Doron Bar. Israel Affairs. Volume 21, Issue 4. 2015.
For the most part, Jewish history transpired with the Jews living far away and detached from their ancestral homeland, the Land of Israel. With the advent of Zionism in the late nineteenth century, especially after the League of Nations appointed Britain as the Mandatory power for Palestine with the specific task of facilitating the establishment of a Jewish national home there in accordance with the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Jews were returning to their land in growing numbers. But living immigrants were not the only ones to have reached the ports of Jaffa, Tel Aviv and Haifa; some of the dead who did not have the privilege of living in their homeland and being buried there were brought in coffins for re-interment. These were mostly Zionist leaders, thinkers and ideologists who passed away in the Diaspora, primarily in Europe. As an act of reparation, their coffins were brought to Mandatory Palestine and they were re-buried in the Promised Land, their graves becoming meaningful agents and sites in the burgeoning Zionist landscape.
This was by no means an isolated phenomenon. The re-interment of national heroes, politicians, poets, writers, philosophers and other public figures was common practice at the time, as national movements used cemeteries, tombs and funerals as a means to formulate and ground their identity and to shape public opinion. Yet the Zionist case was unique in that most of the early political activity took place outside Palestine and most Zionist leaders acted, passed away and were buried abroad; hence the great symbolic meaning attending their re-interment in their ancestral homeland.
During the Mandate era there were more than 20 such figures whose remains were re-buried in various places in Palestine. Since their resting places were seen as Zionist focal points, a struggle ensued among various cities and towns over the privilege of burying these figures within their confines. This article focuses on the struggle between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem over the right to re-inter within their boundaries a number of Zionist leaders. The rivalry between the two cities during the Mandate period was much broader and more multifaceted and comprised political, cultural and economic dimensions; this article examines its manifestation in the competition over the possession of Zionist symbols through the re-burial of the remains of those leaders whose coffins were shipped to Palestine. Specifically, it will explore the debates about the planned resting place of Theodor Herzl, as well as the re-interment of Max Nordau in Tel Aviv and of Leo Motzkin and Yehuda Leib Pinsker in Jerusalem.
Tel Aviv and Jerusalem as Zionist Symbols
In the early 1930s, Nahum Sokolow, president of the World Zionist Congress, addressed a Zionist audience and spoke about Tel Aviv, describing it as a ‘great cultural enterprise, a fitting symbol for a Jewish state. This free city is the symbol of the Hebrew revival (hidush)’. One wonders what he meant by mentioning hidush. Was he suggesting that Tel Aviv was a symbol of the revival of an ancient national entity, a renewal of a previous period in Jewish history that the national Hebrew movement needed to use in order to rise up and establish itself? Or did he think of it as an innovation, something that had not previously existed and had no connection to ancient times? That is, Tel Aviv was a new creation. The tension between continuity and novelty, between primordiality and the invention of tradition, was reflected in the Zionist attitude towards Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in general and in the re-interment of the aforementioned figures in particular.
Jerusalem represented continuity and the development of an existing entity. It was a holy city, a traditional and national ‘rock’ upon which the Zionist movement could establish itself. By contrast, the first Hebrew city symbolized a novel Zionist creation. The city was created ex nihilo on virgin sandy soil, produced as something completely new.
It seems that the Zionist movement’s attitude to Tel Aviv was much more relaxed and ‘natural’ than it was towards Jerusalem. Since the beginnings of Zionism, Jerusalem was not located at the forefront of the movement’s activity in Palestine. A wide gap existed between the Zionist symbolic perception of Jerusalem and the actual activity in the city. The Zionist hope to extricate the holy city from its historical Jewish exclusiveness and transform it into a national symbol was found to be too complicated. Besides the fact that the members of the Old Yishuv, the majority in the city, were detached from Zionism, most of the Zionist leaders were afraid of confronting the complicated and unique status of Jerusalem, a city sacred to the three monotheistic religions and replete with holy places.
The British choice of Jerusalem as Mandatory Palestine’s capital should have seemingly been followed by a parallel Zionist decision to work towards turning the city into the future capital of the Jewish state. Jerusalem was indeed the main seat of the Zionist institutions, the national funds and the Jewish Agency. Nevertheless, the Zionist activity in the city was rather limited in both scale and variety. The Orthodox Jews saw the city as a sacred place and as a spiritual centre and were not troubled by the political question about the city’s future. The Zionist pioneers, the immigrants to Palestine, the workers and their politicians saw their centre outside of Jerusalem and most of them felt detached from it.
