This week in Israeli history: June 17-23

Orna Barbivai receives the insignia of her new rank of major general from her husband, Moshe, and IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz (right) on June 23, 2011. Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who announced her promotion, stands to the side.


June 17, 1939 — Refugee Ship St. Louis Returns to Europe

The SS St. Louis, carrying Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria, completes its crossing of the Atlantic back to Europe after Cuba and the United States refused to admit almost all of its passengers. The ship left Hamburg on May 13 with 938 passengers, but Cuba changed its rules and admitted only 28. The refugees gain admission to Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands and France, but 254 of them are killed in the Holocaust.

June 18, 1992 — Painter Mordechai Ardon Dies

Painter Mordecai Ardon dies at age 95 in Jerusalem. He studied with the Bauhaus school in Berlin, and he changed his name from Max Bronstein a few years after making aliyah in 1933. His work featured symbolism, including Kabbalah, and explored connections between the visible and the invisible. His process was to start with realistic pieces, then abstract them. He directed the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts from 1940 to 1952.

June 19, 1967 — LBJ Outlines 5 Principles for Peace

Speaking two weeks after the start of the Six-Day War, President Lyndon B. Johnson focuses on the Middle East during an address at the State Department and lays out five principles for regional peace: the right of all nations to live in peace; justice for refugees; the preservation of maritime rights; the end of the regional arms race; and the need for recognizable borders. He does not demand that Israel withdraw from recently captured territory.

June 20, 1948 — Altalena Arrives

The Altalena, a ship operated by the Irgun militia, reaches the coast at Kfar Vitkin from France with 900 immigrants and a large cargo of weapons. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, who formed a unified army in May to replace Jewish militias, demands that Irgun head Menachem Begin hand over the weapons. After landing the immigrants, the ship leaves for Tel Aviv with the weapons. On June 22, the IDF shells and sinks the Altalena, killing 16 crew members.

June 21, 1882 — Filmmaker Ya’acov Ben-Dov Is Born

Israeli filmmaker and photographer Ya’acov Ben-Dov is born in Yekatermoslav, Ukraine. He makes aliyah in 1907 and is studying photography at the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts when he is introduced to moviemaking in 1911. He obtains his own camera in 1917 in Jerusalem and shoots footage of the British army’s arrival that December. He shoots documentaries through 1932 but fails to adjust to using sound in movies.

June 22, 1939 — Nobel Prize Winner Ada Yonath Is Born

Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Ada Yonath is born in Jerusalem. She studies at Hebrew University, the Weizmann Institute of Science and MIT before teaching chemistry at Weizmann beginning in 1970. She studies ribosomes, which manufacture proteins in cells, and in 2000 determines the three-dimensional structure of two ribosomal subunits. She shares the 2009 Nobel for chemistry with two others for her ribosome work.

June 23, 2011 — Israel Promotes 1st Female Major General

Orna Barbivai is officially promoted to major general, becoming the first woman to hold the second-highest rank in the Israel Defense Forces. The 30-year IDF veteran and mother of three heads the Personnel Directorate. Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced the appointment four weeks earlier, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the promotion “a big step for Israeli society” that “sends a message to nations worldwide.”

Items are provided by the Center for Israel Education (, where you can find more details.