This week in Israeli history

JAN31: Actress Hanna Rovina stars in the premiere of “The Dybbuk” in Moscow.

Jan. 30, 1958: U.S. Commits to Baghdad Pact

During a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles says the United States is committed to the defense of the Baghdad Pact nations: the Muslim-majority states of Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Turkey, plus the United Kingdom. Dulles’ statement is seen as an extension of the Eisenhower Doctrine, under which any Middle Eastern country threatened by a Communist regime can seek U.S. economic aid.

Jan. 31, 1922: Hebrew ‘Dybbuk’ Opens in Moscow

The Hebrew version of “The Dybbuk, or Between Two Worlds” begins its successful stage run at Moscow’s Habimah Theater. Written in Russian and then Yiddish by S. Ansky and translated into Hebrew by Hayim Nachman Bialik, the play tells the story of a young woman (played by Hanna Rovina) who is possessed by the malicious spirit of a man who loved her but died upon hearing of her engagement to another.

Beth Shalom Cemetery ad

Feb. 1, 1885: Peretz Smolenskin Dies

Novelist and Hebrew editor Peretz Smolenskin dies of tuberculosis at age 43. Born in Russia in 1842, he began his writing career while teaching Hebrew in Odessa at age 22, then moved to Vienna to lead the Hebrew department of a large press and founded the journal HaShachar (The Dawn). He rejected assimilation and became a strong advocate for Jewish immigration to Palestine after the wave of Russian pogroms in the early 1880s.

Feb. 2, 1965: Sale of Waqf Property Approved

The Knesset revises the Absentees’ Property Law to allow a government office to maintain, rent or sell property held in a waqf, an endowment created under Islamic law. Any proceeds are meant to benefit absentee owners whenever Israel achieves peace with its neighbors, but in the meantime, the law enables Israel to use as much land as possible to accommodate its rapid population growth since independence.

Feb. 3, 1980: Actress Hanna Rovina Dies

Hanna Rovina, eulogized as “the high priestess of the Hebrew theater,” dies in Ra’anana at age 91. Born near Minsk in 1888, she gave up teaching Hebrew in Warsaw so she could made her stage debut in Moscow in 1918 with a new Hebrew company that became Israel’s national theater, Habimah. She starred as Leah in the premiere of “The Dybbuk” in 1922 and returned to the role for every Habimah revival of the play until 1957.

Feb. 4, 1997: Helicopter Collision Kills 73

Two CH-53 Yasur military helicopters collide in the middle of the night over northern Israel while ferrying troops and munitions to the Israeli-occupied zone in southern Lebanon, killing all 73 military personnel on board the choppers. Bedouin, Druze and Jews, secular and religious, are among the victims of the crash, for which a cause is never established. The disaster contributes to Israel’s decision to withdraw from Lebanon in 2000.

Feb. 5, 1879: Engineer Pinhas Rutenberg Born

Engineer Pinhas Rutenberg, credited with bringing electricity to British Mandatory Palestine, is born in present-day Ukraine. He becomes involved in Russian revolutionary politics, is drawn to Zionism while in exile in Italy and helps form the British army’s Jewish Legion during World War I. He moves to Palestine in 1919 and builds out the electrical grid, first powered with diesel generators, then with hydroelectric plants of his own design.

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