This complexity in the attitude towards Jerusalem began during the first and second aliya (1882–1914). Jerusalem was an important symbol in the eyes of the first immigrants, mostly a reminder of the splendour of the Biblical era. At the same time, it was not seen by them as an icon of national renewal. They at times prayed to ‘heavenly Jerusalem’, but they resided in other places in Palestine, trying to build a national home for the Jews.
Since its foundation in 1909, Tel Aviv was the Zionist response to Jewish tradition and religion. The city offered a Zionist–Hebrew–secular alternative to Jewish-religious Jerusalem. Tel Aviv’s impressive and rapid physical and economic development led to it becoming the centre of the new Yishuv in Palestine. Jaffa and later Tel Aviv were the seats of the main Zionist organizations and even during the later part of the Mandate, when they were moved to Jerusalem, many Zionist departments and offices remained in Tel Aviv. The political, financial and cultural focus of the Jewish Yishuv was Tel Aviv, a city that functioned as the centre of Jewish-Hebrew Palestine. It is true that the Zionist movement was involved in the development of the Bezalel Institute, the Hebrew Gymnasia, the Jewish National and University Library and the Hebrew University—all of which are Jerusalem-based institutions. Nevertheless, they were all part of an attempt to develop in Jerusalem a ‘third temple’, an educational and spiritual Zionist hub that attempted to confront the religious symbolism of the city. These institutions had little to do with Zionist political ambitions towards Jerusalem. Thus Baruch Krupnick, a Zionist author and journalist, challenged Jerusalem’s special status as the historical capital city of the Jewish people, arguing that ‘Jerusalem is a heritage for us, but it is Tel Aviv that we have made and created. Jerusalem is ours because of our forefathers. Tel Aviv belongs to us due to our own essence’.
Since its establishment, Tel Aviv stood in symbolic and practical opposition to Jerusalem. The competition between the two cities was reflected in the attitude of Menachem Ussishkin and Meir Dizengoff. Ussishkin, head of the Jewish National Fund, was the patron of Jerusalem. He conducted a protracted fight to establish the city as the Jewish capital of Palestine. By contrast, Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor, was known as ‘the father of Tel Aviv’ since he invested all his time and energy in the development of the city and was scarcely involved in general Zionist issues. Israel Rokach, his deputy future mayor, wrote following Dizengoff’s death:
He didn’t care if there were other cities in Eretz Yisrael besides Tel Aviv, if there were Jerusalem and Haifa … For him Tel Aviv was the beginning and the end, a small scale model of the entire Eretz Yisrael, a miniature centre of the world.
Ussishkin’s perception of Jerusalem differed. He claimed that ‘Eretz Yisrael without Jerusalem is Palestine’. He added:
The people of Israel declare annually ‘next year in Jerusalem’ and not ‘next year in Eretz Yisrael’. Jerusalem is Eretz Yisrael for them. This sentiment kept alive the entire nation for generations. You can build another Jaffa or Tel Aviv; you cannot create a second Jerusalem or ‘Zion’.
Both Ussishkin and Dizengoff were extremely sensitive to Zionist symbols and keenly aware of their importance. Ussishkin was one of first to envision the Hebrew University in Jerusalem as a ‘national temple’ and tirelessly toiled to develop in Jerusalem a memorial for Zionist leaders. Dizengoff’s devotion to Tel Aviv was manifested, for example, in the place that he gave to celebrations, receptions and public funerals, all creating a sense of civic and Zionist collectiveness in the first Hebrew city.
Tel Aviv’s and Jerusalem’s Burial Landscape
Jews used two main cemeteries in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv during the Mandate period: the Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem and the Tel Aviv Trumpeldor cemetery (named after Trumpeldor Street, where it was located). The development of the latter cemetery as a Zionist national burial ground is connected to the interment of Yosef Haim Brenner there, together with the other Jews killed in the 1921 riots. With the re-interment of Max Nordau there in 1926 (as described below), the cemetery was transformed into a ‘precious and unique national asset’.
