Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

An intimate perspective on British Jewry-Green Park Hotel!

Living in Israel one tends to become caught up in “the situation,” “the conflict,” the ongoing Bibi/Sara saga and the Festivals, religious or pop. The past life in another land seems of little consequence. However, we Brits are mostly a bunch of immigrants although some of us have been here since the inception of the State. If we did not all come in the early years, we did raise money and collected pennies in the JNF boxes in nearly every home. Most, British Jews supported the Jewish community in Palestine during the time of the British Mandate.

The British expats or olim as I would prefer to be called are not very high profile they cannot or do not, spout stories of mistreatment by the establishment, they have an ability to fit in and make themselves useful, but without much ado. The 100 Aliyah list was impressive since I knew many of those alive and even more of those who sadly are no longer with us. However, it did not make any impression on anyone here.

There were outstanding Brits who came to Israel of their own volition and each in their own way made a positive contribution to almost every level of society. I have also mentioned previously that the MAHALNIKS were not mentioned anywhere during the 70th year celebrations and they not only included English pilots, Naval and Army officers but also those from America, Canada,Australia,New Zealand and South Africa.

So I was really pleased to be invited to attend the Israeli premiere of a charming,historical documentary “Green Park Hotel”  at The Museum of the Diaspora this evening. I knew the hotel from my childhood. We actually did not stay there although the more well-heeled members of my family did. The Hotel was established in 1943 by an amazing family, in Bournemouth a beautiful if rather sleepy seaside resort on the English coast, not far from the port of Southampton. The war in Europe was far from over but we in the UK more fortunate than our brothers and sisters inside Europe were thankfully separated from the Nazi horrors by only a few miles of sea. We were leading fairly normal lives   if you can call rocket attacks from Northern France and serious food  rationing normal. The Buzz bombs and V1 and V2 as they were called only reached Southern England  mostly landed in the London area.

The beauty of this film was that it incalculated the history,taking one through the different periods of changing fads both in food, style and music trends. It portrayed the community many of whom had arrived in the British Isles at the turn of the 20th century. They came in droves, literally escaping the pogroms in Eastern European counties. They were penniless with large families, not able to speak the language and with no connections. There was no “Sal Klita”( government handouts for immigrants)and yet these people acclimatised and got to work very quickly. Some who had trades were the forerunners of the clothing, millinery and cabinet making(furniture)businesses. Not to mention the street traders who emerged in later years as the leading multiple food and clothing providers (super markets and warehouses). Household names such as Clore,Wolfson,Cohen and Morrison. Those too whose interest in sport lead to football pools and gambling (on horses) such as Copes and Cyril Stein.

Once established, many were drawn to this beautiful, elegant kosher hotel one of the first and certainly the most prestigious in the British Isles. It was an oasis of comfort, good food and a place where people could meet up at a time when our social lives were still fairly limited. The film also shows how they loved to have fun.

One could through the genuine personal testimonies believe in everything you watched. One leaves this film with the feeling that you were actually there. A tribute to a great family and a bird’s eye view into the lives and testimony of the vibrant,warm and innovative,Jewish community of England.

I heartily recommend it.

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.