Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard is a street with many stories. At number 16, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, declared the new state on May 14, 1948, and Israel’s Declaration of Independence was signed there. Only a few years ago, the avenue was the epicentre of the 2011 social protests that swept Israel – and many things must have happened in-between. Back in the late 1930s, the Tel Aviv daily Davar reported on one tragic incident that took place at number 48.
A short item in the newspaper’s Tel Aviv column stated that a “well-known lawyer,” Horam Farbstein, had killed himself in his apartment on the evening of Thursday, November 10, 1938. Farbstein was 42-years-old at the time of his death, and had lived in Palestine for twenty years. He was the son David Farbstein, “a member of the first Zionist congresses, and one of the most important socialists in Switzerland.”
Farbstein was either one of the last immigrants of the Second Aliyah, or wave of Jewish immigration, to Palestine, or one of the first in the Third Aliyah. Some 40,000 Jews came to Israel during the second wave, from 1904 to 1914. Given the difficulties of integrating into their new home, and of making a living, nearly half of these immigrants eventually left Palestine. A further 40,000 came during the third wave, between 1919 and 1923, and most of these stayed. Young Eastern European pioneers with socialist ideals made up a significant part of both these waves. By the time of Farbstein’s suicide in 1938, Tel Aviv’s Jewish population was nearing 160,000 residents, just over a third of Mandate Palestine’s Jewish population, according to the Jewish Virtual Library.
Davar did not give the reasons for Farbstein taking his own life, but the newspaper did report that he left his wife a letter explaining his “desperate act.” His funeral took place on Thursday afternoon, Davar said. It was attended by, “lawyers, public figures, businessmen, members of sport committees, and scouts organisations. They laid wreathes in front of the house of the deceased.”
As I have mentioned in previous posts, this was a very busy period for the Mandate Palestine press in terms of news. Not only did Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Atatürk die on November 10, it was the same week as Kristallnacht, and the publication of the Woodhead Committee’s report on the partition of Palestine.