The difference between the Tel Aviv and Jerusalem cemeteries symbolized the distinction between the two cities. The cemetery on the Mount of Olives was ancient, while the Trumpeldor cemetery was new. In mountainous Jerusalem, the tombs were embedded in the solid and ancient rock, whereas in Tel Aviv the deceased were buried in the sand upon which the city was established. Many Jews viewed the Mount of Olives, which overlooked the place where the two Jewish temples had previously stood, as sacred. In Tel Aviv, no sanctity was to be found, which allowed the cemetery in Tel Aviv to develop into a Zionist national memorial site.
In Jerusalem the situation was different. The Mount of Olives was a locus in which the tension between the quotidian reality of the city and its ephemeral spirituality was felt. This cemetery, then, symbolized values antithetical to those which Zionism embraced. Thus, while Jewish and Hebrew strands were neatly interwoven in Tel Aviv, the historical graveyard in Jerusalem allowed no place for Jewish nationalism. The difference between the two cities and their two cemeteries was reflected in the conflict among Zionist leaders regarding the proper place for re-interring Herzl and other Zionist forefathers.
The Question Concerning Herzl’s Re-interment
The reason for beginning the discussion of the different cases of the re-interment of Zionist figures in Palestine with Theodor Herzl, founder of political Zionism, is obvious. Herzl was one of the first Zionists who specifically requested to be re-interred in the Land of Israel. Before passing away on 7 March 1904 he wrote in his will: ‘I want a simple funeral with no speeches and flowers. I want to be buried in an iron casket, next to my father’s resting place, and I will be laid there until the people of Israel will transfer my remains to the Land of Israel’.
It is true that Herzl’s desire was only fulfilled later, in August 1949, but the seed of the Zionist re-interment idea was sown with his death and the publication of his will, which drove the leaders and members of the Zionist World Organization to discuss this matter as early as the 1920s.
During many of the congresses and meetings of the Zionist general councils, the delegates discussed the appropriate way to honour Herzl’s will. Nahum Sokolow, president of the Zionist general council, referred to this issue in his address to the 14th Zionist World Congress in Vienna in 1925:
I believe that it is now the proper time to erect there [in the Land of Israel] a tziun [a landmark], a precious tziun, to the creator of our old homeland, a tziun and not a tombstone, a garden of flourishing hope.
Sokolow did not refer specifically to the proper place for Herzl’s resting place, which enabled others to make their own proposals. As a result, the assembly of the Zionist General Council in Berlin in 1925 deliberated upon the question of Herzl’s re-burial. David Yellin, Jerusalem’s delegate and the head of the Jewish National Council, insisted that a memorial should be established on the summit of the Mount of Olives, adjacent to the recently established Hebrew University, which would house Herzl’s coffin. Ussishkin joined Yellin and rejected any possibility of burying Herzl outside of Jerusalem. He suggested waiting a few years until the Jewish population of the city increased (following the crises of World War I) and then decide the matter.
Herzl’s will and the question of its fulfilment were also discussed by the wider Zionist audience. One of the first to address this matter was Aharon Wardi, a Tel Aviv journalist and author, who suggested burying Herzl in his city because ‘Tel Aviv, as the first Hebrew city, has many privileges, among them a right on the remains of Herzl, when his body will be transferred to the land of Israel’. He rejected the possibility that Herzl would be taken to Jerusalem and maintained that he should be buried neither ‘on the Mount of Olives, a place which is the dwelling-place for eternal gloom, nor adjacent to the dreadful monasteries built there’, suggesting that in Tel Aviv ‘we will build him a “tent” among our tents in a Hebrew environment, in a Hebrew atmosphere, next to gardens and children’s playgrounds’. He also proposed a specific locale and plan: a memorial would be built adjacent to Tel Aviv’s coastline as an artificial hill and Herzl’s tomb would be located at its apex. This hill, Wardi argued, apparently alluding to the Statue of Liberty,
will be the first place that the new Jewish immigrants will encounter when they make their first step on our homeland. On the eve of the 20th of the month of Av [the anniversary of Herzl’s death], this hill will be irradiated with big lights and the nation will honour the place silently while passing below it.
