'Tel-Aviv, view towards Jaffa' 1927, by Ludwig Blum, courtesy of Bet Hatfutsot
As she cleared the dinner plates off the table, Anna wondered why Sophie was being sent here to Palestine at a time when there was danger in the air. Could it be that the milder climate would be better for her asthma which worsened in the cold winters of England? Anna and Ephraim's small apartment was on Ben Yehuda Street – the in-place to be in the ever extending Tel Aviv of the 30s. Anna sighed as she wondered how she could manage. The noise of ongoing labor echoed ceaselessly around them as the smart new Bauhaus buildings were constructed; she found that the noise, the dust and the summer heat simply drained her. Plus Ephraim – talking of nothing but what goods he was going to make and show at the Levant Fair next year which he boasted would be even more successful than it was last year - Tel Aviv was now on Europe's commercial map.
Ephraim switched on the radio to listen to the evening news broadcast – how he loved that old rocking chair that had come all the way from Berlin with him in the 20s. The news reader’s voice broke into Anna's thoughts "More families from Europe docked today and were greeted at the Jaffa port by Mayor Dizengoff." Not interested in hearing more Anna went out to the small veranda off the kitchen to take in the washing. Ephraim's voice rose in anger and floated through to her. "So what if Tel Aviv is a growing success – will threats and shooting help them? It was us, the Jews, who did it! We'll build our own port right here in Tel Aviv – who needs Jaffa with all their claims, and they'll lose out on the income."
Gathering up the laundry Anna went back into the living room "So what happened?"
"A group of Arabs started throwing stones and threatening the families disembarking."
Ephraim switched off the radio. Anna busied herself folding the laundry, "I hope that Sophie will be alright; she's due to dock next week."
"Well don't begin to worry about your cousin already - remember it was your family who decided to send her."
Sophie's ship docked safely; even though this was their first meeting, Anna picked her out of the extreme mix of men, women, children and babes who were streaming off the ship – she was pretty, she was elegant, just as she appeared in her photographs, right down to the saucy hat perched on her head.
"Anna - it is you!"
They embraced – Anna trembled and even wept whilst Sophie held her, softly stroking her hair. Back in England Sophie's father had bored her, preaching on and on about G-d, the bible and "Eretz Yisroel" - the true home of the Jews - she had wanted to discover the facts on her own. Now it would no longer be words but flesh and blood.
Even the cramped conditions and the ongoing noise in the apartment did not bother her. She loved Tel Aviv. She found it exciting – the Bauhaus design apartment buildings were so modern, they should do something like this back in Liverpool instead of those boring red brick houses. It did not bother her that the three of them shared the large double bed – Anna in the middle, she on one side and Ephraim on the other.
Sophie tried to lighten Anna's days by making her explore the burgeoning city with her. Now Anna was able to see the special modernist culture that had developed through Sophie's eyes – she sampled the theater, in Yiddish too, and the music. Sophie insisted on taking Anna - in spite of Ephraim's qualms - to the Dead Sea at Chanukah. Shimon Gabay was the young law student who guided them, doing this to help finance his law studies. An instant attraction between Sophie and Shimon blossomed over the following months and Anna had to reveal him to Ephraim as Sophie referred to him incessantly.
He also would have been horrified had he known that one day Sophie took Anna to the afternoon tea dance at that café around the corner from the Mograbi; Shimon was waiting, he invited Anna to sit, ordered drinks and swept Sophie into his arms to fox trot gracefully around the small dance floor. Anna tried to chase away her own desires for such a romance as the music filtered into her being. A shadow fell across the table, making Anna look up. He was tall, elegant and spoke to her in unaccented English.
"My name is Ahmed," he smiled, "I have been watching you – I think you are perhaps lonely. You do not dance and I wonder if you would dance with me?"
