Special to the Journal
The ties that bind Boston with Israel took a fascinating turn last week. A new study by Brandeis University professor Jonathan Sarna traces modern day Israel’s well known blue-and-white flag with its six-pointed blue Star of David in its center to a flag of similar design developed in Boston more than a century before the founding of the modern state.
Some 57 years before Israel’s founding, a prototype of the Israeli flag was created and displayed in Boston’s North End that would eventually be one of several significant influences on the present day flag of Israel, according to Sarna, the world’s preeminent American Jewish historian and author of “American Judaism, The Jews of Boston,” with Ellen Smith, and his most recent book, “Lincoln and the Jews.” His newest study, “American Jews and the Flag of Israel,” reveals a story largely untold, until Sarna dug in for the details to bring the story to light.
The flag was developed by Rabbi Jacob Baruch Askowith, a prominent member of Boston’s Lithuanian Jewish community in the late 1800s, according to a Brandeis University release that includes excerpts of Sarna’s research. B’nai Zion’s “Flag of Judah” was displayed as early as 1892 inside Zion Hall on Hanover Street in Boston’s North End, and flags with the same design were later displayed at the 2nd Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, and then again at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. Its design is believed to have influenced the flag that was ultimately adopted by the State of Israel.
“Every so often, vivid colors that create the rich tapestry of Israel-US history and relations are illuminated – and this is one of those moments,” said Sarna, who is in Israel this semester on sabatical. “To think that 57 years before the founding of the modern State of Israel, Americans in Boston were proudly parading a flag so closely reminiscent to the present day version is extraordinary, and is further indicative of the impassioned and prominent role that American Jews, even in the 1800s, had in shaping the future State of Israel.”
Sarna’s research was released during Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s economic mission to Israel with more than 50 Massachusetts CEOs and academic leaders. It was presented to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Brandeis University President Ron Liebowitz in a meeting with the Governor and Prime Minister in Jerusalem on Monday. Liebowitz also presented Netanyahu with a replica of the 1892 version of the flag.