Indeed, the main supporter of the proposal to bury Herzl in Tel Aviv was Mayor Dizzengof, who tried to promote the idea. In October 1932 he wrote urgently to the World Zionist Organization claiming that very soon ‘none of Herzl’s assistants will be left alive’ and that action was desperately needed. Dizzengoff, who only few years previously had arranged the re-interment of Nordau in his city (see below) and understood the importance and symbolic significance of the graves of Zionist leaders, was one of the few local politicians involved in the fulfilment of Herzl’s will. Yet beside his genuine desire to honour the will, he was also trying to exploit the sense of uncertainty that characterized the Zionist movement at this stage and to ‘help’ them decide that Herzl would be re-interred, however temporarily, in Tel Aviv. The members of the Jewish Agency rejected the offer, despite the fact that the recently formed ‘Viennese Committee for the Transfer of Herzl’s Remains’ was inclined to support Dizengoff’s proposal and decided to cooperate with the local municipality.
Unmoved by this decision, during the next Zionist congress Dizengoff reiterated the demand to bury Herzl in Tel Aviv. In 1934 he raised the proposal to combine Herzl’s re-interment with the establishment of an institute bearing his name. This idea was originally the joint proposal of the sculptor and engineer Felix Weise and the architect Younes Mond (both hailing from Vienna), who prepared a model of the institute and memorial and sent their plans to Dizengoff, who in turn began to promote the idea. By contrast, local Tel Aviv politicians felt that their young city, founded only a few years after Herzl’s death, had hardly ‘any right to bring Herzl’s remains and its archive to our city’.
The 19th Zionist Congress, which assembled in 1935 in Lucerne, acted in a more practical manner and decided to ask the Zionist General Council to facilitate the issue of Herzl’s re-interment. Apart from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, other possible cities and locales were proposed as a resting place for Herzl, such as ‘Modi’in, the birthplace of the Maccabbees’.
The main candidate for this honour was Haifa. Supporters of the possibility of burying Herzl on Mount Carmel based their claim on the words of Josef Levi, the hero of Herzl’s utopian novel Altneuland: ‘And when I die, lay me beside my dear friend Fischer, up there in the Carmel cemetery, overlooking our beloved land and sea’. They founded the Haifa Committee for the Transfer of the Remains of Herzl and demanded that Herzl be buried in their city. They suggested Mount Carmel, almost five kilometres outside of Haifa, as the burial site; it was a location with a clear view of the Haifa Bay and its harbour, as described in Herzl’s utopia.
Out of the three main cities in Palestine, Jerusalem was the least logical place to re-bury Herzl. Many claimed that Jerusalem, with its Muslim and Christian holy sites, would never be the capital of a Jewish state and the city’s unclear future strengthened the claims that Herzl should be buried in Haifa or Tel Aviv. Nevertheless, Ussishkin argued in front of a committee that dealt with the question of Herzl’s re-interment in 1933: ‘Only Jerusalem can be the final resting place for the remains of Herzl. Tel Aviv was not created during Herzl’s lifetime and the city has no Jewish tradition. Haifa is no more than an Arab-Jewish port city’. He contrasted Tel Aviv and Haifa to Jerusalem and called the latter ‘Zion’. But it was Ussishkin’s emphasis on Jerusalem’s antiquity that deterred others. There was particular opposition to the option of re-burying Herzl on the Mount of Olives, the only existing Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem. The supporters of the Haifa option claimed:
The Mount of Olives was conquered years ago by the eternally dead. By contrast, we will conquer Mount Carmel through Herzl’s re-interment there. Many are praying by the graves of our fathers [in Jerusalem]. We should not bury Herzl among them.
It was subsequently in 1934 (as shown below) that Ussishkin tried to use Pinsker’s re-interment to develop a memorial on Mount Scopus and to bury Herzl there, seeking to turn the Second Temple-era Nicanor Cave into a Hebrew-Zionist cemetery and to develop it as a national symbol. There was strong opposition to this proposal. For example, in one of the newspapers, the option to bury Herzl in Jerusalem was deemed invalid ‘since Ahad Haam [Asher Ginsberg] and [Haim] Bialik were buried in Tel Aviv. If Pinsker and Herzl will be buried in Jerusalem, this act might be used to perpetuate the former division within Zionism’. Others added that ‘Jerusalem is important enough without Herzl’s tomb’.
