Photos and Text by Lydia Aisenberg
Getting to know Tel Aviv through others’ eyes was the objective of a recent visit by the Intensive Arabic Semester students to the city commonly known as the city that never stops and most people say lives up to that reputation.
A magnet for Israeli youth and overseas visitors, Tel Aviv never disappoints and there is always something left for the next time. On a very warm sunny February day, the MASA‐Givat Haviva Intensive Arabic Semester students – joined by 3 students on a MASA dance program at neighboring Kibbutz Ein Shemer – headed for Tel Aviv with staff member Lydia Aisenberg.
Alighting from the bus in Sderot Rothschild – a first lesson, looking up as much of Tel Aviv’s most interesting creative tiles, stonework and figurines are on second or third floor level. The point of disembarkation 96, Rothschild Boulevard, the capital ventures building of Evergreen House with 3 silent singers and their music books up on a second floor balcony serenaded the visitors of the day down below.
A short walk to Shenkin and the home of Zeev and Diana Rubanenko where the Israeli born Zeev and British born Diana shared the fascinating histories of their families with the students. Tel Aviv born and educated Zeev took the students on a trip to the past (whilst sitting in the comfort of his lounge) to the days when his Rubanenko forefathers produced vodka in Dvinsk, Latvia and after immigration to Palestine switching to selling soda and other soft drinks, first of all from a handcart and when more successful, from a horse drawn wagon.
Zeev showed photographs of the Rubanenko’s with their wagons on the streets of Tel Aviv of yore and also of the first kiosk of its kind where the Rubanenko brothers Yosef and Yitzhak sold soda drinks in Rothschild Boulevard. In modern times such ‘kiosks’ still exist in the center of the Boulevard but are now trendy coffee stations whose main customers are yuppie office workers from the high rise blocks of business premises interspersed between attractive buildings that have been renovated and radiate the culture and style of yesteryear.
It was in the mid‐19th century that the Rubanenko family produced vodka in Latvia. Zeev explained that according to family legend the vodka produced by his grandfather and family was very popular with the Russian czar. “He didn’t care too much for the family name on the label though, sounded too Jewish apparently,” said Zeev. “It would seem this was the reason why we ended up with the name Rubanenko which is not Jewish but Ukrainian!”
His grandfather and great uncle arrived in Palestine in the early 1920s and immediately began to make and sell soft drinks. “They sold drinks not only in Tel Aviv but also in Jaffa and when they upgraded to the horse drawn wagon the wagon was decorated with a sign proclaiming: “We have sworn from this day forward to drink only the fine beverages of Rubanenko Brothers and Co.” Showing grainy photographs of the family business on wheels, Zeev also points out a letter that was missing and later added, squashed in between others “as they obviously didn’t want to have to make a totally new sign.” Once established in Rothschild the Rubanenko’s became popular merchants on the Boulevard block selling their soft drinks and soda’s, known as ‘gzoz’ and in the Sixties and Seventies and found on almost every Tel Avivian street corner.
“The Rubanenko brothers closed the kiosk in the fifties branching out in manufacturing soda and siphons,” explains Zeev whilst pointing to a silver colored siphon sitting on top of a cupboard in the nearby kitchen area. Such siphons were found in most Israeli households in the Sixties (when this writer made aliya). “I found that one in the Jaffa flea market,” laughs Zeev. “My grandfather and his brother were not successful businessmen unfortunately,” says Zeev with a smile and points out that many big enterprises in Israel today such as Strauss dairy products started as small family businesses around the same time.
“There are so many family tales but one of them is particularly interesting although I have to admit in the past I equated it with a fairly tale until I found this letter,” and up pops a letter from the management of Coca Cola on his computer screen.“We were told that the brothers were offered the franchise for Coco‐Cola in Palestine and turned it down because they said the drink tasted bad,” laughs Zeev of his grandfather and great‐uncles bad business judgment. “Their business operations were closed in the 1960s and that tale stayed just that until I recently discovered this letter – and they apparently approached Coca Cola offering to be their agents in Palestine and this letter states that the company would look in to it – but nothing came of it.”
