A hundred years ago, the distress of renters in Tel Aviv reached a new peak that found its way into the press: “How far will the danger of extortionate rates go if there is no swift remedy,” Haaretz wondered in the wake of “the exaggerated rents demanded by landlords in Tel Aviv.”
The year was 1919 – and this article, under the heading “The Apartment Question,” was published in the first issue of the newspaper, which at the time was called Hadashot Haaretz: News of the Land, A Daily Newspaper on Matters of Life and Literature.
Now, in the centennial year of the most veteran Hebrew newspaper in Israel, the first issues are coming off the archival shelves and getting a new life on the internet.
The Historical Jewish Press Project of the National Library and Tel Aviv University has uploaded the issues of Haaretz from the first 13 years of its existence and they are available to the public free of charge.
Thus, Haaretz is joining 350 other Jewish newspapers published from the 18th century on that have already been scanned to the site consisting of about 3 million pages of historic newspapers.
The beginning was modest, but dramatic: “At this time we will refrain from exaggerated promises and we will try to give what is currently possible to give to the Hebrew audience in the country and abroad,” wrote the editors of Haaretz in the first editorial, on June 18, 1919.
“A modest and not very large newspaper, but one that is independent and serious and aspires to carry out its duty faithfully, in recognition of the great responsibility it is taking upon itself in saying it will give voice to all those who raise the banner of our national rebirth,” they wrote then, two years after the Balfour declaration. The front page headline was: “On the Situation of the Jews and Judaism.”
The editors stressed their commitment to the Zionist movement, “which aspires to the rebirth of the people of Israel and the language of Israel on the land of Israel,” and they promised that “on the informational side, our newspaper will strive insofar as possible in the current conditions to be a faithful echo of the important life events in the country and abroad.”
But it is not only long texts full of pathos that appear on the computer screen. The old-fashioned advertisements have also been digitized. In the first issue, in the summer of 1919, an ad was published for “the most important hotel in Jerusalem” – called the Grand New Hotel – which had “rooms and food of the first degree and comfortable conditions.”
For reservations (or in the language of the time: “To obtain a place”), readers were asked to send a telegram. The silent film theater “New Empire Picture Palace in Jerusalem” also purchased an advertisement in the first issue: “It is the most excellent in Palestina [sic]. The pictures are excellent, drawing in the heart, the programs are rich and changing,” readers were promised. “In the excellent buffet coffee, tea, mineral water and cakes of the best kind can be obtained and all at fair prices.”
The Historical Jewish Press Project has brought about a real revolution in recent years in academic and genealogical research, making it possible for the first time not just to page through newspapers but also to conduct searches in them. “An action that in the past required many years of paging now takes only a few minutes,” says Prof. Yaron Tsur, the founder of the project and its academic director. According to him, the digitization of the Hebrew press “has transformed all the texts into an ocean of information and suddenly every individual has access to the drop of water or the wave that interests him.”
National Library director Oren Weinberg adds that the site “makes it possible to discover and understand the variety of issues that engaged the Jewish world in many areas, including culture, economics, religion and politics.”
And back to the housing shortage: A hundred years ago a solution was found. As the newspaper reported, the assembly in Tel Aviv noted that “the rents charged for apartments in Tel Aviv, as well as in the other neighborhoods, have reached a level that is not to be found elsewhere and is not suited to the sources of livelihood in the Land of Israel.” Therefore it resolved “to set a norm for the next year and thereby limit the exploitation both by the landlords and by tenants who rent out single rooms.”
And what will happen if the landlords refuse to cooperate with the limits on the rent they can charge? Very simple. “If the negotiations concerning the establishment of the norm does not succeed, the assembly decides that all the tenants must remain in their apartments.” Anyone who had money in his pocket must have found interesting another advertisement that was published in that same issue: “Two furnished rooms with respectable lodging, with an intelligent family near the Rothschild Hospital.”
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