Zelda Harris
Five on the 100 aliyah from UK list!

Why feel the need to make excuses?

In the early years of the State of Israel, we had two things going for us. One was the miraculous  “in-gathering of the exiles”  whom even if after the initial phase of absorption, became increasingly unhappy with their lot, were glad and grateful to be here. Two was the “in-gathering of tourists”  who kissed the ground as they left the plane at the tiny Lud airport and felt as though they were the luckiest people on earth to actually be here in the Holy Land.

Their initial excitement was heightened when their first taxi driver invited them to his simple home to meet his wife,  experience her cooking talents and of course, ask them “when will you too make Aliyah”?

However, it may have been somewhat disappointing for the “first timer”  as it was for me in 1949. My young boyfriend who had left the “potential” fleshpots of England to join the Haganah, met me at the airport. We hailed a sherut taxi whose sign read Tel Aviv and I found myself tightly squeezed between a rather large lady and a Haredi gentleman. I  who had come of age in the Zionist youth movements of Habonim and Hashomer Hatzair and was shocked by the fleeting scenes outside the vehicle, of what I could only describe as the “scorched earth” policy. 

On either side of the road, all I could see was the burnt remains of wheat and other crops which had taken the toll in the fighting between the Jews and the Arabs.

Where were all those forests of lush verbiage and the cows and bees providing the milk and honey? This was what I had expected.

Without going into details the adjustment to reality was indeed quick.  My young man took me to the kibbutz in the Galilee where he was living temporarily. Once the fighting had ceased, young men who had come to volunteer were needed to help with agriculture. Although this particular kibbutz was a far scene from what I had imagined, I felt secure and wanted.They insisted on serving me “Arieh’s girlfriend” a glass of milk which was a sheer luxury as usually, all the milk went to the children.Despite their welcome, we decided to move on and explore other possibilities for a permanent life in Israel.

Soon after we got our first place of residence, one room overlooking the Bahai Gardens (not what it is today)  on Mount Carmel, our first visitors arrived from London.

David Manuel had been the manager of our shul club in Golders Green in London and both he and his wife were dedicated Zionists.They came bearing gifts including a whole “Vorsht”, Kellog’s  cornflakes and some Cadbury’s chocolate bars.

In 1950, hardly any tourists came to Israel and so we were immensely touched.All I could provide, as an example of my gratitude were some muffins in fancy paper cases, which had come with my household goods container(commonly known as “lift”.) from England.  The cake mixture, however, had included saccharine a drop of oil, sieved flour which initially had included weevils and fresh figs which were growing in the garden.

Most tourists grumbled about the food, about the service about creature comforts of which we did not have too many. Our visitors would hand over their gifts which always included a tin of instant coffee which we thought was one of the natures’ miracles.  Over the years we realized that the simple “Botz” or Arab/Turkish coffee as it was called, was actually preferable.

Then came the criticisms about the food, the state of our roads, aggressiveness of our drivers, although far more people said a prayer for the EGGED bus company. Their buses were renowned to take one to every kibbutz or village, marked on the map.The alternative was the sherut Taxi with 6 people squashed in behind the driver, some not smelling too clean and hardly anyone speaking the same language.

Our response to criticism was “Its a new state — we have a lot to learn” However within our  innermost souls we felt the buzz of being part of this new/oldness, this dynamic, multi-ethnic society which could only go forward.

Our major exports were polished diamonds thanks to the influx of the Belgian immigrants who had survived the Holocaust and were experts. Our innovative and high-quality agriculture which grew and grew like topsy. Then came tourism, which was sanctified. Sometimes exploited but treasured nevertheless.

So whats left? Compared to High Tech, Startups and State of the Art weapons which the inventors and creators get billions, Agriculture(if we get round BDS)Tourism, yes that’s still there, well sort of.

My very close relatives from the UK were here this week.  Both had lived in Israel during difficult years at least until the 80’s. They visit regularly.

Although they came as family and enjoyed the warmth of hospitality, the beauty of our landscapes and the ancient historical treasures they being in the service industry themselves, were super critical. They grumbled.

We traveled from Tel Aviv to Ein Hod, the artists’ colony, but were not allowed to enter with a car.In our frustration, being hungry anyway, we decided to climb higher to Ain Hud, the original Arab village a few kilometers above Ein Hod and search out some traditional, authentic Arab food.

With views to die for from the window overlooking the wadi we eagerly awaited the traditional repast which as our waitress with a big smile had told us “It’s what Mama has made today”.

The meal was delicious and varied and came in stages almost never-ending, interspersed with sips of a  cordial made from dates.

The restaurant known as “The Home” belongs to a family called Abuelhijiya and since the three of us had all been involved in the catering industry we could not resist the chance to chat up the manager, also one of the family.

Amongst the questions we had for him was “why do you not allow guests to take away what they cannot eat?”.

He then told us that guests often exploit the fact that there’s no limit to what they can have.  “After enduring their share of what I can only call greed and incivility, we the family decided that we ourselves would determine how to best use the “leftovers”‘.

I made no further comment when he said “We feed all the cats in the village” and everyone is happy”.

In a great mood, if not a little heavier on our feet we went to look for a place to walk and found the Mukrakha Carmelite monastery built where Elijah had once lived.

The combined beauty of the place and the wealth of nature’s bounty below is breathtaking

My guests remarked, “No question Israel has something that no other place in the world has”. As we walked back to where we had parked the car we noticed the sloth, plastic bottles and sweet papers and other indescribable objects just flung on the side and worse no one had seemingly been around to clean up. Where is the National Parks authority?

On the journey back to TA we encountered the ubiquitous traffic hold-ups and as soon as there was a gap, the cars that took the chances to flip from lane to lane.

Our small chat turned to comparing restaurants and coffee shops and their immense disappointment in our eating establishments. The quality and variety of food was not the subject, only the service.

Since I had recently returned from Brussels and a tour of Spain I cringed at what I anticipated they would say.

Surly waitresses(they are usually students?) food arriving without suitable cutlery or servers for salads, no napkins and slow delivery of what was ordered and so on.The prices?

I could not make any excuses.We are no longer a young country without formally trained catering personnel.Our citizens both affluent and not so rich, go overseas constantly. Every time they publish figures of outgoing tourism my first thought is always how do people afford it? My second is do they learn something from it?

Everyone I know, who goes overseas, comments on the low prices for almost everything, including tourist services and especially food and everyday expenditure. They consider that we Israelis pay “through the nose” for even the basics of life.

So what does the tourist feel when the value of the shekel is so high?

I refrain from politics with those whom only visit I want them to enjoy without any moral responsibility after all they are a vital export. NO?

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.