Zeev’s wife Diana, who hails from England, explained about her family roots and as with Zeev, students poured over family photograph albums as she explained about her paternal family in Britain and maternal in British Mandate Palestine. Diana’s father, Conan Allingham was an officer in the British Army during the Second World War. He helped train Haviva Reik, Hanna Senesh and other Jewish volunteers from Palestine serving in the British Army Jewish Brigade. He is buried in the kibbutz cemetery just meters from a large cave that was headquarters to the Palmach ‐ the strike force of the Haganah and predominantly made up of soldiers from kibbutzim.
The kibbutz is Mishmar HaEmek and the Intensive Arabic Semester students had paid a visit to that kibbutz – and cemetery – the previous week with kibbutz member and Intensive Arabic Semester staffer Lydia. It was at this kibbutz both she and Diana volunteered during the 1967 war and remained friends since. Diana’s father, an officer in the Tank Corps ‐ fought with the seventh armored division of Desert Rats fame and was seriously wounded in the Battle of Knightsbridge in the Western Desert.
Following 6 months of hospitalization in Egypt the young officer was transferred to Palestine for further recuperation and met his future wife Yael Weizman on an outing to the beach explained Diana. The father of Yael and brother Ezer Weizman (a former commander of the Israel Air Force and President of the State of Israel) was Yechiel ‐ an agronomist and one of the 11 siblings of the first president of the State of Israel Chaim Weizman.
Conan Allingham helped train Haganah fighters for their ill‐fated mission behind enemy lines in Europe in the mid-l940's. Some of that training took place in the forest behind Mishmar HaEmek where both he and his wife Yael are buried. “My parents left Palestine for Britain in 1944. They first travelled to Egypt where they joined a naval convoy sailing to Britain and it was many years before they told us of that harrowing experience as the convoy tried to avoid depth‐charges and enemy submarines,” Diana told the IAS students.
Conan Allingham only told his family of his involvement with the Haganah and Palmach fighters when one of Diana's Israeli born children began to write a roots project for school. Having a grandma who was a Weizman meant he didn't have to go far to find out about the family roots with scores of books chronicling the family on the maternal side and it was only when he asked his British grandfather about his family history – by which time the Allingham’s were living in Israel – did Conan tell the family of his contribution to the training of the Jewish fighters.
Looking through the photo albums of the Rubanenko, Weizman and Allingham families with Diana and Zeev was an experience the students said they found extremely interesting, highly educational and a history lesson of a totally different kind and were very appreciative of the opportunity offered by the Rubanenko’s.
The couple then joined the students for the few minute walk to the day’s next port of call MUSEUM HA’IR in Rehov Bialik.
The recently opened museum is based on exhibitions of photographs taken from family albums of Tel Aviv folk – such as those viewed in the Rubanenko home. Zeev had mentioned remembering the first – and up to present times only – snowfall of 1953 in Tel Aviv. One of the first photographs viewed was the snow covered streets of Tel Aviv!
The three storey museum also contains the renovated office of the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff and exhibition of modern art as well as a stunning floor made up of decorative tiles rescued from demolished Tel Aviv buildings.
Walking around the museum some of the students listened to more explanations of life as a child in Tel Aviv from Zeev as he progressed from one display to another, the photographs jogging the corners of his memory box of the fifties and sixties in the city that never stops! Zeev shares memories with Mary Kay Liotta at a display board – the saved tiles of Tel Aviv and tiled sign on the outside of the building, constructed by architect M. Czerner in 1925.
CARMEL MARKET & NAHLAT BINYAMIN
Strolling in the sunshine along Allenby Street to Carmel Market and Nahlat Binyamin students commented on the creative graffiti of Tel Aviv and the pulse of the city. At the entrance to the Carmel Market and Nahlat Binyamin, as she does every Tuesday and Friday, Israeli singer Miri Aloni was entertaining passersby. When Miri saw the students she asked if they were a Birthright group.