The rise of Nazism and the Nazi annexation of Austria in 1938 temporarily halted the Zionist preoccupation with Herzl’s remains. Nevertheless, as the clouds of war gathered around the European continent from the beginning of 1939, the Jewish Agency decided to act immediately and attempted to transfer Herzl’s remains to Palestine. Consequently, the debate about the location for re-interment in Palestine resumed. Yitzhak Greenbaum, a member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Agency, thought that Herzl should be re-interred, even temporarily, in Tel Aviv, while Ussishkin strongly opposed this proposal. He feared that this provisional burial site would become permanent and claimed that it would denigrate the honour of Herzl if he was buried in Tel Aviv. He reverted to his proposal to bury Herzl in Nicanor’s tomb in Jerusalem. However, these efforts did not bear fruit and when World War II began, the discussion of the issue was shelved and resumed only after the end of the war and the establishment of the State of Israel.
Max Nordau’s Re-interment in Tel Aviv
On 22 January 1923, Max Nordau, co-founder of the World Zionist Organization and president of a number of the World Zionist Congresses, passed away. He was buried in Montparnasse cemetery in Paris, and his remains remained there for more than three years until they were transferred to Tel Aviv. His re-interment in Tel Aviv in May 1926 established the ‘holiness’ of the city’s cemetery and created something ex nihilo, a Zionist ‘history’ for the nascent Hebrew city.
In contrast to Herzl, Nordau never expressed a desire to be buried or re-interred in the Land of Israel. Nevertheless, the Zionist General Council started to plan his re-burial in Palestine soon after his death. Nordau’s remaining family (his wife and his daughter) had good reason to re-inter him in Jerusalem, the city that symbolized the historical connection of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel. The Zionist General Council objected, and ruled that Tel Aviv would have the honour of accommodating Nordau’s remains. The official reason for this decision was that two neighbourhoods in Tel Aviv were already named after Nordau, namely, Nordiya and Tel-Nordau. Yet it seems that the choice of Tel Aviv as Nordau’s resting place was due to Dizengoff’s efforts. The mayor understood well that Nordau’s re-interment in Tel Aviv could assist him in creating a new image for his beloved city. Tel Aviv lacked a history, which bothered many of the city’s leaders. The city that had only recently emerged from the sand was detached from previous periods in Jewish history. But it was also disengaged from the much more recent history of Zionism. Dizengoff understood well that the burial of such an important Zionist figure as Nordau in Tel Aviv would assist in positioning the city as a Zionist symbolical centre. Indeed, after her father’s funeral, Maxa Nordau explained that there were those who suggested burying him in Jerusalem. She replied decisively that her father’s rightful place was Tel Aviv and not Jerusalem because it was ‘the only city in the world that is entirely Jewish … It is the symbol of our time, a wonder and a sign’.
At the end of November 1925, Tel Aviv municipality decided to accept the Zionist General Council ‘offer’ to be responsible for the re-interment of Nordau and received the family’s permission to bury him there. Subsequently, there were those who confessed that the Zionist Organization too easily waived the right to decide where to bury Nordau. The explanation was that Tel Aviv municipality ‘expropriated Nordau’s body’.
During the days before the arrival of Nordau’s remains from Paris, the local newspapers were filled with eulogies underscoring the importance of the upcoming event: ‘On the stage of the first congress, Herzl preceded Nordau. Nordau precedes his teacher and friend now as he is being re-buried in the Land of Israel’. The newspapers wrote about the ‘fulfilment’ of Nordau’s will and legacy and the ancient command that the Zionist Movement is now filling. ‘The hill (Tel) that Nordau will now rest on its apex is Tel Aviv, the first of the fruits of his dream’.
A few days before Nordau’s funeral, Tel Aviv municipality distributed a few thousand copies of a pamphlet in his honour. The introduction to the booklet testified to the central and symbolic place that Nordau’s second tomb was supposed to have in the lives of Tel Aviv’s general public. It read:
To the citizens of Tel Aviv, the name Max Nordau will be close and pleasant. It will glorify the first Hebrew city. It will be the one and only monument, a place that will attract many of our people who are coming to visit the city.
The pamphlet also asserted that ‘the people of Tel Aviv will stand still, together with those who will come from afar, next to the grave where Nordau’s divine presence will eternally rest’.
