At the end of the 1940s and beginning of the 1950s, the Jews of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria immigrated from their countries of origin to the State of Israel, which had just been established.
The tale of their immigration is one of the heroism of tens of thousands of families who left behind everything they had and chose to set out for the Promised Land. This same courage also characterizes the stories of dozens of immigration activists, volunteers and soldiers of the Irgun, Haganah and the State of Israel, who worked with determination, daring and in secrecy, sometimes risking their lives behind enemy lines, to organize the Jewish communities in the Maghreb, bringing them to transit camps, and from there to the Land of Israel, which absorbed them into the notorious immigration camps in the cities, villages and kibbutzes around the country.
The late Yani Avidov, a Haganah fighter and Labor Battalion member, who later worked in the Mossad and lived in Nahalal, a village in the Jezreel Valley, was on a mission to the countries of the Maghreb, where he prepared the Jews for their long-awaited immigration to Israel. During his five-year stay in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, Avidov gathered hundreds of photographs documenting the way of life of the immigrants in their homes, their neighborhoods and in the transit camps.
In 1943, before leaving for his Mossad mission to the Maghreb, Avidov created a weapons stash hiding spot at the request of the Haganah. The stash was disguised as a hole for cow waste under a granary near a family farm in Nahalal.
Later, Avidov worked to bring Jews from Syria and Iran to Israel and to treat Jewish refugees from Europe after the Holocaust, where his son Eitan was murdered.
His rare collection of photographs remained in the Avidov family home for many years and his family did not look at them. "When we were children, we were not very interested in the pictures, but when we grew up, our curiosity led us to these albums," said Avidov's grandson Ofer, now 66 years old. "Nine years ago, we decided to turn the weapons hiding spot my grandfather built into a tourist site and we invited Nadav Man from Kibbutz Merhavia to scan the photographs so we could display some of them at the site we built."
"I came to Nahalal to scan the pictures for the visitors' center and I saw the rare collection of photographs collected by Avidov in the Maghreb," said Man, who directs the lab for the documentation and conservation of photographs at Kibbutz Merhavia in the Jezreel Valley.
"I took the collection, which includes 300 touching photographs, to my lab. I scanned all of them, and, with permission from the Avidov family, I offered the entire collection to the National Library at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to safe-keep the legacy of the immigration of Jews from the Maghreb to Israel," said Man.
In the pictures are children, teenagers and grown women and men engaging in the work of their day-to-day lives, even after they left their homes and were in transit camps in France preparing to come to Israel. "We know where some of the pictures were taken, but we are missing the names of the people in the photos," said Ofer. Now that the collection is being transferred to the National Library, the public is invited to see if they can recognize any of the people appearing in the photos.
"I find great importance in the transfer of the photographs to the National Library," Ofer said. "My grandfather dedicated decades of his life to this country and to bring Jews here, but not everyone remembers what he did or how much he sacrificed. These photographs preserve a period in time that is no more, a period that the young generation has never known. It's important that people will identify with these pictures and that way, they will connect to history, which is also a part of our future in this land."