Photograph of Tel Aviv Flood, 1951 Parashat Noah
The floods which took place in Israel during the winter of 1951 were the worst in Israel’s history. This photograph shows flooded roads in Tel Aviv with a partly submerged bus and road signs. The photograph is in black and white, which indicates that it was taken in the early years of the State before colour photos became common.
The photo was taken by the famous Israeli photojournalist Rudi Weissenstein, who was born in Bohemia but moved to Israel in the early 1930s. Weissenstein is famous for photographing the lives of early immigrants. By the end of his life, in 2011, he had amassed a collection of over one million photograph negatives of Israel and its people.
The floods were so bad in 1951 that major cities, including Tel Aviv, were severely affected by the waters. Roads were flooded, and the government announce a state of emergency. The mayor of Tel Aviv, Israel Rokach, praised the residents of the city who donated thousands of blankets, coats, sweaters, shoes, and underwear for relief purposes.
Due to the emergency situation, the Chief Rabbinate gave permission for thousands of volunteers to repair waterways and organise assistance for elderly and infirm civilians on Shabbat.
It is very rare for floods to be this destructive in Israel, although rivers can overflow if the winter rain is particularly heavy.
Connection to Parashat Noah
Parashat Noah includes the famous depiction of the massive flood which was sent to destroy humanity. The flood was sent as a punishment for the terrible corruption and moral degradation of the people.
Noah, his wife, and his three sons and their wives were the only survivors of the flood.
At the end of the flood, humanity is given a promise, symbolised by a rainbow, that there will never again be a flood like that. To this day, Orthodox Jews say a blessing on seeing a rainbow in the sky:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֶלוֹקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם זוֹכֵר הַבְּרִית וְנֶאֱמָן בִּבְרִיתוֹ וְקַיָם בְּמַאֲמָרוֹ
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who remembers the covenant, and is faithful to His covenant, and keeps His promise.
Climate and Seasons in Israel, Israel Science and Technology Homepage
Flooding, road closure as heavy reain pounds Israel, Times of Israel (2016)
Noach (Parasha), Wikipedia
Irving Finkel, “Noah’s Ark: The Facts behind the Flood,” The Telegraph
Geography teachers can use this source when discussing water resources, climate, rain and flooding in Israel and in the world.
Jewish Studies teachers can use this source to discuss the destruction wrought by the biblical flood. Bible teachers can use this when teaching Genesis and also on the Shabbat before this parasha is read.
This source can be used in Jewish History lessons to discuss the challenges faced when building the State of Israel.
Geography teachers can show this photograph when discussing water resources and the problems of both droughts and floods as well as climate-related disasters.
Describe this photograph.
What vehicle has been submerged?
How high have the flood waters risen?
Reading Between the Lines
What time of the year was this photograph taken?
This photograph was taken in Tel Aviv.
Are floods such as this common in Israel?
This photograph is in black and white. What does this tell us about when this photograph was taken?
Why do you think the photographer chose to take this picture?
How do you think the residents of Tel Aviv felt during the flood?
Why did the Chief Rabbis allow people to break Shabbat during the flood?
Has there been a natural disaster as big as this in Israel since 1951?
How do we remember the biblical flood today?
Has there been any another time when you think the world warranted being destroyed? Why?
Imagine that you are living in Tel Aviv at the time of the flood in the photograph. When you returned home you called your friend living in the UK and described what you saw. Write your conversation.
Write a series of blogs or tweets from Noah as he watched the world being destroyed, explaining how he was affected by what he saw happening.