Yoram E. Shamir
Remarks at the Conference on Digitalization of Heritage
Let me begin with a personal story. I have a heritage of
my own: the artistic creations of the brothers Gabriel
and Maxim Shamir – my father and uncle. When my
father died in 1992, I was forced to decide what to do
with his artistic estate. He left several hundred works in
his home in Givatayim. Givatayim’s climate is similar to
that of Tel Aviv: devastating to paper works. It was clear
to me that I must store these works in a climate-controlled
place. But which place? In any event, my
brother and I had hoped to make the collection
accessible to the public. After I made the rounds of
museums and archives, we chose the Central Zionist
Archives and Eretz Yisrael Museum.
When we handed over the Shamir Brothers’ works to
the Central Zionist Archives, we made a surprising
discovery. My father had not saved all of his works. We
gave more than 110 posters to the Archives. They
already had 40 Shamir posters in their collection which
had not been found in my father’s home. My uncle, who
had died two years before my father, had saved only
their philatelic works—stamps, souvenir sheets, and
first-day covers. His son did manage to find an old
suitcase that my uncle had stored in the garden shed
underneath a rusty lawnmower, and inside it were
several other works of Shamir graphics.
At that time, I was employed at Tel Aviv University. I
didn’t work 24/7, but close to 12/6 on an average. I
vowed that the day I’d leave the university, I would
launch a search for the original works of the Shamir
Brothers. That day occurred almost exactly one decade
ago: November 1, 2004.
The first leg of my journey took me on a round of
archives. Back in 2004, you had to physically travel to an
archive in order to put in a request for a particular file.
Sometimes my request was granted on the spot, and
sometimes I was asked to wait several hours. In the
Labor Party Archive, I found photos of Shamir works
pasted in family albums, but then the Archive began the
process to register the listings on computer. When I
offered to assist them – pro bono – they replied, “Just
don’t expect to be given special treatment when you
request posters by Shamir.” I accepted that condition,
and began to work there. From the start, I did not
accept the approach of many archives to list only the
data that appears on the poster. In every case where a
significant detail was lacking, I did my best to track it
down and add this to the listing. The greatest such
problems were missing dates, or lack of information as
to the identity of the advertiser.
At that same time, a digital graphic archive was created
at Shenkar Institute. Ruben Cohen asked to incorporate
the Shamir Brothers collection within this archive. He
opened negotiations with the Central Zionist Archives in
order to obtain scans of the works of the Shamir
Brothers. These negotiations continued for over three
years, and only through the intervention of Violet Gilboa
did they come to a successful resolution. (I nominate
Violet to replace John Kerry in the Israeli-Palestinian
One day Cohen informed me, “We have 2000 postage
stamps of Shamir, 150 posters, and 85 medals, but very
few newspaper advertisements.” Thus began the search
for Shamir advertisements in the Lavon Institute and the
central library of Bar Ilan University. I combed the Davar
newspaper, Ha’aretz, and the Palestine Post (later to
become the Jerusalem Post) from November 1934 till
the end of 1970: every single day’s editions. In the midst
of this effort, a digital miracle occurred. The Israel
National Library and Tel Aviv University launched an
Internet site called the “Historical Jewish Press.” From
that point on, I could survey the vast majority of
newspapers from the comfort of my own home, with no
regard for the opening hours of archives and libraries.
In 2009, I paid a visit to the Israeli Museum of Cartoon in
Holon. I was standing with a friend and viewing the
permanent exhibition on the history of cartooning.
Along the timeline were the names of the great artists.
“That’s interesting,” I commented to my friend.
“Daumier’s picture is missing.”
“Actually he appears here in the exhibition,” said a
female voice behind us. And that’s how I met Galit
Gaon, the director of the museum.
A short time later, I suggested that she mount an
exhibition of cartoons which use the Israeli State
emblem (not a surprising suggestion from the
descendant of the designers of the emblem – the Shamir
Brothers.) Following the acceptance of my suggestion by
the Exhibition Committee, Galit assigned Daniella
Gardosh-Santo, a department head at Israel Television
and the daughter of the famous cartoonist Dosh, to
work with me. I’m sure that Galit was waiting to see
what would transpire when “the son of” started working
with “the daughter of.”
Over the next two years, I descended to the basement.