Told they were on a 5‐month MASA Givat‐Haviva Arabic language study program, Miri had the students stand alongside and sing with her for those gathered around. The musician singer, who stood alongside assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin the night he was murdered by Yigal Amir – just a short time after singing with her ‘Shir HaShalom’ on the balcony of the Tel Aviv municipality building – bade the IAS students farewell and wished them well in their studies.
“Be good ambassadors for Israel,” she called out as they began to mix with the crowds entering the street market of Nahlat Binyamin and the Carmel Market to meet up with the bus by the Hasan Bek mosque and memorials to the Israeli teens murdered by a suicide bomber whilst standing outside the Dolphinarium complex on the other side of the street.
A quick photo by a Rami Meiri wall painting, on the bus and traffic jams all the way home. A stop to watch sunset on the beach at Beit Yanai and summation of a very special day spent with special people in special places and plenty more to explore in the future.
Diana Rubanenko emailed: “Thanks for brining such a lovely group to visit us and Tel Aviv. It was so refreshing to meet bright‐eyed, interested and interesting young people. A real shot in the arm.”
Mary Kay Liotta summed up the day with: “Thanks for another lovely day! I had a wonderful time and so enjoyed meeting Diana and Zeev – another tile to add to the mosaic of my experience of Israel through this program. So far it is a wonderful, complex beautiful mosaic indeed!"
We were mentioned in an article on E Jewish Philantrhopy.com about students who were studying Arabic in Egypt who are now settling into new programs in Israel.
Check it out HERE.
Photos and Text by Lydia Aisenberg
Thirty veteran members of Kibbutz Barkai recently met with overseas students participating in the 5‐month MASA‐Givat Haviva Intensive Arabic Semester based at the kibbutz. The locals are used to seeing new faces in and around the 1949 founded Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz in Wadi Ara as this is the fourth term of the IAS program bringing students from the States, Britain, Germany, Bosnia, Czech Republic and Canada to live and study in their community.
American accents are certainly nothing new to be heard in Barkai being as a large number of founders hail from North America where they were members of the Hashomer Hatzair movement prior to aliya (immigration to Israel). Together with a group of Holocaust survivors and others they succeeded in settling, protecting and developing the small kibbutz on the lip of Wadi Ara a short distance from the 1949 Armistice Line between the State of Israel and the West Bank, the latter between 1949‐1967 under the jurisdiction of the Jordanians.
Gathered in the moadon (clubhouse) at Barkai, David Helfand, Rachel Goldberg and Matthew Monahan addressed Barkai veterans, sharing with their new neighbors a little of their backgrounds, what they had been doing prior to signing up for the Intensive Arabic Semester and also explaining what attracted them to the program in the first place.
The academic director of the Intensive Arabic Semester Dr. David Mendelsohn and the students also touched upon how things were looking with almost a month of the semester behind them whilst Kibbutz Barkai born and raised Uri Barel, a co‐founder of the program, touched on the logistics and marketing side. Kibbutz member Efrat Haas, the program’s in‐house administrator, gave an overview of where one could find graduates of the program and what they were doing in present times – either continuing their studies, working in their already acquired professions and she also spoke of the three former students who had decided to make Israel their home.
Matthew Monahan – a Bostonian – studied Arabic in Cairo for a number of months before coming to Israel. He came across the Intensive Arabic Semester when surfing the internet. David Helfand – from Massachusetts – studied Hebrew in Jerusalem and also completed an internship at the Palestine‐Israel Journal in that city. Rachel Goldberg interrupted her university studies in the States for the opportunity to study a semester in Israel and had also studied Hebrew in the past.
The kibbutzniks were intrigued as to why the students wanted to learn Arabic and asked what about Hebrew, how much of that language would they be studying as well. They also wanted to know what plans the students held for the future and upon hearing of their volunteering at a high‐school in the near‐by Israeli Arab Muslim city Baka al‐Gharbiya, where they teach English, the kibbutz folk fielded a few questions as to whether the students were getting to know the kibbutz community as well as the Arab community where they also have families to visit – as they do now in Barkai.
