Filmmaker Ya’acov Ben-Dov Born
Ya’acov Ben-Dov. Photo: Public Domain

June 21, 1882

Israeli filmmaker and photographer Ya’acov Ben-Dov is born in Yekatermoslav, Ukraine.

He joins the movement for the revival of the Hebrew language in his teens, and he studies photography at the Kiev Academy of the Arts before moving to the Land of Israel in 1907 as part of the Second Aliyah. He continues his photography studies at the Bezalel School of Arts and Crafts, where he later teaches. He’s introduced to movies when British Zionist Murray Rosenberg films his own visit to Bezalel in 1911.

Ben-Dov joins the Ottoman army at the start of World War I, then is commissioned as a medical photographer with the Austro-Hungarian army in Jerusalem. He acquires his first movie camera and film stock in 1917, probably with the help of his Austrian military connections. He establishes the Menorah Film Co. and captures British Gen. Edmund Allenby’s arrival in Jerusalem as a liberator in December 1917. That footage is part of Ben-Dov’s debut film, 1918’s “Judaea Liberated.” His next documentary, 1919’s “Land of Israel Liberated,” features the British army’s Jewish Legion, including founder Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

“The Return to Zion” in 1920 is notable for including an archaeological dig, the excavation of the Hammat Tiberias Synagogue, and is screened at the 12th Zionist Congress. Ben-Dov shoots his next film, 1923’s “Land of Israel Awakening,” under commission from the Jewish National Fund. It’s the first Hebrew-language film with actors and dialogue.

He and his camera are there for such events as the arrival of the first British high commissioner for Palestine, Herbert Samuel, in 1920, the funeral of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda in 1922 and the opening of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1925. But he gives up filmmaking after 1932’s “Diary of the Land of Israel” because of his difficulty making the transition to sound in movies, and he sells his archive to AGA Newsreel founder Baruch Agadati in 1934. He continues to shoot photographs that document the development of a Jewish national home in Palestine and the establishment of the state.

Ben-Dov is a founder-member of the Union of Artisans of Eretz Israel, helps establish Jerusalem’s Savings and Loan Association, and helps found the city’s Talpiot neighborhood. He dies in 1968.