Ahmed. She knew they came to dance with the Jewish girls, the Arabs from Jaffa. To hell with it, she thought as she stood up to step close to him; he took her in his arms and spun her onto the dance floor. Ephraim's voice echoed in her brain - the words coming back to her as she moved around the dance floor in the arms of an Arab man -"Remember, East is East and West is West and never the two should meet." Words that were engraved into Ephraim's Ashkenazi mind by his strict upbringing. She thought differently. There had to be understanding. Now the soft beat of the music filtered desire into her being as she felt this man's body against hers; the scent of freshly laundered cloth and herbs that emanated from him pleased her. The sun descended slowly into the sea and the waves softly washed the shoreline beyond the palm lined promenade below.
Unrest amongst the Arab population of Jaffa, their resentment at the growth of Tel Aviv and the initiation of the building of a port there pushed them into an actual revolt that made world headlines in that spring of 1936. A telegram was delivered with an order for Sophie to return home immediately. Sophie persuaded Anna to come with her to tell Shimon. They found themselves at the door of a beautiful villa in Neve Tzedek which was his home, and Sophie grasped Anna's hand as the door opened to an opulence she had never seen before. Merchants, who came from Persia to find their future in the new city in 1910, had purchased this land and there they built their homes. They were received by Shimon's mother and when some questioning arose, Anna soon realized that Shimon had not disclosed his relationship with Sophie to the family. And now there was Sophie, sobbing, unable to grasp the fact that she was not desirable to Shimon's family. What heartache!
Once again death was on the doorsteps with the Arab Revolt that erupted in spite of the strong British military presence. These British Imperialists had even 'given their official permission' for the formation of a local Jewish defense force – as if it didn't already exist! The soon ‘to-be’ Levant Fair was cancelled, leaving Ephraim desperate. Of course they all feared how it would end and Sophie went home. Did she really have to and did Sophie indeed love the man she married back in England or had she married him just to escape her parents who thought as Ephraim did and would never have approved of Shimon?
Twenty five years passed by – years of loss and tragedy for the Jewish people with the horrors of Nazism – of which one positive outcome was the recognition of the State of Israel. Meanwhile behind the stage of world happenings and its ever-changing backdrops life continued in Tel Aviv.
Anna, lonely and childless, sat down on the settee, her eyes narrowed in thought, bitterness filling her body as so many pictures of the past came into her mind. All her closest family in Poland had perished; she could not bear to think of their suffering and strove ceaselessly to push the black thoughts away. Now Sophie would enter her life again - this time through her daughter. She gazed out through her balcony window sheltered by the trees that lined the sides of Rothschild Boulevard where they now lived. How Tel Aviv had changed – would Sophie still have loved it now – was she aware that Shimon had become a leading figure in legal and political circles?
Anna's mind wandered again - those Bauhaus buildings - how unsuited they had been to Israel's climate – just heat traps and their smart, cemented white walls now blackened and corroded by sea air, traffic fumes and lack of upkeep. She was happy to escape to their present home; it had taken thirty years for Ephraim to scrape together the money. Now it was 1962. Sophie was sending her daughter and she would have to deal with Ephraim's remarks yet again about what the girl would do here. She hadn't heard so clearly on that overseas call but apparently the girl was involved with a Christian. Perhaps this time she would succeed in helping this girl to find a new partner and a life in Israel and finally she would have family to love beside her. She would show her the city of the present, take her for heart to hearts over coffee at 'Roval' on the now ultrafashionable Dizengoff Street. No, perhaps not. Better if she took her to that new coffee bar on Frishman Street, the one Abie Nathan, the El Al pilot, just opened – this was the in-place for the young. Yes – perhaps there was another life to be found right here, in this ever-changing city!
And it worked. Just last year Anna closed her eyes for the last time. At her side, gently stroking her hand, was Keren, Sophie's great-granddaughter, but in spite of the love she now had from family there was pain in her heart that her great-nephews could be facing death – death from today's ongoing scourge in Gaza where they were defending Israel in the Cast Lead Operation. So many changes, too many for her to grasp any more; Tel Aviv of the towering buildings that overshadowed all her best memories, the noise of non-stop traffic that echoed through the shutters of her room. She had been ready to leave it behind.