Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Finding my way back home


 “My name is Harold” he said “they call me Harold Harmonica, if you like music, good company and want to have some fun, come and join us at the Tel Aviv folk club.

So that’s how I got on to the mailing list and heard about the Zichrona happening where folk and rock music, players and lovers get together twice a year at Beit Daniel on the Lange-Friedlander’s estate in Zichron Ya’acov.

Just the mention of Beit Daniel was enough to turn me on music or not. I could not resist a weekend at that enigmatic place of beauty and tranquility where, the daughters   of Herbert and Susannah Bentwich, Nita and Lilian  who“searched the land”for a perfect place to settle in 1910, had lived. The Lange Estate was the closest thing to a Jewish castle ever built in Israel. They lived in the building for two years. Michael Lange the son of a wealthy German family, was educated in Cambridge, England.

With stables, formal gardens and a luxurious life style they held splendid functions and entertained celebrities visiting Palestine. At the same time, they contributed to the development of Zichron Ya’acov.

In 1914, with hostilities   between England and Turkey, the compound was confiscated by the Turks and they forced the   Lange’s to move out. After the war, the British returned, and so did the Lange’s. The estate became a hub for visiting  English. from England. In 1922, 38-year-old Nita Lange suddenly died after reportedly receiving an overdose of medication for stomach pains. Devastated, Michael closed the house, returned to Europe where he underwent psychoanalysis in Amsterdam. In 1925, he returned to the estate, opened his suitcase, went out into the woods and killed himself.

The Lange estate was inherited by Nita’s eldest sister, Lilian Friedlander. Lillian was born in 1882, and in 1905 married Israel Friedlander, a well-known Rabbi, educator, biblical scholar and arabist who was   active in Zionist organizations in the USA. In 1920, while distributing funds for the American Joint Distribution Committee in the Ukraine, he was killed by bandits.  Lilian initially stayed in New York with her six children, but in 1922 answered her brother-in-law’s (Michael Lange) call to move to Zichron Ya’acov.

Lilian’s youngest son, Daniel Friedlander, was exceptionally talented and in 1935 aged 17, he with his mother went to New York so that he  continue his studies at Juilliard. The following year he became severely depressed and committed suicide. He had always told his mother that his greatest wish was that one day a music center would be establish in Zichron Ya’acov. Lilian considered this to be his last wish, which she intended to fulfill and did.

I had   first stayed at the pension (one had to know “someone” in order to get in there) during the 60,s and was enchanted by its unique history and extraordinary and tragic connection to music.

On an unexpectedly wet Friday I waited impatiently for my ride and discovered that I was to be transported by the lively and zany, Shelley and Betty from the She Rock girls band whom I remembered meeting at the club.. Gingerly, I fitted myself into the back of the small car packed with guitars and amplification equipment, the beat was palpable.

Traffic was crawling the roads were flooding, but nothing could stem my excitement although I really had no idea how everything was to pan out.

I found my room with 3 other occupants, clothes were spread around, drying off and guitars and banjos everywhere.. There were also skinny wiry snakes plugged into every available orifice.  Just the sight of the original furniture placed here and there, stimulated flooding memories of a time gone by. Although the   original buildings where the family lived are   in ruins, the contents including pictures and other personal effects are to be found throughout the  guest rooms and public areas.

 I walk a path through leafy trees, colourful bushes and elegant rakefot turning their heads and swaying to the music which is belting out of the Lilian Hall. I am confronted by people of all ages, shapes and sizes from across Israel. There’s  a sprinkling of  overseas guest performers, including the celebrated James Durst from the USA, a close friend of the iconic Pete Seeger. Of course there are some familiar faces. One cannot live in Israel over 60 years and be connected to in some way to a whole range of ANGLOS, as we who emanated from English speaking countries, are known. I have yet to meet an authentic sword bearing Anglo Saxon, from good old blighty!   Who among us are pure bloods??

I asked Harold the ubiquitous, driving force behind the event why it is in such demand” He replied  ”The everyday experience of living in Israel is so demanding and soul-sapping. I found that there is a real need for being with like minded  people sharing the music of childhood, youth groups & camps, our favorite songs on the radio. These meetings, take us on a quick free trip back and away from the constant pressing challenges. We become refreshed through this nostalgic re-stimulation of long-dormant gray cells that are rejuvenated for an hour or two, or a whole weekend. We can then return to the fray with renewed spirit and energy. Frankly it’s what helps us to go on, keeping us sane and motivated.”

I asked Gilad Bloom who with his partner Jenny play guitar, compose and sing their own material, why young Israeli born performers get so much out of the experience.?

“I invited a friend of mine to join us” said Gilad” He was in shock when  he looked around at the crowd”  “How can you play for these people? Many of them could be your parents or even……. Grandparents!” I replied ”That’s what makes  it a privilege to appear before an audience who really appreciates what you do” They come to give and get music, they imbibe happiness.”

Gilad and Jenny have exceptional talent. When they sang ‘Liquid moments in a paper cup’ and ‘This is not a goodbye song’ I felt that age and background are irrelevant, the sense of belonging is what its all about.

Sharon Klein who shared my room turned out to be an   outstandingly accomplished musician, singer and entertainer. She, a new immigrant, brought with her a bass ukulele which created a sensation.  “After 25 visits, I took the plunge, but until I found the folk community I did not feel” at home” When she sang ”There was a time” with an american guest Micky Pauker,  she sang for us all.

Songs which included ”We can’t stop the badness but we can stop the madness, without casting a stone” spoke to the audience and “Lets change the world” in   any language binds us as only music can.

Ohad Vitis an ex kibbutznik   “Found his way back home” after 18 years in London.He  writes most of his melodious music, combining east and west sound. He gave me his CD, which is playing in the background as I write. Although new to the folk community he was welcomed with open arms and serves as an inspiration to those  deliberating about whether or not to return to this crazy, stimulating, soul destroying and yet soul inspiring, place that we call home.

The closing strains after a weekend of fress, dancing and singing till the early hours, were from James Durst who sang about love and peace and a revised version of Tsena Tsena. The renditions of “Green sleeves” and the age old “Bye Bye Blackbirds” where enhanced by   an exquisite blind flautist called Gidi. One could sense those blackbirds slipping from his lips. Perhaps they too were “finding their way back home”

Jenny and Gilad will be performing on March 30th in Tel Aviv



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.