Saturday, 22 March 2008

Letter 16 - March 03, (1919)

Zionist Commission to Palestine – Tel-Aviv, JAFFA, Palestine

Dear Family,-

We are quickly becoming acclimated to conditions here. This is a truly wonderful country and I was never more conscious of the real value of heritage of which we are about to again possess ourselves than now, - living right in it, breathing its air, and hearing of the wonders and possibilities in its interior.

We have spent the entire week, morning, noon and night almost, listening to opinions of various attaches of the Commission; - in one day we have already had ten hours of informal conference, nearly without interruption. For the most the questions concern themselves with political and administrative acts of the past and policies of the future. It is apparent that much as been very badly handled- some money injudiciously spent, some govt officials antagonized etc., etc. – but all may be attributed to lack of men and lack of proper organization. For months only one man, Mr. Lewin-Epstein, has been in Palestine to represent the Comm’n. While he has shown himself to be a veritable superman (in his mild sweet way) in directing the affairs of such necessarily large scope – it as been hitherto physically impossible to attend to all necessary details.

The financial difficulties of the past and present are being straightened out by Robison, who, by the way, is not all his reputation makes him. He may be a shrewd business man but as an organizer I have my doubts.

The Commission here is made up of Szold, Dr. Friedenwald, Mr. L-Epstein, and Commandante Bianchini. The latter is a fine fellow, an Italian Naval officer, with a chest covered with eleven medal ribbons, and a keen sense of humor in broken but attractive English. He is very cool and level headed individual – an invaluable asset to the Comm’n.

Last Wed. evening there was a great social function at the Tel Aviv Town Hall – a concert (I’m enclosing the menu). The hall was filled, a number of the Jewish battalion boys were there including some Americans. They have been most satisfied with their recent experiences in Palestine and 90% wish to remain. The fact there is very little work of any kind at present has cast a damper on some of their spirits – but the majority are willing to stay in the Army until such a time when they can find work. Both of the artists were soldiers. The pianist was the most finished musician playing solo and accompanying with equal skill – on an upright piano! The violinist had good technique but a poor fiddle so that the fast double stopping in the concerto sounded like a banjo. Bianchini, Robison and I were the only representatives of the Comm’n present. I met several of the nurses and doctors, male and female, of the Medical Unit – notably Dr. Schmidt, the bug and germ and malaria specialist, Dr. R -?—a female children’s doctor, two nurses of doubtful age and Mr. Hubbard the keeper of supplies. They invited me to supper the following eve at the Hadassah House.

The following day Dr. F accepted the courtesy of a Br. Officer to answer an urgent call from Dr. Rubinow in Jer. The latter required the presence of Dr. F. for a day to be properly installed and begin work. The day before Bianchini had jokingly remarked that a friend of his, an Italian exporter, had recently urged him to advise what sort of raw materials could be disposed of in Palestine – that he could obtain several freighters for the purpose if Bianchini would handle the matter at this end. He regretted that he knew nothing about such matters, for building materials were greatly needed at present. The lack of houses due to no influx of materials during the war has caused a great demand. Merchants have made money and would like to move to Tel Aviv and there is no available room. Rent is exorbitant. The day previous I had been introduced at the Anglo Palestine Bank so I went there with the idea of making some study of the conditions and possibilities. I spent several hours going over the project and in conclusion met some contractors and builders who have been waiting for four years for material at almost any price. At the British offices I obtained full consent to import any such material I saw fit and I their Economics Division I was permitted to study their latest work on pre-war imports and exports. The British authorities are most courteous and obliging. Then Bianchini and I went over the results. Tho his friend advised him that he was entitled to all profit over and above a certain sum he is not here to make money – and I’m certainly not – so at my suggestion if the plan materializes the cargo will be jointly subscribed to by the five large contractors of the town on sailing and the money will be held in a bank here until the cargo is received and unloaded at the expense of the five purchasers. I have already approached several of them, who are most agreeable and enthusiastic over the idea. I’m getting full details of desired materials and this eve we will wire and get an estimate of prices. This is of course just a side issue – and Dr. F assures me that much work lies ahead of much more vital nature.

Sat. morn Szold, Dr. Schmidt and I took a walk thru the squalid Arab section of Jaffa. Such filth, such apparent disregard of bodily cleanliness I could never before conceive of. In one wooden hovel surrounded by dirt and garbage and furnished only with straw, a primitive stove and a broken mirror, lived an imbecile old man, his wife and three children, the youngest of whom is barely a year old. The hut was barely ten feet wide and eight feet deep. It resembled a large box – I fact the whole miserable district looks like a number of dirty boxes nailed side by side.

Further, we came to the Yemenite district, coincidentally cleaner, but very poor. In one neat little wooden box we found an old man seated with a big Hebrew bible in his lap. On either side of him and in front sat his grandsons, youngsters of perhaps eight or ten. Each would read in turn – regardless of where he was sitting – this unique and interesting method of instruction.

Further, we passed thru the Arab market place – vile smelling and unhealthy looking. Flies in the butter or covering the meat made very little difference to the lazy salesman or woman buying. One begins to more fully appreciate Tel Aviv with its prim and wholesome and healthy cleanliness.

Sat. eve the Medical Unit gave a “concert and dance” at the Nurses Home. The place was overcrowded when I arrived. The military governor and countless officers were present. The elite of Tel Aviv in full finery was there. A few highly decorative Italian officers made up the balance. The “concert” consisted of some violin soloing by an Italian, some “ballad” singing by an American boy, and some jargon “reading” by a native soldier, and some comedy dialogue a la Keith vaudeville by several couples of soldiers in English. The dance followed – a sad affair consisting of waltzes of the last generation. Needless to say – I didn’t exhibit any of my wares – but took the opportunity to meet a number of fair belles of Tel Aviv. They all speak English brokenly tho occasionally we are compelled to resort to my reserve language to make matters clear. Most of them understand German – and answer in Yiddish. Of course I had a good time.

Yesterday I took a ride into the colonies with a Mr. Goldberg who lives here in the house with us and is reputed to be the richest man in the neighbourhood. He’s a nice old fellow – tho doesn’t speak a word of English. We went to his four hundred acre orange plantation. His oranges are reputed to be the best in the vicinity and they are certainly worthy of the reputation. The plantation is artificially irrigated throughout. He proudly insisted on my sampling some of them before I could leave. We ad driven out there in a wagon – it took half an hour. Candidly I feel much safer turning a corner on two wheels in a Ford than tilting from side to side over ruts and ditches in a rickety wagon.

Last night I visited a fair Palestinian living in the neighbourhood. While there she had another visitor for a short while – a young Russian boy who is working in the colonies. He was a big husky looking fellow dressing in the style of Russia is most generally caricatured in – high black boots, black trousers tucked inside the boots, a blue shirt outside the trousers, a belt about the waist and long hair. Hs face was typically Russian- he might have been 18 or 30 years old. After talking to him “second-hand” for a little, I finally established direct lines of communication by using my German to his poor jargon (Yiddish). He gave me a very interesting picture of the life of colonists on the farms – he has been working there for two years and is most happy and enthusiastic in his work.

After he had gone we set out to take a walk over the sands under the stars. And then my charming companion volunteered to instruct me in the intricacies of our native tongue and I acquiesced. So already, after my first lesson, I can murmur in correct and acceptable Hebrew “The moon and stars are in the sky”, and “I have an apple”, and “There is a street” and “The house in the garden with the apple tree as a light” and “I have a nice girl” and “Give me a dog” etc. etc.

Lots of love,


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