Building the World of Tomorrow: Israel at the World’s Fair (photo essay)

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The Jewish-Palestine Pavilion at the 1939 World's Fair

On October 20, 2020, the World Expo in Dubai, United Arab Emirates will open.  Dubai’s World Expo will include a pavilion of the State of Israel. Israel has been represented at World’s Fairs since even before it existed.

At the 1939 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York the flag of the Jewish State that had not yet been created flew among the flags of the other nations of the world.

Eighty years ago this month, the 1939 fair closed for the year.

The Jewish Palestine Pavilion at the 1939 fair was purposely designed and situated to demonstrate that a Jewish homeland in Palestine was already a reality.  Its 2,000,000 visitors witnessed the achievements of Jewish ingenuity and effort in agriculture, industry, culture and health while being reminded of the Jewish people’s historical connection to the land through a model of Solomon’s Temple.

There was a gallery of Palestinian Arts and Crafts (at which shtetl figurines were sold) and the kosher Cafe Tel Aviv.

Albert Einstein dedicated the Pavilion in front of an opening day crowd of 100,000 just five days after the ratification of England’s White Paper which severely limited immigration to Palestine.

The need for the Jewish State that the Pavilion was trying to project into existence became even greater when World War II broke out during the fair, on September 1, 1939.

The theme of the 1939 fair was “Building the World of Tomorrow”.  When the fair reopened in 1940 its theme was “For Peace and Freedom.”

Wartime shipping restrictions prohibited the return to Palestine of the Pavilion’s art, so it was sold at auction.

The fair’s most popular attraction was Futurama at the General Motors Pavilion.  Visitors to that pavilion received a button that said “I have seen the future”.  The same can be said of the visitors to the Jewish Palestine Pavilion.  Eight years later, on November 29, 1947,  the United Nations adopted the Partition Resolution which called for the creation of independent Jewish and Arab states in Palestine.  The United Nations was then housed in what was the New York City Pavilion at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Photographs by Kevin Viner, Elevator Digital, Toronto

Items are from the David Matlow Herzl and Zionism Collection, Toronto

About the Author
David Matlow is the Chair of the Jewish Foundation of Greater Toronto, and a partner at Goodmans LLP. He owns the world's largest collecton of Theodor Herzl memorabilia and produced My Herzl, a documentary film about the continued relevance of Herzl today.
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