That’s where the Museum Archives, directed by Hila
Zahavi, is located. The late Yaakov Horowitz, a member
of Kibbutz Beit Hashita, had donated his collection of
cartoons that had appeared in daily newspapers. A truck
arrived carrying hundreds of cardboard cartons. The
collection had neither been scanned nor catalogued.
Each carton contained one month’s worth of press
cuttings. Fortunately, Horowitz had taken pains to list
the date of each cartoon, as well as an explanation of
the political or social background behind the subject.
During this project, I made the acquaintance of Avihu
Egozi, a cartoon book collector who volunteered his
services at the museum, primarily in acquiring new
collections. His enthusiasm was contagious, thus I too
joined “Hila’s Volunteers.” I could not have imagined
that Egozi would pass away within two years and I
would take part in handling the intake of his marvelous
book collection to the Museum’s Archives.
At the weekly meetings we held, I heard of Hila’s vision
to create a digital archive of cartoon collections, which
would be accessible to researchers, curators and
students. That vision is engraved in my mind.
In the summer of 2010, I travelled with my son Opher to
visit the Judaica Collection at Harvard University. There,
Dr. Charles Berlin and Violet Radnofsky gave us an
intensive briefing regarding the objectives of the
collection, the methods of the collecting and retrieval.
Violet told us of their projects in Israel: the IDF Archive,
the Zionist Archive, the Israel Broadcasting Authority,
and many, many more. Both Opher and I were
astonished by the scope and the depth of this initiative.
I remained in contact with Violet. I began sending her
presentations made by amateur enthusiasts on Jewish
and Israeli matters, and I continue to do so till today.
Prior to her visit to Israel last November, I suggested
that she allot time for a visit to the archives of the
Cartoon Museum. I told her, “You absolutely must see
the original drawings of Ze’ev (Yaakov Farkash), Fridel
Stern, and other outstanding cartoonists. It is essential
to scan and catalogue these works.”
Violet came and saw, and she was hooked. An amazing
chemistry sparked between Violet and Hila, and
between Hila and Shmuelik from Dantec. All of the
volunteers, myself included, were enlisted to lay the
groundwork for the project. For me, this was an
outstanding opportunity to acquire an in-depth
knowledge of the works of Fridel and of Ze’ev and to
appreciate the enormity of their talents.
Two years ago, I curated an exhibition of humoristic
portraits of musicians drawn by the artist Joseph Ross,
from the founding of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
in 1935 until Ross’s death in 1991. I convinced his son
Gideon Ross to transfer the political cartoons to the
museum for professional scanning (and I also convinced
him to cover the expenses incurred).
The thousands of portraits which Joseph Ross drew in
Israel and abroad aren’t applicable for the Comics
Museum. I suggested to Violet to come to the storage
room on Floor Minus Two in the building where I live
and take a look at Ross’s collection with her own eyes.
Who didn’t Ross draw? All government leaders, judges,
scientists, rabbis, businessmen, theatrical performers,
and diplomats. Shmuelik estimates the collection
contains some 30,000 works. Ross’s work alone could
serve as the basis for opening a national portrait gallery.
If I tell you that at the end of October, Shmuelik took
away the first container, you will understand that the
National Digital Portrait Gallery is currently being
established in Harvard's Judaica Collection.
As a curator of exhibitions, I can testify to the
significance of the digitalization process for researchers
and curators. I’m now in the midst of preparing an
exhibition of anti-British cartoons from the Mandate
Period, drawn by Joseph Ross. The exhibition is for an
online gallery which I am creating for the Jabotinsky
Institute in Israel. These cartoons are particularly biting.
Four have never been published after being banned by
the British censors. I go down to the archives of the
Cartoon Museum, sit for 4-5 hours in front of a
computer monitor and select the appropriate works.
Then I stay for another two hours to add the
commentary I wrote along with two colleagues for each
image. When I finish the exhibition, I’ll forward its
contents to a historian for his expert opinion. He has
already asked permission to correct historical facts while
reading the material. The online exhibition will feature
links to the Institute’s Online Shop in order to facilitate
book purchases. When you look at a cartoon on the
British suppression of Aliyah (immigration to Israel),
you’ll be able to see the books on the topic of illegal
immigration which are for sale at the shop.
The term “miracle” has lost its meaning as we face new,
amazing inventions on a daily basis. But as we sit each
day before our computer screens, it’s worthwhile to
acknowledge that we are very fortunate indeed to live in
Thank you very much.