grandmother was living in Tel Aviv (Sederot Chen)  and went to school at HaGymnasia until WWI, when the family left for Alexandria until the end of the war. I recall her telling me that they left by boat from Jaffa and returned by train. My grandfather was in Tel Aviv, digging out the swamps and contracted Malaria around the same time (1920’s, but it could have been a bit earlier).  Too bad they’re all gone now – playing Jewish geography would have been interesting to see if they knew one another or crossed paths.

  2. Murray Lawrence says

    Unlike your grandmother, my father was living an uprooted life in every way from the moment he left Romania (he had previously been arrested for making the same attempt), so he had to make his roundabout way as best he could. On the other hand, he had something in common with your grandfather, namely contracting malaria while draining swamps. Then again, many others did as well. When I was around eight or so, I even got to see my father’s last bout with the illness, which had been dormant for many years. I still remember the feeling of being the only kid in my neighborhood whose father had such an exotic disease. It was only in the last fifteen years that I began to realize how much I could have asked him about his youth that I didn’t, but I did get to travel with him through Israel in ’75 when he asked me to join him to meet newly arrived members of his family, who were among the few of them who survived the Nazi genocide. It was a thrill to have him take me to all the places where he had worked and lived fifty years before. Your grandfather and my dad might conceivably have crossed paths, since the Jewish population was quite small, by contrast with the millions who emigrated to America.

    • SADIE says

      I neglected to mention, that my grandmother’s trip to Alexandria was not by choice. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, other than to point out, that she along with five siblings emigrated to Israel in 1906 from Winnipeg, Canada, where her parents had been living for a few years after arriving via St. Louis from Russia, and were considered British subjects -their exile from Israel was not a choice, but a directive.  At that point there were two more siblings. By the time the war was over, she was 17, her mother died in Alexandria at the age of 44, leaving the patriarch of the family to return as a widower. I tried asking many questions as a young child, but the trauma of her childhood, uprooting and the changing of languages I believe overwhelmed her. Instead I was treated to Nana and Banana stories (Nana was what I called her) and Banana, who I realized many years later was a sister, who upon their return to Israel, died the same year.. Nana lived to 100 and died in 2001, just a few weeks and few miles from September 11th in NYC.  She wouldn’t allow herself to be asked questions. I once attempted a few questions and saw that the mere mention of her mother brought her to tears – I withdrew and never intruded again into her privacy. She could be quite “British” if she didn’t want to discuss something. My grandparents were divorced (Jewish “Get”) in Israel. In 1937/38 my grandfather, who kept an apartment in Berlin, returned for business. The man, who overlooked the place, told him the day he arrived to pack up whatever possessions he wanted and leave, as he would be joining the SS the following day. It was probably the only time in his life he did what he was told. All of my family was sparred from the Holocaust, but not the riots in Jaffa nor the War of Independence.
      I am glad that you had the wonderful experience of your father showing you around his old haunts of his youth. Maybe, for both of us, some unanswered questions are best left to the past.

      • Murray Lawrence says

        Thank you, Sadie, for sharing a piece of your family history. My parents were pretty open about theirs, but there were moments when it became difficult for them to go on, and I too learned at an early age that there were certain questions better left unasked. I’m so pleased that my photos inspired our exchange. 

Leave a Reply