Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!


Have you ever noticed how many Arne Jacobsen chairs are to be found in almost every restaurant and or meeting rooms in Israel?

Do you even know the origin of how they came to be in Israel?

I do.

It was the late Geoffrey Tollman z”l, an immigrant from South Africa, who together with two partners, Dan Arbel, a Dane and Chaim Hadani also from South Africa, opened the iconic Danish Interiors Showroom. It was in a basement on Trumpledor Street, opposite the historic cemetery, where so many of Tel Aviv’s Bohemians, Poets, Artists and Musicians are buried.

Geoff, had grown up in the furniture business in South Africa from where he immigrated to Israel after meeting his first wife Henya. I was a neighbour of the Tollmans’ who like us were renting accommodation in Beit Yannai. He asked me if I would be interested in joining the company. My youngest son was only two years old but we were fortunate that in our village there lived a dear woman called Freda. Freda looked after some of the children of “working wives”. I readily accepted his offer. The older boys were no problem. In those days we all looked out for each other. My father had been a furniture designer and manufacturer. I was really excited by the idea.

In our basement showroom albeit in a great location, we displayed only samples of furniture and swatches of fabrics of every weave and hue. In pride of place sat the Arne Jacobsen (Denmark, 1902–1971 EGG CHAIR Series 7) along with suites of furniture, albeit samples, which one could only order if they possessed foreign currency. For example; foreign residents, new Immigrants, Diplomats and so on.

What was so fascinating was that the young newly wed Israelis who for one reason or the other could purchase from us, had almost no idea of style or colour scheming.
Grey or beige was the first colour they chose. Or if they were completely confused I would say “How about purple”?

Handing them the material sample swatch. That shocked them into deciding!
Since I lived near the sea, Geoff gave me a piece of metal which was used in construction of a chair which had been ordered in bulk by Caesarea Country Club (also the Golf Club). He said “hang it outside your house facing the sea and we will then know if it is likely to rust”!

Till today there are those whose homes had been furnished by us. However we the salespeople made do with what we had in our homes.

Nevertheless when I go to any large restaurant in a public building I see those chairs and the memory…..lingers on.

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.
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