Saturday, 22 March 2008

Letter 29 - May18, (1919)

Zionist Commission to Palestine

Dear Family,-

We are installed in our new house for three days now, and most happy. It’s great to have a home again. I have gotten for us a housekeeper from the Karrites who keeps everything in the house (it’s a two storey stone affair) absolutely spotless; and a cook Tsivi than whom none is better, I’m sure, in Palestine. In addition – we have Rachel, a cousin of Rosa, the Karrite*. Rosa and her 13 yr. old son live with us – in the basement. We have a piano, a luxurious sitting room, a comfortable little room next to the dining room, four bed rooms, (Dr. F & I have a tremendous room between us opening in three directions on balconies) and a bathroom with a shower and several lavatories. Dr. Rubinow has just joined the family. Szold will be here lots. Then we have a spare room for Dr. Eder or Jack Mosseri when they come up here.

Our office headquarters are being fixed up here. I’m having the American Red Cross build us some filing cabinets etc. and hope to buy some desks from them. Our chief office rooms, mine and the conference room overlook the Valley of Hebron and the Mt. of Olives, at the top of which is located the OETA*.

Several days ago I was up there while Dr. F. had a conference with Gen. Money, chief administrator to Palestine. I met most of the personnel – with whom I’d already been in correspondence. The Asst. Admin. Col. Crichton, an agreeable young Scotchman was the chief object of my visit. I tried to persuade him to sell or at least lend me several Fords – but they’re scarce as hen’s teeth, tho the roads are covered with them. Absolutely none are available. But I got a couple of other little things from him – so the net result of my visit was successful. These English officers are strange creatures – one is occasionally tempted to use a sledge hammer.

My work has been very slight since we’ve moved permanently up here – other than arranging the office and getting things started. The mail continues to Jaffa as no official advice of the change has been given yet, and we have decided very definitely not to mix ourselves in local politics or general affairs otherwise we’d be swamped in a deluge of controversies political and financial. So I’ve had the opportunity to do a bit of sightseeing.

Yesterday afternoon I wandered thru the old Arab district – exceedingly dirty. The streets have been recently cleaned since the arrival of the British by our own Sanitary Dept. but still reek with the odour of the ages. In one of the little side streets I found a roof garden on the top of a “hotel”. Here were gathered a motley bunch of Arabs, seated on little wicker stools, smoking their pies thru long multicoloured tubes, taking an occasional drink of sweet Turkish coffee and enjoying a “cabaret” show consisting of several puppets manipulated by strings and some quick-fired repartee from the manipulators.

In the evening I set out on another solitary sight seeing tour. It was the eve of Schimini Hazadik, a unique Jewish holiday occurring half way between Pesach and Shevuoth. Accordingly I went into the old city and headed in the general direction of the Yemenite quarter, having been told that their celebration was most interesting. It is a purely superstitious holiday where in every locality the local saints and prophets are commemorated and pilgrimages are made to their graves. After getting thoroughly mixed in a labyrinth of streets with only a big white moon as a guide – I began to hear chanting and singing in the distance. Following the sound around corners and thru alley ways I finally came upon a little stone structure the top floor of which was literally covered with people. I found the steps and ascended. At the top women were pushing and fighting hither and thither. I asked several in English and German what it was all about. Finally a young man came out who could speak broken English, explained to me that they were celebrating the festival, but that two men inside had gotten into fight, and wouldn’t I settle the affair. I entered the room – it was apparently a little place of worship, I noticed the altar and the ark and Hebrew inscriptions. The room was overcrowded and at one end the two men were fighting. I pushed thru and pulled them apart – had each of them tell his grievance to my translator – one claimed that the other was singing too loud and noisily for a synagogue, the other said that he sung so because he was happy. I shook hands with the pair and duly shalomed them and order was restored. Thereupon I was given the seat of honor, compelled to drink wine and smoke cigarettes. Hung from the ceiling were a number of bowls filled with water and oil; a wick was in each. Suspended from them were little tags on which were written the names of the prophets and saints. I asked for an explanation of this but no one seemed to know exactly why – other than it was the day to worship and rejoice with the prophets. I had to light a bowl (Ezekiel was my prophet) and make an offering. I gave 50 piastres ($2.50) but was told that the maximum accepted was .20 P.T - this I’m sure is the first time in history that an institution refunded a contribution from a member of the Zionist Commission. After all the candles were lit they all started to clap their hands and sing. I took my translator with me when I left in order to guide me to civilization. I don’t believe I could ever find that place again.

