Behind the Scenes of Israel's Declaration of Independence Ceremony

Fear of leaks and signatures on a blank scroll: Hadassah Rivkind recalls her efforts leading up to the ceremony, not receiving an invitation and listening to the ceremony on the radio.

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Hadassah Rivkind with a photo of Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion.
Hadassah Rivkind with a photo of Israel's first prime minister David Ben-Gurion.Credit: Moti Milrod

In a fine, old, tastefully decorated apartment in Tel Aviv, between Habima Theater and Dizengoff Center, are albums, hiding for years, which contain rare, 68-year-old items connected to the ceremony in which the State of Israel was proclaimed. The list includes invitations, entrance tickets (some with seat numbers and some for standing room) and parking stickers for cars, given to the members of the People’s Council — the future Knesset members — and other dignitaries invited to the historic event on May 14, 1948. There are also pictures and an old notebook in which details from behind the scenes of the declaration were recorded by one of the key figures in the event.

Hadassah Rivkind, who turns 94 next month, was the secretary of the ceremony’s producer — Avraham Rivkind, whom she later married. “She is the last surviving member of the group that organized the declaration of independence ceremony,” the historian Mordechai Naor told Haaretz.

Naor, an adviser to the Independence Hall Museum , located Rivkind a few months ago. “She was at the heart of the ceremony and the last person to touch the authentic materials, and in fact, history itself.”

How did it happen that Hadassah and Avraham Rivkind, who had come to this country from Poland, were chosen to produce this history-making event? Avraham was the director of the Tel Aviv branch of Keren Hayesod, the financial arm of the World Zionist Organization. Hadassah was a secretary.

“We received an urgent request from Mr. Ze’ev Sherf, the secretary of the future cabinet, in the name of the future prime minister, Mr. David Ben-Gurion, to organize the session for the declaration of independence within 24 hours,” Avraham would later recall. His widow still remembers their excitement when they received the secret assignment. “The temporary government invited him to head the whole organization,” she said.

The two were assigned, among other things, to find a venue for the ceremony. They considered Habima Theater, but in the end they chose the old Tel Aviv Museum of Art on Rothschild Boulevard — the former home of Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. The reason for the choice was a practical one, Rivkind told Haaretz: “We were in a race against time. We needed a place for a small number of participants to make the work easier,” she added.

They were also responsible for printing and distributing the invitations. “We ask that you keep the contents of the invitation and the date of the meeting a secret ... the invitation is personal ... dress: dark festive clothing,” the invitation said. Rivkind remembers that the invitations were ready on the evening before the event, but at the last moment it was decided to wait so as not to arouse suspicions that might compromise the secrecy of the operation.

“The work of the devil, there’s apparently no avoiding a leak — that night a well-known journalist appeared at my door, [Yosef] Haptman, who had heard the thing on the sly (apparently a little bird brought it to him),” Avraham Rivkind would later say. “He promised, of course, to keep everything secret,” Rivkind added. And so it was.

“I wanted to make the ceremony festive and grand as befitting the great moment. And so we invited participants to wear dark festive clothing,” Avraham Rivkind said some time later. “And despite this there were members of the People’s Council who came in shorts (and by the way, that member wanted to sign standing up, hurriedly),” he added.

Hadassah Rivkind remembers that her future husband told the VIPs at the ceremony: “Not every day is a declaration of independence signed. This is truly a great event after 2,000 years and Her Majesty, Jewish History, should be treated with respect.”

Avraham and Hadassah Rivkind.Credit: Courtesy of Hadassah Rivkind

Their most important task was signing the members of the People’s Council to the declaration. Actually, due to time constraints the future Knesset members signed a blank scroll, to which the declaration was later appended.

According to Hadassah Rivkind, when the members came up to sign, each one took a fountain pen out of his pocket, but her husband stopped them and directed them all to sign with the same pen.

Rivkind herself was not at the ceremony. “I didn’t ask for an invitation. I listened to the ceremony on the radio. Avraham eventually said to me, ‘it’s a pity you didn’t ask, I would have gotten you in,’ but in real time I thought to myself ‘who am I, just little Hadassah.’”

Among the items Rivkind showed recently, a surprise popped up: the invitation intended for Israel Rokach, Tel Aviv’s mayor at the time. Could she have forgotten to send Rokach his invitation? Rivkind said that was not the case; Rokach was so well known he didn’t have to identify himself at the entrance.

After the event, Avraham Rivkind was offered a plum position, Israel’s first minister of state ceremonies. Politely, he declined, explaining: “I am not the kind of person who can wear a top hat every day.”

A few months later, the Rivkinds were called to perform another national service — the establishment of Israel’s national airline, El Al.

Four years later, in 1952, they married. Avraham Rivkind died in 1960 at the age of 53, survived by his widow and a daughter, Daniella. Hadassah was eventually appointed head of the administration division at El Al, where she was involved in purchasing airplane parts and fuel.

Rivkind continued to live in the couple’s Tel Aviv apartment where she kept the historic items. A team of experts from Independence Hall Museum is now conducting comprehensive historical research, seeking historical items related to the declaration of the state all over the country, and documenting stories of people who worked behind the scenes on the ceremony. Rivkind is one of those who contributed items to the museum.

“We’re collecting everything connected to the declaration of independence,” the curator, Dr. Nirit Shalev-Khalifa, said. “This was a crucial moment for the state of Israel — the standing at Mount Sinai moment of the new people,” she added.

Before the museum’s opening, slated for Israel’s 70th Independence Day, photographs of selected items from Rivkind’s personal archive will be posted to a website operated by Jerusalem’s Ben-Zvi Institute.