Residents' Fading Photos Fill Gaps in Kiryat Shmona's Disappearing Past

Documentation effort is part of a national heritage project sponsored by the Prime Minister's Office.

"That can't be a picture from 1964 - that's not what the sidewalk looked like," exclaimed listeners of a lecture given by photo curator Guy Raz at Kiryat Shmona's social club. Raz projected a photo of the town's commercial center: The picture, taken by the renowned journalist Yoram Hamizrahi, memorializes Kiryat Shmona's center in the days when it was a low-income border town fighting for survival. The photo, which features the now defunct Hermon movie theater, stirs strong feelings among residents. The storm of feelings produced by photos shown by Raz interrupted his remarks, and vividly illustrated that Kiryat Shmona lacks an archival body responsible for documenting the town's history.

The scant documentation that does exist has been done by establishment organs (such as the Jewish National Fund ), but these extant materials bypass key themes. They basically highlight visits of important personages to Kiryat Shmona, and the falling of katyusha rockets.

Volunteers scanning photographs - Gil Eliyahu - 14112011
Gil Eliyahu

A major documentation project is currently underway in Kiryat Shmona. This is a pilot program, called "The City Revealed to the Eye," conducted jointly with Yeruham, Sderot and Rosh Ha'ayin; the documentation effort is part of a national heritage project sponsored by the Prime Minister's Office. As part of the project, headed by the Yad Ben Zvi Institute, volunteers (Kiryat Shmona residents and 11th graders from the Danziger high school ) will visit homes of veteran town dwellers, and try to cull from them pictures from family photo albums. The photos will be scanned onto a website, and transferred to a municipal photo bank that will serve as a foundation for a town museum and archive.

A similar project was carried out two years ago, in synch with Tel Aviv's 100th centennial celebrations. In Tel Aviv's case, 30,000 photos were collated from residents, and provided personal glimpses of the city which complemented rich, pre-existing collections of visual documentation. In Kiryat Shmona, photos collected in this project will form the basis of a new museum archive. Kiryat Shmona's past is virtually undocumented.

Thirty volunteers, town veterans and high school students, attended the meeting this week with Raz, and they will lead the archival collection project. For the pupils, participation in this project will count as 20% of the grade in their civic studies course.

One volunteer is Simcha Gueta, a biology teacher who was born elsewhere in the Galilee and moved to Kiryat Shmona. She explains that motivation to take part in this project stems from "the feeling that there is nobody around to tell our story, the story of Kiryat Shmona. The question 'why didn't they document the history of Kiryat Shmona' troubles me. I think this happened mainly because people dealt mostly with survival, and because they weren't given the feeling that they are part of something heroic. Now, after 60 years, perhaps the time has come for us to be proud of what our parents did. This is a story to be told from a standpoint of strength, not out of cringing weakness."

Dr. Amir Goldstein, Danziger school principal, adds that "Kiryat Shmona's historical story is unique and dramatic. The generation that built Kiryat Shmona and other towns on the periphery has never received the attention it justly deserves. People who were sent to these frontier towns, and who built the Galilee and the Negev from scratch, have not been treated fairly by Israeli historiography."

Raz, who describes himself as an "archaeologist of photography," believes that the dearth of historical documentation, compared to the rich documentation of, for instance, kibbutzim does not stem only from the fact that development towns were held in lower esteem. It is also true, he says, that "kibbutzim arose in a more cohesive, articulate framework - there was ideology. In Kiryat Shmona's case, people were brought here and told, 'This is where you'll live.' People in Kiryat Shmona also did not have awareness about visual memory; instead, their focus was oral tradition, and so a black hole was created here with regard to visual remembrance."

Dr. Nirit Shalev-Khalifa, the Yad Ben Zvi Institute curator who is supervising the project, says that "everything derives from the perception which says that there is a visual text, and therefore also visual history. A photograph is a text in its own right. We are, in this project, looking for the unofficial history of settlement in the country. This project says to the development towns: 'you are part of the story, go tell your own story'."