In 1913, delegates to the 11th Zionist Congress in Vienna, Austria were busy discussing settlement activities in Palestine and the work of the organization’s office in Jaffa. Chaim Weizmann — who had in 1912 successfully lobbied for the foundation of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology — now, together with Jewish National Fund head Menachem Ussishkin, won the support of Congress for the establishment of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The delegates were also treated to a motion picture; an hour-long documentary, The Life of the Jews in Israel, produced by Odessa’s HaMizrah Society and directed by businessman and loyal Zionist Noah Sokolovsky. Following the premiere, the film went on to be enjoy popularity throughout Europe and Russia.
The movie presents the viewer with a portrait of Jewish life in what was then known as Ottoman Palestine, starting with the journey from Odessa to Tel Aviv via the Black Sea, and on through Jerusalem and other cities, villages, and rural settlements. It was filmed over two months that included celebrating the Passover holiday in Jerusalem at the Western Wall.
During the Passover holiday, the Maccabi movement held an exhibition of gymnastics in Rehovot.
Interestingly, The Life of the Jews in Israel was assumed lost until 1997, when it was found stored away in France’s National Film Archives. It was restored in 1998 in cooperation between France’s Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée – CNC Film Center and Israel’s Jerusalem Cinematheque.
Yaakov Gross, the documentary film director and researcher who authenticated the movie when it was found, termed it the first Hebrew movie for, despite it being a silent film, the title cards and subtitles are in Hebrew.
In 2013, the movie’s centenary year, the Israel Film Archive at the Jerusalem Cinematheque produced a digital version of the original with improved sound and image quality. The completely restored film was screened at the 15th Jerusalem Jewish Film Festival and is available via the Cinematheque.