Today there was another wedding in the Azmu – our Miss Schuman married some Capt. In the Br. Army. Afterwards Dr. F. and I went out near the grave of Simon the Just to the Schnini Hazadik celebration. A big crowd was gathered there representative of all the different sects of Jews in Jerusalem – Bukharans with their gorgeous dresses and gowns of richly colored silk, Yemenites with their unique and distinctive silver amulets and jewellery, Karrites* distinguished by their immaculate cleanliness, Safardi and Ashkenazi of all kinds. It was a truly picturesque gathering. In the centre was a large roped in square. Here the Maccabeans (like our boy scouts) were to perform. We were immediately brought into the square amidst clicking of cameras and the cranking of a lone movie machine. In a corner of the square played the blind orchestra. On all sides were hundreds, thousands pushing, shoving to see what was to see – apparently for the time being us. Old Mr. Ben Yehuda joined us. Then the Maccabeans arrived – and gave a tiresome performance of timid and unenergetic calithetics. We soon left to visit the grave of Simon. A big crowd was grouped about a hole in the lock. This was the entrance. After watching for several minutes some people’s vain attempts to get out while the crowd was pushing to get in – I asked Dr. F. if he really wanted to go in and he said yes. So recalling my football days I struggled thru to the entrance blocked the hole and for 5 minutes only allowed people to come out. Then I got two soldiers to stand guard and allow no one to enter while I succeeded in pulling Dr. F thru and in. Down some steps we were in a stifling little synagogue of rock – a natural cave in the hill. Myriads of candles were burning on little shelves on all sides. Women were pressing themselves against the stone walls shrieking and howling and “praying”, their arms stretched over their heads and their lips glued to the rocks. We left quickly.

Dr. F. and I then went to visit a hospital run by Dr. Wallach, a German. It is the only really honest medical institution in Palestine. By honest I mean that it makes no pretences on which to base claims for money – it accepts no money from poor. It was a pleasure to go thru it, being by far the best built hospital in Palestine, tho of course not so up to date as the Azmu hospital.

I came near to going to Damascus with Dr. Eder last week to represent America for the Zionist Commission on its official greeting to Emir Feisal. But it didn’t quite materialize – but none of us have gone yet.

Yesterday morning I went toa reception by the Spanish Consul Counte de Ballabarin honor of his King’s birthday. Ben Avi went along. It was so formal that it was all form. We arrived at 11 A.M. and were cordially greeted by the Counte (he’s a rather young fellow) in his court costume covered with tags and medals. In his reception chamber a small group was gathered. Servants brought us champagne (imagine!) and little cakes, whereupon we proceeded to drink a standing toast to the King of Spain, Ben Avi making the appropriate remarks in French. People kept coming in and going thru the same performance – we watched for a short time before taking our departure. I envied the Count only in that he could drink to every toast – it was good champagne – but a tiresome proceeding. Before we left we had to sign our name in the registry book.

We are all grateful to Horace Callen* for the brilliant and emphatic manner in which he reputed that fellow Cohen in his April “New Republic” article.

All goes well, lots of love & kisses,


Please tell Jones and Julia* that their letters give Dr. F. a tremendous amount of happiness. Several weeks ago Julia wrote that she has made too great a sacrifice to the cause in allowing him to leave America. Dr. F. still quotes that at regular intervals. He is well and happy in our home, tho he complains of over eating. I’m afraid with Tsivi our cook we’ll all develop that habit. (Her doughnuts are worthy of America’s choicest.)

I’m writing at the desk in a palatial room – it is 10. 30 P.M. and Dr. F. is already asleep. The wind is howling around the corner and it is getting cold tho all day the weather was stifling.



*OETA:- Occupied Enemy Territory Administration

*Callen Horace: - H. Kallen :- b. Germany 1882 – d. New York City 1970’s; sBrought to U.S.A. at age of 5; Educator, philosopher, author, Zionist follower of Brandeis, expounder of cultural pluralism.

*Karrites:- Jewish sect founded in the 8th centure C.E.; originally obeyed only Biblical injunctions, rejecting the Oral Law, i.e. Talmudic-Rabbinic development of Judaism.

*Jonas & Julia :- son & daughter of Dr. H. Friedenwald

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