Documenting Israel's 1948 Generation

About

Our Mission

Personal stories bring a new perspective to the events historians have already written about. The mission of Toldot Yisrael is to capture this national narrative and preserve it for future generations. It is a last chance to record this glorious chapter in Jewish history before it is too late.

By presenting authentic, unedited accounts of the founding of the State of Israel, Toldot Yisrael’s interactive archive will:

  • Reinforce the positive role Israel plays in contemporary Jewish identity through these personal stories of genuine human triumph;
  • Restore the sense of purpose for young Israelis by helping them reconnect to their past;
  • Remind the world at large of the Jewish People’s legitimate right to a sovereign state and its struggle for independence in the shadow of the Holocaust.

Where will the archive be housed?

The Toldot Yisrael archive is housed in Israel’s National Library, the official library of the State of Israel and the Jewish people, the Israeli equivalent of the US Library of Congress. The Library, which is building a new state-of-the-art home between the Knesset and the Israel Museum, provides a great venue for our work and will earn us a new level of visibility and national prominence.

Who is Toldot Yisrael interviewing?

The ideal interviewee is someone who was old enough during the years leading up to and including the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 to demonstrate sufficient recall of the period. Toldot Yisrael is targeting people who were at least 16 years old at the founding of the State (born 1932 or earlier) and would now over 80 years old. Amongst the interviewees, Toldot Yisrael is documenting the varied narrative of Israel’s founders, including: native born sabras who took up arms to defend their homes and farms; survivors who escaped the Holocaust or their native Arab countries to rebuild their lives in Israel; WWII veterans who volunteered and helped build the fledgling Israeli Air Force and Navy; the brave men and women who spent the days, weeks, and months, leading up to the War of Independence under siege — in Gush Etzion, the Old City of Jerusalem, or elsewhere; and the ordinary people who lived through the Jewish People’s extraordinary return to their homeland and the founding of the State of Israel.

How many people are potential candidates to interview?

Toldot Yisrael’s greatest challenge is the march of time. With every day that passes, the generation of 1948 is disappearing. The window of opportunity to record these fascinating stories is rapidly closing. When Toldot Yisrael was founded, demographers estimated that our pool of interview candidates numbered 120,000. Since we began the project Toldot Yisrael’s pool of interview candidates has decreased by more than 70%. Statistically, one in seven interview candidates will not live through the coming year. We are currently seeking the financial support necessary to record these interviews without delay.

How long are interviews?

Interviews average 2 – 2.5 hours but are longer as necessary. During the first half hour the interviewee is encouraged to talk about events pre-1948 including personal memories, country of origin, Aliyah to Israel, home life, education, community, youth movements etc. The interviewee’s personal account of the period up to and including the War of Independence makes up the next 1 – 1.5 hours. During the final half an hour the interviewee can recall post-1948 experiences and is then given an opportunity to display photographs, documents, artifacts and/or mementos. Each item is filmed individually, while the interviewee describes the item off-camera.

What happens with the recorded footage?

Toldot Yisrael and the National Library are collaborating to make the interviews fully searchable. An online platform will provide an enriched viewing experience with cross references to Wikipedia, Google Maps, timelines, and other video testimonies. This archive will serve as an extensive resource for documentary filmmakers, academics, and researchers, and holds tremendous educational potential for schools, museums, and libraries.

Has this been done already?

No. While much written testimony had been taken in the early years of the State, and some oral histories had been done over the years, little or no video footage has been recorded, certainly not in any type of comprehensive manner. In recent years the Palmach museum has filmed several of its veterans on location, discussing the battles they participated in. Beit Yair, the Lehi Museum and archive has begun a visual history project and has interviewed 60 of its former members. Likewise, some kibbutzim have undertaken a similar process, with one of the most advanced projects based at Kfar Etzion, where they have conducted video interviews with 100 of its members. In addition, the archives of the Israel Broadcast Authority and the Israel Film Service house video testimonies and raw footage of many of the departed members of Israel’s founding generation. Toldot Yisrael’s goal is to become the central address for 1948 interview material, incorporating whatever video does exist into Toldot Yisrael’s national archive.

How are interviewers trained?

Toldot Yisrael’s interview methodology is modeled on the successful efforts of the Shoah Foundation and Yad Vashem.