Nordau’s funeral took place at the beginning of May 1926, after his coffin had been brought by train from Alexandria. From the local train station his casket was taken, in a well-attended funeral, to the local cemetery. The procession first stopped in front of City Hall, where the coffin was presented to a broad audience. This location symbolized the sovereignty and autonomy of the first Hebrew city. From the balcony, David Bloch Blumenfeld, Dizengoff’s immediate successor as mayor, announced:
Nordau’s body will rest between the two neighbourhoods that are named after him, Tel-Nordau and Nordiya, at the mid-point between the Silicate factory, a symbol of our growing modern industry and the Workers’ Residence, the heart of the Hebrew labour movement.
The route to the next symbolic stop, Beit Haam, was crowded. Nordau’s coffin was laid out at the entrance to the building on top of a podium wrapped in black and decorated with white and sky-blue cloth. Ussishkin, a subsequent supporter of the idea to develop in Jerusalem a memorial for the Zionist leaders, now praised Tel Aviv as the most appropriate place for Nordau’s remains. He claimed that it was not unintentional that the remains of Nordau were brought to Tel Aviv:
our new city and not to the old and eternal city of Jerusalem. It is a symbol that we are now standing at the foot of our salvation… Perhaps when we will bring here our important friend [Herzl?], the complete redemption will come about.
Only a few participants in the funeral were allowed to enter the small graveyard, where a prominent place was prepared for Nordau’s casket. Maxa Nordau explained in Hebrew that her father did not actually pass away since ‘he lives on in the hearts of the Hebrew youth and crowd’. Dizzengoff declared: ‘Tel Aviv will keep and guard the tomb of this man … Fresh bouquet of flowers will be brought daily to his tomb. New acts will demonstrate the manner in which his ideals are being implemented’. He imagined the local cemetery being transformed, turning into an attraction and a site of Zionist pilgrimage.
Dizengoff’s ‘prophecy’ materialized very soon: during the next few decades Tel Aviv’s cemetery was occupied by many important figures who had passed away and were buried there. Important Diaspora Zionist leaders who were re-interred in the Hebrew city included Yitzhak Leib Goldberg, Simeon Rokach, Yitzhak Nofech, Shalom Dov Macksimon, Leon Reich and Haim Nahman Bialik. They all originally passed away outside Palestine but their remains were brought to Tel Aviv. They joined other important local Zionist figures such as Haim Arlozorov, Ehad Haam, Shaul Tchernichovsky and Dizengoff, who were buried in the same cemetery.
Yehuda Leib Pinsker and Leo Motzkin’s Re-interment in Jerusalem
In 1934, in the span of two months, Leo Mutzkin and Yehuda Leib Pinsker were re-interred in Jerusalem. Pinsker, born in 1821 and known as the author of the influential pamphlet ‘Auto-Emancipation’, passed away in 1891 and was buried in Odessa. Motzkin, who was born in 1867 and was the chairman of the Zionist General Council, passed away and was buried in Paris in 1933. Like Nordau, they did not express a specific wish to be re-interred in the Land of Israel.
On 19 April 1934 Motzkin’s casket arrived at the port of Jaffa. The decision to transport his remains to the Land of Israel was reached only a few months earlier by the Zionist Executive. The Jewish Agency arranged the funeral and its members decided that he would be buried on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. The possibility to bury him in Tel Aviv was never entertained.
Motzkin’s coffin was accompanied by his family and sent from Paris to Marseille. It was then loaded on a ship travelling to Jaffa. Arriving in Jaffa, Moshe Shertok, head of the Jewish Agency’s political department, and Dizengoff boarded the ship. The funeral started in Tel Aviv so that the citizens of the city and its environs would be involved in the event. Dizengoff delivered the eulogy from the balcony of the city hall and the funeral then continued to Jerusalem.
Mutzkin’s coffin was laid at the centre of the National Institutions courtyard in Jerusalem. The crowd heard Sokolow’s oration, in which he declared that ‘the most suitable obituary is the fact that we brought Motzkin to his resting place in Jerusalem, the centre of the Jewish people who are now anticipating regeneration’. Approximately 4000 people accompanied Motzkin’s coffin to his second resting place on the Mount of Olives. His grave was located at the eastern part of the ancient cemetery, in a section that can be seen as a miniature Zionist ‘stronghold’ there. Motzkin was buried beside Eliezer Ben Yehuda and Boris Schatz, another Zionist whose remains were transferred during the same year from Denver to Jerusalem.
