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Mediterranean magic

The adventure began in August 1959. I was to sail from Haifa to Istanbul, and arrived at the Haifa port from home in Rishon LeZion several hours early, with ample time prior to embarkation.

My luggage had been placed in my cabin when suddenly I discovered that my favorite pipe, a London Dunhill, was missing. I remembered having left it on the nightstand while closing the suitcase.

My friends, with much protest, drove me home. I retrieved my pipe and we hastily returned to Haifa and the port, only to find that the vessel had sailed without me — and with my baggage on board.

My anger brought me little comfort, but I was given passage on an Israeli ship sailing three days later to Naples and Marseilles. The agent of ZIM Lines assured me that my baggage would be transferred from Istanbul and would await my arrival in Marseilles.

The trip on the SS Theodor Herzl was very pleasant. The Mediterranean was calm. We passed the coasts of Cyprus and Greece, and arrived two days later in the Italian port of Naples.

A shore excursion was available for interested passengers to visit the ruins of Pompeii, but having seen them on a previous visit, I opted to walk about the streets of Naples, in search of a pair of fine Italian leather shoes.

When I returned to the ship, my table-mate introduced me to a beautiful young Israeli girl who was en route to Switzerland. I invited her to join us at our dining-room table.

Chopped liver was the first course, but neither she nor I ate it.

That night, 200 passengers were stricken with stomach ailments. We were the only passengers who were not affected and she and I alone walked on deck, walking, talking and learning about one another for some 18 hours.

In 18 hours of intense conversation, one can learn a great deal about another person. I learned that she was a native Tel Avivian en route to visit an uncle in France, close to the Swiss border. She was on vacation from her job at the Haaretz daily newspaper.

She learned that I was en route to America to accept a teaching position at Boston University.

The next evening, we arrived at the port of Marseilles, but she would not disembark until Shabbat had ended. We boarded the boat train that would take me to Paris and her to Lyon, and then across the French border into Switzerland.

We agreed to meet in Paris some days later at the building of American Express and I escorted her through the Louvre, Versailles, Malmaison and the only kosher restaurant then in the center of Paris, Eden, on Boulevard Hausmann.

Paris was romantic — more so because I was with Rahel.

When, a few days later, I took her to the channel train to London, tears streamed down my cheeks. My throat tightened. I could not eat or drink. I hurried to my hotel room, threw myself on the bed and sobbed uncontrollably. It was at that moment that I realized I was in love with Rahel and wanted to marry her.

We had known each other only six days, but we agreed that it was a case of love at first sight.

She returned to Tel Aviv and I proceeded on to New York and Boston. We wrote letters daily…sometimes three letters a day… and in one of them I proposed marriage and she, in return, accepted the proposal in an airmail letter to me.

The dean of Boston University granted me a 10-day leave and I flew back to Tel Aviv, where we were married by the president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court of Tel-Aviv.

My parents were astounded. “How can you marry someone you have only known for six days?” they asked. “You don’t know her family. She doesn’t know our family. How can you be so impulsive”?

It all began with a misplaced pipe, a missed ship sailing, and a bashert meeting with the most wonderful girl in the world.

Fifty-six years later, we are together, with three children and three grandchildren.

And the rest, as people say, is history.

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.
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