“The students are exposed to both the Arab and Jewish communities where they are working, studying and volunteering. They, in more ways than one, have become a bridge between those communities as they share with the Arabs they meet something about the Jewish community they are part of whilst doing the same when meeting with Jewish Israelis, whether it be in the kibbutz or when they go to visit family, friends in Israel in their free time,” explained David Mendelsohn.
“My wish is to speak both Hebrew and Arabic so as to be able to converse with all the peoples of Israel,” said David Halfend speaking in Hebrew to the best of his ability, as did fellow students Matthew and Rachel when they answered questions.
Syrian born kibbutz member Ovadia Shveika who made aliya in 1949 was curious to know how Matthew had been treated in Egypt. “Very well indeed,” answered Matthew.
“I was a bit apprehensive as to how it would work out but that was only in the beginning. Right from the outset I told them I was Jewish and that I had studied in Israel in the past and most people were very friendly and there were those who asked more about Israel. In general I felt comfortable in openly speaking about everything.”
Rachel Goldberg is from Delaware and has taken time out from her studies in the States for a semester in Israel. “My family was concerned about my living so far away but in the end they agreed to my joining the program. When I tried to explain to my friends what the concept of kibbutz was and why I really wanted to have a kibbutz experience as well, they really thought I was crazy,” she said with a smile. “They were right!” murmured a few of the veterans in good-humor. “My family thought the same fifty years ago," joked someone else.
Eighty-something native New Yorker Mitzi Alper, one of the veteran members of the kibbutz and familiar face on the nearby Givat Haviva campus where she has been volunteering for many years at the Art Center as a teaching assistant commented after meeting the students that she had really enjoyed listening to the MASA-Givat Haviva program trio.
“I was particularly interested in what motivated these young people to embark on such an intensive language program. They look upon the acquisition of language as one of the first steps in social action. I find it encouraging to meet young people who want to have an impact on the social interchange between Arabs, Christians and Jews,”
“I was quite impressed with their ability to express themselves in Hebrew and hopefully we will have the opportunity to meet, and talk with, the other members of the group,” she added.
The students received a number of invitations for tea or dinner in the veteran’s individual homes and the evening in the moadon was, it would seem, just the beginning of better things to come – for both the students and the veterans!
Out and About People, Places Past & Present Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek, Salem Checkpoint, Umm al-Fahm Mei Ami, Katzir and Barta’a Village
Photos and Text by Lydia Aisenberg
A visit to Kibbutz Mishmar HaEmek on a very warm day in February was the first portion of a seminar for the Intensive Arabic Semester students dealing with the relationship between the founder members of the kibbutz and the surrounding Arab Muslim villages and the Wadi Ara area in general.
Elisha Linn (84) one of the first born to the founders of Mishmar HaEmek spoke with the students about the Jewish kibbutzniks rocky relationship with their Arab neighbors – of as children how he and his generation interacted with the children from the Arab villages and about the emphasis at that time on learning Arabic not only to be able to communicate with the neighbors but to also learn about their culture.
“There was an understanding that we were going to have to get on together and great efforts were made by my parents and the other founder members who believed in co-existence between Arabs and Jews,” said Elisha.
“We had sport lessons together a few times a week,” reminisced the octogenarian. “There was a big metal bar hanging on a rope and whoever was responsible for the lessons would bang on the bar with a smaller one and the Arab kids would hear it and come to the kibbutz.”
The same system was used if and when necessary to call the members from their work places during a security situation. The distance between the kibbutz and closest village was a matter of a minute or two walk he explained and pointed to a nearby hill from where the students were sitting on the patio of kibbutz member and Givat Haviva staff member, Lydia Aisenberg.
“There, that little hill was where some of them lived. Between them and us a small wadi and of course a fence around the kibbutz,” said Elisha who speaks fluent Arabic and for many years worked with Arab laborers in construction sites around the Polish founded Hashomer Hatzair kibbutz.
