Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna discovers that the Israeli flag was created by a Lithuanian Jew who migrated to Boston in the 1880s

Historians in the News
tags: Israel, Brandeis, Israeli flag, Jonathan Sarna



Charlie Baker/Flickr

Brandeis president Ron Liebowitz, Governor Charlie Baker, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Consul General of Israel to New England Yehuda Yaakov with a replica of an 1890s flag from Boston.


It is a potent symbol of national identity, instantly recognizable around the world, a blue Star of David on a white ground, framed by two horizontal blue stripes: the flag of Israel. And it has an unlikely origin story, in a fraternal hall in Boston’s North End.

A Brandeis professor has published a paper illuminating the city’s early contribution to what would become the Israeli standard, and this week Governor Charlie Baker, on a trade mission to Israel, presented a replica of that 19th-century Boston prototype to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“For the average Israeli, they don’t know anything about where the flag of Israel comes from. They don’t have a Betsy Ross story, and I think some of them would be astonished to learn that American Jews have anything to do with it,” Brandeis professor Jonathan Sarna, a scholar of American Jewish history, said Wednesday by phone from Israel, where he is on sabbatical.

Sarna’s new research mines the largely unknown story of the American role — starting with Rabbi Jacob Baruch Askowith of Boston — in advancing a design ultimately adopted by Israeli leaders in 1948.




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