Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

A chance meeting…..or was it?

I am in Tel Aviv with my house guest  the lovely Heidi from Germany who has spent the past week exploring Israel  from  top to bottom.

Relaxing in the Dead Sea praying in the Church of Nativity coming with me to Fassouta in the Galilee to enjoy the Xmas festivities and see Jews and Arabs mingling. Sampling the varying tasty foods which are an integral part of any tourist experience here and simply enjoying the variety of cultures and customs in order to satisfy her curiosity.

When I asked her why she came she said  “It is because I believe in God and have read the Bible from cover to cover. Also because I love human beings.”

We have had a great day, her last in Israel. We walked from the Tel Aviv port along the promenade stopping to eat and finally arriving at the corner of Frishman and Hayarkon streets. The splendid hues of the glorious sunset  had vanished into the ocean but we had already sent Wattsapp snaps to all and sundry.

There I suddenly stopped and was overcome with sadness while staring at an old building destined to be demolished at any moment.

Why are you staring at this building she asked?  “Because this is a last remaining part of my history” I replied.

In the late 70s I had worked in the Labour Party building next to it and never really thought about the day when it would no longer be here..

“I stayed in that very house with my husband to be in 1949. Would you believe that there was almost nothing here and if you turned around, you saw the sea and the sand, with not even a protective railing. On the beach their were wooden “lifts” that had transported peoples belongings from Europe and they were then living in those containers as there was no housng”

None of these hotels were here or any shops or restaurants only the Tnuva dairy restaurant and a few kiosks dispensing gazoz

“What’s gazoz”?

“Its soda with fruit concentrate. That was way before they invented sprite and coca cola”.

That crumbling building with its ornate rusted railings hanging off the balconies, is where we spent our first night together in Israel. We slept on iron beds and shared the bathroom with all the people on the floor.

No Dan Hotels for us”.

It was getting cold the sun had been swallowed up by the ocean and a chill wind was penetrating our clothing.

“Lets get to a bus and go home”

We walked up to Ben Yehuda Street and  waited next to a bus station where it appeared the 22 bus would stop.

A handwritten notice alerted us that the 22 was to be diverted since in a few days they would be dismantling Dizengoff Circus!  So that left the option of  Dizengoff Street. I was quite enjoying explaining to Heidi that in the early days it was fashionable to sally up and down Dizengoff or sit in one of the many cafes and just watch the world go by.

Arriving at the 22 stop after Heidi had convinced me that I was walking in the wrong direction, I went to sit on the unoccupied metal bench.

I beckoned Heidi to join me but she being a polite tourist offered it to a diminutive elegant elderly lady who was standing by.

The lady declined and announced that as she was waiting for the 90 bus to Herzlia Pituach she might miss it if she sat. down. She proceeded to tell me that she was a Palestinian born in Haifa  spoke Arabic fluently and was a member of the Arlozaroff family!  She added her age which happened to be the same as mine and then I proceeded to ask her if she knew of any of my friends who were of that generation.

An intense conversation ensued which sadly did not provide me with much information, but attracted the attention of a young man who had taken the remaining seat.

He had grown up in London and Israel, his father had come over to fight in the Yom Kippur war so as he was the same generation of my own sons we did some “Jewish geography” to see whom we knew in common.

He had also told the Haifa lady that she did not need to worry, since he was also waiting for the 90 bus.

Suddenly the 22 bus was upon us and Heidi and I jumped on and the young man whose name was Dan decided to join us.

We sat together on two facing seats and next to Heidi was a pretty young woman who seemed to be listening to our conversation. Dan and I spoke Ivrit but occasionally lapsed into English. He had already told me that he was an actor with the Habima Theatre. I asked where he had studied.  “Seminar Hakibbutzim” I casually said that my son had taught there but I had a close friend called Melanie who was a  theatre costume designer maybe he knew her. Of course he did and really liked her.

That was simply the beginning of coincidences.

I then looked over at Heidi who was engaged in conversation in German with the young lady beside her who come to Israel  as a volunteer to work with children.She was from her hometown of Stuttgart. More than that she was living not far away from us.

Dan then went on to tell me that his grandfather had originated from Germany and was one of “The Boys” did I know about them?

I smiled almost wept and said ” There’s wonderful film of that name made by the late Sir Martin Gilbert, its about what happened when they came to England. I have always said it should be shown in every school”

He did not even know that it existed and was sorry that his grandfather was no longer alive as he would have been so glad that someone had cared enough to record that time.

I assured him that we could get to see that film through Martin’s widow Lady Esther and with that we exchanged mobile numbers also with Kathe the girl from Stuttgart.

Heidi will be flying out tomorrow and we will all stay with the memory of this totally chance and fortuitous meeting. We were in no way connected only minutes before hand. In hebrew we say “Lo be Mikrei”

I think that Heidi will increase her faith in humanity. This fusion of unlikely beings in one place at one time and connected through a painful history,is proof that if one can be open and empathetic the world is a wonderful place to live in.

Israel in particular is a place of unique connections.

Dan will relive his grandfathers’ experiences after  he escaped from inconceivable horror. Kathe will have a friendly place to visit and meet young people in my family and Heidi will be Israel’s greatest Ambassador, all because we got on the same bus at the same time.


About the Author
Zelda Harris first came to Israel 1949, aged 18. After living through the hardships of the nascent state, she returned to England in 1966. She was a founding member of the Women's Campaign for Soviet Jewry. In 1978, she returned with her family to Israel and has been active in various spheres of Israeli Society since. Together with the late Chaim Herzog, she founded CCC for Electoral Reform, was the Director of BIPAC in Israel, and a co-founder of Metuna, the Organisation for Road Safety, which received the Speaker of Knesset Quality of Life Award for saving lives on the roads and prevention of serious injury. She is now a peace activist, blogger for Times of Israel and is writing her life story.