Pinsker died before Motzkin, but his re-interment followed Motzkin’s. When he passed away in 1891, Zvi Belkovsky, one of the organizers of the First Zionist Congress, promised that ‘when the day will come and our pantheon will be founded, our people will remember their notable sons, and you, Arie Pinsker, will not be forgotten’. Not many remembered this promise until Pinhas Feldman, a Jewish doctor from Odessa, became involved. It was the decision of the local municipality to demolish the old Jewish cemetery that motivated Feldman. Through his involvement, the local authorities approved the transfer of Pinker’s casket from the cemetery to a new one. Later, when he decided to immigrate to Palestine, Feldman considered taking Pinsker’s remains with him. He knew ‘how important is the present he will bring to the People of Israel’. At the end of a long bureaucratic process Feldman succeed in getting the coffin out of Russia and shipped it from Odessa to Jaffa. He notified his family in Palestine and they contacted Ussishkin, an intimate acquaintance of Pinsker, with a request to find a resting place for the Zionist thinker.
While the ship was making its way to Jaffa, Ussishkin began to plan the funeral and locate a suitable resting place for Pinsker’s remains. He was acting from a sense of both urgency and missionary zeal towards Jerusalem. He pushed towards finding a resting place more special than the Tel Aviv cemetery where Nordau was re-interred or the Mount of Olives, where only recently Motzkin had been re-buried. He decided to bury Pinsker in an ancient burial cave from the end of the Second Temple period located in the grounds of the Hebrew University. The decision to re-inter Pinsker there, on the summit of Mount Scopus, was reached after a brief meeting between Ussishkin and Judah Magnes, president of the Hebrew University. Asked about the possibility of burying Pinsker at the Hebrew University campus, Magnes suggested the ancient cave.
The cave was discovered in 1902 and identified as the resting place of Nicanor, a wealthy Jew from Alexandria, who is described in ancient sources as a donor of the doors of the Second Temple. Ussishkin was exhilarated by this idea and suggested that the cave be turned into a national memorial that would be used as a resting place for Zionist forefathers, such as Pinsker. He immediately thought about the symbolic connection between Jerusalem’s glorious past in the late Second Temple era, when Diaspora Jews assembled in the city, and the Zionist present that he was trying to forge in the city. Ussishkin believed that a Jerusalem memorial could be developed in the only significant Zionist ‘holy’ place in the city, the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. As early as 1913 he spoke about his hope to build a ‘new national temple, the shrine of science and wisdom on the Mount of Zion [actually Mount Scopus]’, at the Hebrew University. The idea to bury Pinsker on this site fitted well with his Zionist vision about the place.
Pinsker’s casket reached Jaffa on 20 June 1934 and was taken from the port to Ohel Shem, Tel Aviv’s cultural and literary centre. Deputy Mayor Rokach delivered his speech from City Hall balcony: ‘Pinsker was brought to our land in total secret. When his coffin reached the limits of the Hebrew city [Tel Aviv], his friends and relatives were relieved’. He told the crowd that ‘Tel Aviv will not have the honour of keeping Pinsker’s body next to our great ones, Nordau and Ahad Haam. There, on Mount Scopus, Pinsker’s coffin will be laid and will be kept’.
Many assembled in the National Institutions’ courtyard when the funeral reached Jerusalem on 24 June 1934. Yitzhak Ben Zvi addressed the crowd on behalf of the Jewish National Council, making a connection between ancient Jewish history and current events:
Jerusalem’s pantheon, the Jewish pantheon of generations—the kings of the House of David, the Maccabees, the prophets, the fighters for truth and freedom—this pantheon is becoming richer today when we bring the remains of this freedom fighter [to Jerusalem].
The coffin was then taken to the National Library on Mount Scopus and was laid out on a stage wrapped in black. Two scouts were holding flags from both sides of the casket; the flags were of the Hebrew University and of Bezalel, two Zionist institutions of higher learning that were important to Ussishkin and symbolized Zionist Jerusalem. He was the first to speak about the
privilege of seeing the salvation of your remains [Pinsker’s] and their bringing to the land, to eternal Jerusalem, and to bury them on the Mount of Scopus, on the land of our nation … in the courtyard of our supreme institution of our national culture.
