The leadup to Israeli Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut) is the busiest time of year for Kalman Berman and a dozen workers at Berman’s Flags and Embroidery factory in Jerusalem.
“For Yom Ha’atzmaut, we make 20,000 to 30,000 flags in two months, about double the amount as usual,” he tells ISRAEL21c.
Berman’s blue-and-white banners, most of them measuring 3 by 5 feet, were ordered by just about every municipality to mark the nation’s 75th anniversary on April 26. The factory also supplies the flags for official Independence Day ceremonies and parades.
These are not the cheap made-in-China Israeli flags that get bought by the thousands for everything from preschool pageants to public protests.
“I cannot compete with that price,” says Berman. “They’re not the same quality as ours.”
Berman’s Flags is one of the only domestic manufacturers of Israeli flags, producing both printed and embroidered versions. But it didn’t start out as a flag-making enterprise.
The oldest quintuplet
The factory was founded in 1944 by Polish refugees Hela and Kalman Berman, the current Kalman Berman’s grandparents.
“The first few years, they made embroidery for the dresses of rich Arab ladies, and small patches for the uniforms of the British [Mandate] army” then ruling Israel, says Berman. “They started making flags right after the state was founded in 1948.”
Their children, Ruti and Yitzhak, ran the factory in the next generation.
In October 1971, Yitzhak’s wife, Hadassah, delivered the first set of Israeli quintuplets on record. The firstborn of the two boys and three girls – all of whom survived — was named for grandfather Kalman.
The younger Kalman took over the reins 20 years ago.
“My father wanted this for me,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “I’m the oldest of the five. My name is the name of our grandfather who started the business. So I had no choice. But I am satisfied; I like it.”
Flags for countries, weddings, parades
Israel’s national banner, based on the traditional Jewish prayer shawl, is white with a blue stripe at the top and bottom and a Star of David in the center. It was the symbol of the First Zionist Congress in 1897 and was accepted in 1949 as the design for the new state’s official flag.
“We make them mostly from polyester but also from cotton or satin, depending what customers want,” says Berman.
“This year I sent a shipment of flags to a Jewish school in Australia and another shipment to the Bahamas for the small Jewish community there,” he says.
“We’ve sold all over the world, mostly to big companies and also direct to the public.”
The factory also produces flags of other countries – the Brazilian flag is especially popular among Israeli soccer fans – and flags for organizations and private events.
“My daughter always says that one day we’re making flags for the wedding of the daughter of an admor [Hasidic spiritual leader], another day for the gay pride parade, and another day for the Knesset. We do all of that,” Berman says.
Astronauts and presidents
Berman’s Flags produced nearly a million US flags in 2001 to fill an order from the United States after the World Trade Center attacks. It made the flag that Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon took aboard the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle in 2003.
When US President Joe Biden visited Israel in July 2022, the big American flag displayed in his honor was manufactured in the Jerusalem factory, as it has been for any American leader’s visit.
“The US has a man in charge, whenever a president is coming, to come here and measure the flag and see that I made it correctly,” Berman says.
The factory produced the Egyptian flags hung on the route from the airport to Jerusalem as then-Egyptian president Anwar Sadat arrived for a historic peacemaking visit in November 1977; and the flags of Abu Dhabi and Bahrain for the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020.
The factory’s employees reflect a wide diversity as well, including Arab, ultra-Orthodox and immigrant Israelis.
The video below shows the entire fascinating flag-making process and features interviews (in Hebrew) with Kalman and Hadassah Berman. She voices her hope that one day an Israeli flag will be planted on the Moon.