Saturday, 22 March 2008

Letter 31 - May 25, (1919)

Zionist Commission to Palestine

Dear Family,-

I’ve been so stiff for the last two days that I can hardly move without groaning. Friday afternoon at about 4.P.M. Lt. Saphhir, the much decorated and clever little French Foreign Legionnaire, tho a born Palestinian, and myself went horseback riding. We had a wonderful ride thru the picturesque hills to the south of Jerusalem thru little Arab villages, past Jewish farms, Russian monasteries etc. The path was good and we galloped most of the way. On returning, however, I could hardly get off – and now, I’m sure I know what chronic rheumatism feels like.

Saphir, by the way, is quite a personage about Jerusalem. He’s short, stocky and French looking. He speaks about a dozen languages quite fluently. He’s about 35 or 28 years old. Several days ago an election of the Vaad Ha’ir (Municipal Council) was due to take place. The day before, the old V.H. had a full meeting attended by all the many parties and political factions of Jerusalem. At this meeting a little group of ultra radicals decided that it wasn’t the proper time or manner to hold elections and that they should be postponed. Saphir, tho not a member, is one of the local political “machers”, and was therefore at the meeting. He claimed the floor, and was in the midst of an emotional oration bitterly condemning the few radicals who were adding to the discord of local politics, when he was interrupted and ordered to sit down by the acting chairman, an unpopular local physician. Their exchange of epithets grew more emphatic and reckless (in Hebrew of course) until the chairman ordered Saphir to leave the meeting! The latter acquiesced in good grace, but that evening he sent his card thru a friend to the other’s house – a real challenge to a real duel. Things began to grow interesting around town. Would it be pistols, or knives, or rifles, or swords, everyone was asking everybody. But finally a few of us succeeded in persuading the combatants that if a duel must take place, to be recorded in history as the first of its kind in Palestine, let it be fought with bare fists – that the best man wins. And so it was decided.

The V.H. election took place as per schedule (“schedule” the English say) about 2600 votes being cast, and 70 members being elected. Saphir, of course, was no candidate being in service – but his opponent had the honor of being the 70th elected.

Friday eve I went to visit an Australian family which owns a lot of land near Rehoboth, named Shlushkin. They are reputed to be worth millions of £. There are about half a dozen daughters ranging from about 22 down, and one little son – all horribly spoiled tho not unattractive. They all dance quite well and claim to play tennis – they are the first sample I’ve met in Palestine of the Virginia H. variety and I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

Today we received a cable advising us of Aaron Aaronsohn’s* death, He will be quite a loss here.

This afternoon a local eye specialist, Dr. Ticho, a friend of Dr. F., took us to a botanist. The man is one of the few real idealists found in thus country (viz B. Schatz). He lives from a small salary paid for several weekly lectures at some local seminary. He has three rooms completely filled with specimens, - plants, flowers, cereals, weeds, leaves, etc. He plans to write a book of the growths of Palestine during the different seasons of the year and in the different localities. He expects to found a museum wherein all plants shall be shown by localities & by seasons, a summary of the history of each shall be attached and also the various references there is in the Bible and various subsequent religious works. His name is Ronbinowitz, - remember it, Kitty, when you come out here!

I had it rather easy for the last few days. The mail was just starting to come our way instead of to Jaffa. We are building up a good wide awake organization here, which is hard to do in this climate and things are moving. Dr, F, and I share one good American stenog., a Miss S Ahohan, from Boston, whose brother is a Dr. in the Amzu, and she is fully capable of taking care of our work. We stole her from Dr. Rubinow by a fluke (ask Pheeny what that means; she’ll know!)

Next week I hope to take a flying trip to Egypt. - Port Said, Cairo and Alex. The following week Dr. and I intend going north on a tour of inspection thru the colonies. I want to get up to Damascus if at all possible. We will visit Haifa, Saffed, Tiberias, and the neighboring colonies.

All reports from America seem to show unusual prosperity – even the Styleplus Ads. In the stray S.E.P.’s that find their way out here radiate it. Several weeks ago we were informed that Capt. Tulin, representing the Hoover Food Relief Administration was in Constantinople to arrange the distribution of a large quantity of wheat to Turkey, Armenia, Syria and Palestine. We immediately advised the Administration here of this, and asked that we might wire Tulin to come here at once and arrange for our share of the cereals; but the authorities with their usual English contrariness had to think it over, and finally decided that it would have a bad effect on the local markets and would not sanction it. So food continues to be high in Palestine.

Dr F. expects to leave here first week in July or thereabouts-

Our home is a source of constant delight to us all. I have all the trouble - of a housekeeper with my food budget, laundry, linen shortages, trouble with plumbing, how many for supper (we are beginning to entertain quite lavishly) etc.

Gen. Money, the chief Administrator to Palestine, will be our guest shortly.

The weather here continues delightful – warm by day and cool by night. Local pests have strange habits viz mosquitoes bite only at night, chickens crow any time between 7 P.M. and 5 A.M., cats are plentiful but don’t yowl on back fences at all, Fords are always out of repair and stuck on the roads.

Yesterday was Shabbes and we spent it in most orthodox fashion. In the morning Dr. F. went to synagogue and then we took a walk. After lunch we lay down to read and sleep until about 5.30. In the eve we entertained guests.

Enough for today.

Lots of love and kisses,


Glad to hear you’re making a hero of yourself, Ann. By this time all’s over but the noise, I suppose.

I rec’d a letter from Marj. B. who urges that I return via Pacific & Cal. to meet her there. I may – who can tell!

*Aaronsohn, Aaron:- b.Palestine 1876 – d.plane crash 1919; agronomist, organiser of Nili (acronym in Hebrew “The Eternal One of Israel will not Deceive”), Jewish spy network in Ottoman Palestine to pass intelligence to the British, 1916 - 1917

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