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The Shavuot Holiday in Israel: Joy in the Law, Joy in the Land

This is a corny propaganda video, plagued with the churning, bombastic background music that seems to have been obligatory for documentaries of the period. But it also offers fascinating glimpses.

It’s 1934 — fourteen years before the rise of modern Israel, seventeen years since the Balfour Declaration gave a big push to the Zionist project. The Yishuv (prestate Jewish polity) numbers somewhere over 300,000. The ancient towns of Jerusalem and Haifa are being rebuilt, the brand-new city of Tel Aviv is thriving, and numerous smaller and agricultural communities dot the land.

The narrator refers to “Haifa, at the head of  the Valley of Jezreel” — the valley that even then was full of farms and today is a sort of breadbasket of Israel. He also calls Shavuot the “Palestinian Thanksgiving” — the Jews of the Yishuv at that time having been routinely referred to as Palestinians.

The music reaches a crescendo as the scene shifts to Haifa. The streets and balconies are thronged with people come out to watch the first-fruits parade. One senses the tremendous pride and joy over the revival of Jewish farming in the land.

The Hebrew sign starting at 1:38 says “Meshek Yagur” — referring to Kibbutz Yagur, founded in 1922 a few miles from Haifa and still around today. The video, while stressing the ancient origins of the holiday, doesn’t mention that most of the communities displaying their wares are probably secular-socialist ones, and that their attachment to such religiously derived customs and symbols was probably unique — if not bizarre — among the many socialist movements of the time.