He faced the coffin and as if speaking to Pinsker declared:
If you could see that in the place where you reside now, evil Titus stood 1900 years ago and sent from here ballista stones and destroyed our temple … if you could see how we are now building our home; if you could see how we gathered only in Jerusalem sixty to seventy thousand Jews, you would be comforted. We build without any sense of despair.
Magnes then added that ‘The Hebrew University is now receiving in its custody this sacred coffin … By receiving these bones we are now creating a new string in the ancient rope’.
After the ceremony in the library, the coffin was carried to the ancient cave, on the eastern slope of Mount Scopus. The heavy iron casket was lowered to the cave’s floor and the place was sealed. As in antiquity, Pinsker’s remains were kept in small stone coffins. After millennia, the cave had become a tomb again.
During the weeks and months after Pinsker’s re-interment, Ussishkin attempted to advance his idea of transforming Nicanor’s cave into ‘a resting place for Jewish notables’. He even thought about employing the place as a second tomb for Herzl. His endeavours were to no avail inasmuch as no one supported his proposal. Since Herzl’s re-interment was delayed, no other burial occurred in the cave until the death of Ussishkin himself. When he passed away on 2 February 1941 he left specific orders in his will requesting he be buried next to his teacher and friend in the Cave of Nicanor. In doing so he seemingly hoped to promote his idea to turn the cave into a shrine and to ensure that when Herzl’s remains were brought to Palestine, he would also be buried there.
As it was, Ussishkin was the last leader to be buried in the Cave of Nicanor. For one thing, the heads of the Hebrew University were reluctant to develop a graveyard within their boundaries, even one of such significance. For another, most of the living Zionist leaders found it difficult to identify with Jerusalem as a national symbol and as a resting place for themselves and the future re-interred Zionist thinkers. Thus, for example, when Otto Warburg, president of the World Zionist Organization, passed away in 1938 in Berlin, no one considered the possibility of burying him in the Cave of Nicanor. Though he was a Hebrew University professor, his ashes were re-interred in July 1940 in the cemetery of Kibbutz Degania.
Epilogue: National Re-interment in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem after the Establishment of the State of Israel
The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the decision in 1949 to turn West Jerusalem into its capital dramatically changed the relationship between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. This political shift had a decisive influence on the re-interment of Zionist leaders and other notables, a phenomenon that intensified after 1948.
Jerusalem now possessed a significant portion of the landscape of national burial. The Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem, comprising Mount Herzl, the military cemetery and the Greats of the Nation burial site, together with the ‘National Pantheon’ in the new cemetery of Jerusalem, took the place of other cemeteries in pre-1948 Palestine as the resting place of re-interred figures. The importance of Tel Aviv’s cemetery as a Zionist national symbol was now diminished and the cemetery there was identified more as a municipal burial ground. As a result, only a few Zionist figures were re-interred there during the two decades after the establishment of Israel. These included Oscar (Israel) Grusenberg, who played an important role in the defence of Mendel Beilis, tried in Kiev (in 1913) on the concocted charge of ritual murder; Professor Zvi-Peretz Hayut, Vienna’s chief rabbi; the writer and poet Zalman Shneor; and Jehiel Tschelnow, a member of the Zionist General Council. Nevertheless, Jerusalem’s national prestige was now far more significant than that of Tel Aviv and most of the important second burials during this period took place there. It was evident to all that Jerusalem needed more than other cities the remains of the Zionist fathers and heroes to be re-interred within its borders. This was the context for the decision during this period to re-bury Herzl in Western Jerusalem and not in Tel Aviv or Haifa. ‘Our ties with Jerusalem were sanctified again’, argued one of the local newspapers after the ceremony on Mount Herzl in August 1949.
This was also the background for the re-interment of other Zionist figures whose remains were brought during this period for re-burial in Jerusalem. Hanna Senesh, Haviva Reik, Rafael Reiss and David Raziel, who were all Zionist heroes, were re-interred in the military cemetery of Jerusalem. David Wolffsohn and Nahum Sokolow were re-buried on Mount Herzl; Peretz Smolenskin and Naftali Herz Imber were re-interred in the national memorial at Har Hamenuhot cemetery and Judah Magnes was re-interred in the Sanhedria cemetery.