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“Betsy Ross of Israel” Flag Donated to BGU

“Betsy Ross of Israel” Flag Donated to BGU

April 16, 2018

Israel Studies, Culture & Jewish Thought

JNS – In honor of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the State of Israel, American Associates, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (AABGU) has donated an Israeli flag created by Rebecca Affachiner, often called “the Betsy Ross of Israel,” to the Ben-Gurion Archives at the University’s Sede Boqer Campus.

Ben-Gurion University President Prof. Rivka Carmi and Ezra P. Gorodesky display flag created by Rebecca Affachiner

Affachiner immigrated to Israel in the 1930s. In May 1948, when an American consular official urged her to leave Jerusalem immediately due to the expected outbreak of hostilities, she refused to do so.

“I cannot abandon my sisters and brothers,” she told the newspaper Maariv. “I have waited my entire lifetime to see the rebirth of a Jewish state. I do not intend to miss it.”

She was confined to her apartment on Jabotinsky Street, unable to buy supplies. She spent her time creating an Israeli flag from bed sheets. She sewed on a six-pointed star and colored the flag’s stripes with a blue crayon.

Late in the day on May 14, when Affachiner heard David Ben-Gurion proclaim the formation of the new State of Israel, she proudly went out to her balcony—within sight of the Egyptian forces gathered nearby—and hung her flag.

She continued to fly the flag every Israel Independence Day until her death in 1966, when she entrusted it to her friend and caregiver, Ezra P. Gorodesky. She made him promise that he would take good care of the flag because she said, “it was my personal way of welcoming Israel into existence.”

“A symbol of creative passion”

Ezra P. Gorodesky with Dr. Adi Portughies, director of the Ben-Gurion Archives

Gorodesky, who made aliyah from Philadelphia in the early 1960s, decided that the 70th anniversary of Israel would be the appropriate time to find a permanent home for the flag. Gorodesky contacted his friend, Rabbi David Geffen, who made aliyah from Delaware in the 1970s, and asked him to help find it a permanent home. Geffen, a longtime friend of Toni Young, president of AABGU, contacted her—and a new home was found.

“I am incredibly honored to be a link in this chain of Americans who created, preserved and understood the value of this flag,” Young says.

“Since the beginning, American Jews have worked side by side with Israelis in creating and sustaining the State of Israel,” she adds. “In its new home, the flag will remain as a symbol of the creative passion that brought Israel into existence and the sustaining passion that helps ensure Israel’s future. Ezra has fulfilled his promise to Rebecca and enabled the flag to reach its rightful place as part of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism.”

Dr. Paula Kabalo, director of the Ben-Gurion Research Institute, found a letter in its archives from former Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion sent to Affachiner, acknowledging a gift she made to the Israel Defense Fund in 1957. He praised her as an inspiring example of Jewish devotion: “It is this spirit which has enabled us to achieve our independence and this spirit will ensure the success of our future endeavors.”

“Rebecca’s original Israel flag is an excellent addition to the Ben-Gurion Archives,” says Dr. Kabalo. “It will be displayed with Ben-Gurion’s diaries.”

Affachiner was born in Nesvizh, Poland (now Belarus), and grew up in New York. She was the first female graduate of New York’s Jewish Theological Center in 1907, and was a teacher, administrator and charity worker. She also lived in Connecticut and Virginia before making aliyah in 1934 at the age of 50. Throughout her life, she was devoted to the welfare of Jews in Israel and worldwide.

The flag will be recognized at the opening plenary session of the 48th Board of Governors Meeting Celebrating the State of Israel’s 70th Anniversary.

Read the full story on the JNS website >>