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Toldot Yisrael: Recording Israel's Founders

A historical archive project to record the testimonies of Israel's founding pioneers has just completed its 500th interview.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 5/4/2011, 11:52 AM / Last Update: 5/4/2011, 12:19 PM

Israeli flag at the Western Wall

The founders of the rebuilt State of Israel are retelling their stories in a project that will preserve them for posterity in much the same way that Holocaust survivors have done.

The Jerusalem-based Toldot Yisrael non-profit organization, was established in 2007 by its director, Aryeh HaLivni (Eric Weisberg). Like Steven Spielberg, he too says he feels he is racing the clock.

“It's now or never,” he told the Jewish Journal in a recent interview. HaLivni, who said his work was inspired by Spielberg's Holocaust testimonies project, said most of the pioneers he interviews have already reached the age of 80. The organization recently completed its 500th interview, in fact.

“I'd been thinking about the idea for years and years, but I'd assumed someone else had already done this,” HaLivni said. However, he found that his assumption was wrong. None of the archives he visited contained any comprehensive collection of historical testimony.

The project is run from his Jerusalem home in order to save money. Some of those he interviews were born in pre-State Israel. Others arrived from Arab countries, and some came after the Holocaust. Some were volunteers who came from free nations.

The testimonies are archived unedited; some have been produced as short documentaries and educational films – including a series produced last year by the History Channel in honor of Israel's 2010 Independence Day.