Israel StoryProduced in partnership with ToI

Signed, Sealed, Delivered? David Remez

Our deep dive into Israel’s Declaration of Independence continues with a man known for his linguistic flair, a love of organized labor and his oversized autograph.

David Remez (Courtesy of GPO)
David Remez (Courtesy of GPO)

David Remez was born as Moshe David Drabkin in what is today Belarus, in 1886. As a boy he studied Talmud with his grandfather and then attended a traditional cheder. In 1905, he was drafted into the Tzar’s army, but was soon dismissed, on the grounds of being an only child. He then moved to Constantinople, Turkey, to study law, and it was there that he met and befriended David Ben-Gurion and Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who would both – years later – ink their names beside his own on the Israeli Declaration of Independence.

Remez moved to Palestine as a newly-married man in 1913 and started working the land in Be’er Tuvya, Karkur and Zichron Yaakov. But his career as a farmer didn’t last long. By 1921, he was already the head of the national construction company, Solel Boneh, and – in that capacity – bought lands and initiated affordable housing projects.

Under the tutelage of Berl Katznelson, he served for almost a decade as the Secretary General of the all-powerful Histadrut Workers’ Union and was instrumental in founding many of its subsidiaries, such as the Zim shipping company, the Mashbir department stores, and the still-thriving Am Oved publishing house. In 1945, he was elected to be the chairman of the Va’ad HaLeumi, the Jewish National Council, and though – according to certain historical accounts – he voted against Ben-Gurion’s proposal to declare the State on May 14, 1948, he nevertheless proudly signed the Declaration, and was named the country’s first Minister of Transportation.

He was a lover of the Hebrew language, and coined many new words, such as muvtal (unemployed), vetek (seniority), tachbura (transportation), mimtza (archeological finding) and dachpur (bulldozer).

In 1951, while serving as the Minister of Education and Culture, Remez died at the age of sixty-four, making him the first of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence to pass away. At a Mapai Party memorial meeting, future Prime Minister Moshe Sharett praised his linguistic skills and unparalleled succinctness. “He walked in his secular life,” Sharett said in his eulogy, “like a priest through the temple of language.”

The end song is HaIvrit HaChadasha (lyrics and music – Omri Glickman, arrangement – Piloni), performed by HaTikvah 6. (Licensed by Israel Story through Acum)

About Israel Story: Israel Story is the award-winning podcast that tells extraordinary tales about ordinary Israelis. Often called “the Israeli ‘This American Life,’” we bring you quirky, unpredictable, interesting and moving stories about a place we all think we know a lot about, but really don’t. Produced in partnership with The Times of Israel.

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