Toldot Yisrael Project on 1948 Generation in Race Against Time

An independent project documenting the testimonies from the War of Independence is caught in dire financial straits, and its founders fear that soon we will remain without a record of their feats.

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Last week Peleg Levy put 17 hard drives into a large bag, got into a taxi and headed to Jerusalem. On a note he attached to the bag he wrote: "If something happens to me on the way, this bag must arrive at the National Library in Jerusalem." "With great respect, I, poor little Peleg, took all this material and passed it on to be preserved for future generations," he told me on Wednesday, with excitement tinged with sadness. The bag contained 50 gigabytes worth of material – 3,000 hours of filming. Together, they document 1,000 different days of filming, and interviews with 622 people from the 1948 generation.

Until last week, the films were being kept in a simple cupboard in Levy's house, in a moshav in Emek Hefer. The only thing standing between the footage – and any potential thieves who could delete the records of an entire generation – was his dog. The day before Levy made the trip to Jerusalem he headed to Kiryat Ono to film an interview with Deborah Lipschitz, a 90-year old woman who was a member of the Irgun pre-state underground militia. "It's good you came," is the refrain uttered by nearly everyone who he films. Some of them are famous, successful businessmen. Others are regular people. All of them understand that this is their last chance to tell their story to the camera.

The project Peleg Levy is taking part in is called Toldot Yisrael, and is a private initiative by Aryeh Halivni, an American Jew who immigrated to Israel. Halivni, who is the founder and project director, succeeded in raising $1.3 million almost exclusively from abroad. Also working on the project is Modi Snir, who specializes in IDF and underground organizations' battle stories. And of course there is Levy – a film director and amateur historian.

But five years later, the money has run out. There were some who promised to contribute but disappeared.

"Every day five people from the 1948 generation pass away. There are only around 20,000 left. One day we'll wake up and hear on the radio that 'the last person who fought in the War of Independence has passed away.' People don't understand the significance of this. This is the reason that we filmed them for free, too," Levy says. "I found myself [travelling round] with a moped and camera three times a week, just to save the stories of people from this generation. I'm an orphan. I hardly have anything that documents my parents. I don’t want us, as a people, to not have a record of the nation's parents."

The list of people who were filmed for the project is very long. It includes senior officers such as Abraham Adan, Shlomo Gazit, Zvi Zamir, and Shmuel Tankus. Alongside them are other cultural and spiritual figures such as Shraga Gafni, who penned the famous "Danidin" series of children's books, and was active in the Lehi pre-state underground militia. But famous people weren't the only ones to be interviewed for the project. It also includes the testimony of a woman who was a 17-year old nanny from Kibbutz Degania, and saw the Syrian tanks advancing towards the kibbutz.

Soon, the videotaped interviews that have been documented for the project will be uploaded to the National Library's website. Some of the material is already available to view on the Toldot Yisrael website.

One of the participants in the Toldot Yisrael project.
A screen grab from a video on the Toldot Yisrael website.

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