After my mother died, I found a bin where she had some of her cards and letters saved. I came across a stack of letters and postcards from my grandparents first and only trip to Israel in 1961. My grandmother wrote my mother almost daily while she was away; her musings and love for travel put a smile on my face. There was a wonder about travel in the 1960s. People were still amazed that you could fly overseas and they dressed up in their finest clothing, not in their yoga pants like I do. Sometimes, I wish that we had the same innocence, but my latest trip to Israel did remind me of how incredible the country is. It was the right place at the right time in my life with the right people. I thought it would be fun to look back at how much the country has changed using the postcards from my grandparents, putting them side by side with current pictures of the places that we visited.
It is not exactly Tel Aviv, it’s Ashkelon on the coast of the Mediterranean on the left, with a photo of the beach in Tel Aviv on the right. The biggest differences? The swimsuit fashion and now Israel is so dog crazy that they have part of the beach reserved so that the pups can bond, play and go for a run with their owners. Here was a passage from my grandmother’s note: “We arrived here tonight (Ashkelon) and this is the loveliest place. Our rooms are like bungalows facing the Mediterranean. We are staying here overnight, then leaving for Beersheba and Jerusalem.”
Tel Aviv has changed so much in the 57 years since my grandparents visited. On the left you see what part of the city used to look like. On the right, the modern skyline of the White City. My grandparents loved Tel Aviv with my grandmother telling my mother that “I enjoyed every minute of this wonderful city.” She also wrote: “If my cards sound mixed up, Daddy was rushing me, so forgive the mistakes. Daddy is so excited.” Yes, my grandparents called each other Mummy and Daddy and no, it was not creepy in the least. It was adorable. They had quite a love story. If you are all good, maybe one day, I will tell you about it. It really is swoon-worthy.
We did not go to Haifa this time, and I only got to spend one day there when I was in Israel in 2006. It is a city on a hill with the beautiful Bahá’í Gardens being the centerpiece. She wrote: “Arrived here yesterday, I doubt whether any place could be more beautiful than Haifa.” The hotel featured on the postcard was Hotel Ben Jehuda – I do not believe it is still open, but there are plenty of places to stay. I cannot wait to go back and spend a little more time there.
My trip ended in Jerusalem and even though it was the second time that I was there, it is still awe-inspiring to see the first view of the city as you wind around the Judean Mountains. My grandmother wrote: “We just arrived in Jerusalem and never will I forget this drive! When we came into the city, Daddy was asked to say the prayer and everyone was crying.” Remember, that when my grandparents visited, the country was only 13 years old, and the Holocaust was not even a distant memory. My grandparents and their contemporaries, likely never thought that there would be a Jewish State or that they would have the opportunity to pray at the Western Wall – a single spot that has not changed in thousands of years. It meant everything to them, and that is just one of the reasons why I find visiting Jerusalem such an incredible experience. It is a blend of ancient and modern; quiet contemplative moments and hustle and bustle; religious and secular. It’s everything. By the way, the President Hotel has long been abandoned, but had a very interesting history – check out this article to learn more https://guyshachar.com/en/2016/abandoned-president-hotel-jerusalem/
There were other postcards, from other places, like Eilat, where my grandmother was so excited to sail on a glass bottom boat. One of the nicest surprises for them was the last night of their trip, at a farewell banquet, “…and for dessert, oranges from the Zelikovitz Orchard. Was Daddy proud!” My grandfather and two of his brothers, were in the fruit business for a long time, and until a few years ago, our family had the orange orchard. The land was donated back to the State of Israel but for a long time, it produced oranges that were sold around the world.
The best part of Israel? It is a country that is continuously changing. The Tel Aviv skyline has changed, even in the 12 years since I was last there. The Old City in Jerusalem has changed as archaeologists continue to excavate and discover groundbreaking knowledge that is corroborated by both the Old and New Testaments. It is at the forefront of new technology and advances in medicine that can change lives. It is a country that was a desert and where trees and flowers now grow. It is a place where I can go, even though it is thousands of kilometres away, and feel the presence of my family.