Curator’s Catch

November 2017: Photograph of Chaim Bialik at Union Station

Photograph of Chaim Bialik at Union Station
  • Object No.: 1990.05.1
  • Donor: Geraldine Pilzer
  • Description:

    black & white photograph, 1926

    Left to right: Katherine Hertzberg; Yetta Bricker Pilzer; Isadore Hirshfield; Willis Rosendorf; Rabbi Louis Schwefel; Bernard Danzansky; Mania Bialik; Cantor William Tash; Chaim Nachman Bialik; unknown gentleman; Cantor Louis Novick; Zalman Henkin; Rabbi Julius Loeb

A prestigious guest arrived at Union Station on May 10, 1926! The acclaimed poet Chaim Nachman Bialik paid the capital a visit and representatives of the Jewish community in Washington came to welcome him at the train station. In an effort to bring his visit to life, we consulted historic newspapers to reconstruct many details from his days in the capital.

Earlier that year, Bialik and his wife Mania had set off from Tel Aviv for a six month trip through the U.S. Their goal was to visit with government officials and Jewish communities, raise funds for the Zionist movement, and foster support for a national Jewish home in the land of Israel. 

First row left to right: Rabbi Louis Schwefel; Mania Bialik; Chaim Nachman Bialik.

In Washington, they made a stop at the White House, where Adas Israel’s Rabbi Louis Schwefel served as the translator between Bialik and President Calvin Coolidge. Bialik addressed his appreciation for the American approval of the Balfour Declaration, which had set the foundation for a Jewish state in 1917. The President in return made a statement regarding the endeavors in Palestine: “I am delighted to note the success and progress of the work. I certainly trust that the undertaking of upbuilding the Jewish National Home will continue to be successful.”

Apart from the official character of the visit, Chaim Bialik also had a chance to learn more about Jewish life in America through his encounters with community leaders. As he often remarked in his speeches, American Jewry was the closest ally for the establishment of an independent Jewish state, thanks to its strong communal organization and the resources it possessed to put the ambitious plans into action.

When Bialik returned to Tel Aviv, he gave a speech at the cultural center and expressed his hopes for a closer relationship between the Jewish communities in then-Palestine and America: “I pray for the day in which a strong bond will be set between us and them through people who go there not only for propaganda [to create a Jewish state] but also for instruction and education.”

In hindsight, Bialik’s visions came true and our photograph shows the beginning of the ties binding the two Jewish communities closer together. It also enables us to explore the developing of Jewish American support for Israel and the communities’ complex relationships with each other – stories that will be part of our new core exhibition in a section titled "Taking a Stand."