Esor Ben-Sorek

Good Old Days

Sitting in a comfortable arm-chair and watching the TV news on channel 12, my mind drifts back to the year 1951.

The Anglo-Palestine Bank Limited paper currency was still in use until it was replaced in 1952 by the Israeli Lira (Pound).

Prior to independence we bought and paid with mils, piasters (palms and grapes engraved), the pruta and the all-time odd coin, the grush with a hole in the middle. And who does not remember the asimon token which was used to make calls from an outside telephone booth?

Israeli paper money could not be printed before the establishment of the State. Mr. S. Hoofien, the Dutch-Jewish chairman of the board of the Anglo-Palestine Bank was successful in getting our first banknotes printed by the American Banknote Company of New York in July 1948. Our first paper currency, the Israeli Pound, was circulated on August 18, 1948.

A bus ride from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem and a return took almost two hours, sometimes longer, depending upon the road conditions and safety conditions when approaching or leaving Jerusalem. The bus ride today is a comfortable 45 minutes.

Telephone calls had to be made from the nearest post-office. It took seven years of waiting for people to have a telephone installed in their home. I remember one call which I placed from the post-office in Nahariya to Jerusalem… it took two hours of waiting for the call to go through.

A day at the Tel-Aviv beach was made more pleasant by the shouts of the ice-cream vendor walking along shouting “ARTIC. ESKIMO.” It was more ice than cream on a stick and it dripped on my hands and melted after only a few small nibbles.

I remember fondly my studies at Havat Halimud in the east Talpiot section of Jerusalem. Several of our classes were held in the Terra Sancta building which was rented from the Catholic church.

Alexander Dushkin and Martin Buber are two names of great scholars whose lectures I attended but understood almost nothing of their words. Lectures were in Hebrew but Martin Buber’s Hebrew was heavily coated with a German accent.

Coffee and delicious European pastry was always a treat at Café Atara in the pedestrian paradise at # 7 Ben-Yehuda street. It was the dream of Heinz Greenspan, a German Jewish refugee, to establish a superior coffee-house in Jerusalem like the popular ones in Berlin, Prague, Paris and Budapest.

Atara opened its doors in 1938 and kept them open until it was sold in 199 — for 58 years it had been the jewel in the crown of coffee-houses in all of Palestine/Israel.

One could sit outside under a small table with a large overhead umbrella sipping a cappuccino or a German-Austrian coffee delight, kaffee schlagsahne, overflowing with sweet whipped cream and a slice of chocolate on top. This had to be accompanied, of course, by one of the many choice pastries. My choice was usually an apfelstrudel. (Thinking of it makes me drool with immense delight).

One could sit outside for three or four hours chatting in table-talk over that single cup of coffee, beans that were imported from Europe and roasted in Jerusalem. People who visited Jerusalem from other towns, cities and countries somehow always found their way to Café Atara.

In 1951 the famous King David Hotel had doormen, tall and dark Ethiopians, dressed in white robes and red turbans holding a staff with peacock feathers, courteously welcoming guests and visitors. Tea on the terrace was a must (a must for the wealthy only, to be sure).

I cannot remember prices I had paid for purchases in 1951 but I do remember a suit that I bought and was tailored for me at the OBG Mens’ Clothing Shoppe on Allenby street in Tel-Aviv. I paid less than the equivalent of one hundred dollars and the suit lasted me for almost ten years.

So many changes have taken place from 1951 to almost 2020. The coffee is still good, particularly at Aroma. Cup O’ Joe is out of business. Landwer cannot compete with Aroma. The pastries are tasty but can never compete with the European pastries that once were the pride of Café Atara.

The one thing that has not changed in Israel is the genuine love of good friends. Many of the friends I knew in 1951 are still alive in different places in the country. I used to keep in touch by telephone, letters and occasional visits.

Now the computer and internet which did not exist in 1951 are my daily contacts with cherished friends.

The good old days with them almost 64 years ago now make my very old days and years very happy ones.

Ain kmo Yisrael. There is nothing like Israel. And nothing like Israeli friendship.

Goodbye 1951. I’m eagerly awaiting the birth of 2020.

As my late father would have said. “zolln mir da leben”… we should only live to see it.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.