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How a 12-year-old preserved history

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Up for sale

A complete collection of autographs and personal testimony of Israel’s Declaration of Independence signers is up for sale this month. 

Photo courtesy of Kedem Auction House

With the passing of Shimon Peres, Israel lost a piece of its history. As the last of the living founding fathers of the State of Israel, many people – not just Israelis – feel like it is the end of an era. Peres’s living testimony of the establishment of the State of Israel, fraught both with enormous challenges and miracles, provided hope and inspiration to many people.

Thankfully, there were young kids during the beginning years of the State of Israel who picked up documenting history as a hobby. One of those kids was Michael Levin, an Israeli born son of Polish and Russian immigrants to Israel, who started collecting autographs of famous people and celebrities when he was 12 years old.

On Nov. 15, Levin is selling his collection from the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, including signed documents, personal notes and letters, photographs and most importantly, a complete collection of original signatures of all the signers, at Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem.

Immigrants from Russia and Poland, Levin’s parents unwittingly had an enormous influence on his hobby. His mother, born in Poland, was sent by her Zionist parents to Israel (when it was still Palestine) before Hitler came to power. She went to high school with Shimon Peres and many years later became his secretary when Peres worked with Ben Gurion, as the general director of the Ministry of Defense.

Like many kids, Levin tried to get autographs of celebrities and stars, but everything changed when he got his first big league political autograph. “One day my mother came home from work with an original autograph of Ben Gurion for me, and I got the impression that this is something different and serious,” said Levin. “I got the feeling that I touched history.”

 By the late ’60s, when he was 15 years old, Levin was completely immersed in collecting autographs from famous people. He sent hundreds of letters, with requests for autographs and other questions, to politicians, queens, kings, scientists, artists, astronauts, authors and musicians. The responses he received include letters from Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, Charlie Chaplain, President Nixon, President Truman, President Johnson, the Apollo 11 crew and countless more public figures around the world.

 Levin started looking for themes in his collection and became fascinated with the story of the Declaration of Independence. “It impressed me because there aren’t many declarations of this kind, especially in terms of the importance of the document and ceremony,” said Levin. It’s a particularly unique collection because many of the signers didn’t hold any important positions in government and some died young. Levin even managed to obtain personal testimony of six of the signers from the event that really evokes the heart of what was transpiring.

 Rachel Cohen-Kagan felt the historical significance as she proclaimed, “At the fateful hour that I signed my name on the manuscript, I felt that I was signing for all the daughters of Israel.” Moshe Kolodny described the sense of urgency, “I signed the Declaration of Independence during the first cease-fire, when I was flown in a small plane… we sent a message to Ben Gurion saying that we object the postponement of the proclamation of the State.”

 Meir Vilner emphasized how crucial the declaration was that everyone put aside their differences for one moment. “The truth is that not one of the cosigners agreed to the whole contents of the Declaration of Independence… The single unifying element was the last phrase, ‘We hereby proclaim the establishment of the Jewish State in Palestine, to be called Israel.”

 In the early ’70s, Israel was a very different country. Levin described how he could just knock on politicians’ doors and be invited in for tea. He personally met influential politicians, including Golda Meir, Ben Gurion and Ze’ev Sherf.

 Levin’s meeting with Sherf, the Secretary of the Provisional State Council, at his home in Jerusalem, made a deep impression on him. “He was very modest,” described Levin. “This was someone who accompanied the whole history of the creation of the State and was minister in many ministries until he died in the late 70s. It was quite impressive to hear history from the people who made it.”

 As a graduate of Bezalel School of Design and CEO of a design company, Levin’s collection is not only impressive because of the content, but also is beautifully arranged.

 Other powerful historical memorabilia for sale, includes Chaim Weizmann’s 14K gold watch engraved with a dedication to him and a collection of personal items that belonged to Etzel (Irgun) fighter Pesach Ostashinsky, who aided in the preparations for the 1948 Atalena operation and sailed with the ill-fated ship to Israel.

 The founding fathers, who lived through the very beginning, might have passed away, but we can keep telling their stories of triumph – and then create our own.

 For more information about this collection and the sale at Kedem (or to sell antiques), visit kedem-auctions.com.

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