The relationship had its ups and downs and he touched on the events of 1929 and 1936 when many Jews were killed by Arabs during the British Mandate period. Elisha, who possesses an incredible memory, detailed incidents involving the kibbutz and told the students of the day he was shot in 1948 by a local Palestinian after having been called to the perimeter fence by one of his Arab friends.
Badly wounded having been shot in the face, Elisha was transferred from the kibbutz to hospital in Afula by a roundabout route as was impossible to go any other way. Put on a stretcher with wooden handles, Elisha recalls that the stretcher was too long to be able to fit into the vehicle and so kibbutz folk sawed off the handles but the vehicle still traveled with the door ajar!
“When we got to Kibbutz Sarid across the valley, the vehicle having to push aside big rocks put on the road by the Arabs, I was transferred to a waiting ambulance. In those days we were using either field telephones or Morse code to contact each other and a message was got back to my kibbutz that I was on my way!”
The students accompanied Elisha and Dafna Govrin, kibbutz born daughter of parents who came to pre-State Israel from Eastern Europe, to the in-house museum of Mishmar HaEmek of which Dafna is one of the co-founders.
The museum, on two floors of a small building that was an guard post during the War of Independence, is divided into artifacts of the kibbutz of yore on the top floor – and also contains a model of the kibbutz as it was in the early 1930s – and on the ground floor an exhibition of photographs and artifacts telling the story of the battle against a large Arab army in the mountains surrounding Mishmar HaEmek and in which the kibbutz suffered heavy losses as well as a model of the kibbutz as it was at that time.
“We decided to make the museum so that our children and grandchildren would be able to continue to learn about the beginnings of the kibbutz, the relationship during periods that were sometimes good and sometimes not so between our grandparents, parents and the Arab neighbors and as much as we could exhibit from the photographs of that time so that they would learn of our past, the struggle for survival and everything that was fought for and why,” Dafna told the students.
Leaving the museum, Dafna and Elisha, the students expressed how interesting it had been to hear Elisha recap on his younger days and felt the importance of the museum for the education of not only kibbutz children but also for students like themselves.
After lunch in the kibbutz dining-room as guests of the kibbutz which is still very much a cooperative unlike many kibbutzim that have privatized over the last few decades, the students visited Mishmar HaEmek’s Holocaust memorial, the first memorial in the country in memory of over a million children who perished in the Shoah. Completed in 1947 the memorial bears the scars of the War of Independence, bullet holes in the figure of a mother protecting her child and other areas of the impressive memorial.
The kibbutz decided not to repair the damage done by those bullet holes as they also represent the continued struggle for survival of the Jewish people,” the students were told by Lydia, their guide for the day and member of the kibbutz since the 1960sThe last port of call for the students in the kibbutz was the local cemetery where they visited the graves of Conan and Yael Allingham.
A strong connection between the British Army officer and his Israeli wife, the sister of the former President of Israel Ezer Weizman, Mishmar HaEmek and Haviva Reik – after whom Givat Haviva is named – was explained to the group who will shortly on another day outing will be visiting the British born daughter of the Allingham’s who nowadays lives in Tel Aviv and from whom they will hear more about her family in Israel and the connection to the kibbutz and the training of Haviva Reik and Hannah Senesh in the forest of Mishmar HaEmek.
Five minutes down the road from the kibbutz and over the other side of the Megiddo junction, the security fence built in 2003, crosses over what was once the main road to the nowadays autonomous Palestinian city of Jenin. An army base, small checkpoint known as the Salem checkpoint named after the neighboring Israeli Arab Muslim village of the same name, sits on the Green Line.
Taking a short walk around the back of the base and toward the Jezreel Valley floor, the IAS students were able to stand on a hilltop overlooking a large portion of the Valley, the town of Afula, Nazareth on a mountain range in the near distance, Mt. Tabor and the Gilboa range of mountains. At the same time they could look across the rooftops of a Palestinian village (Zabuba) to Jenin in the nearby distance. Palestinian taxis moving around the village, the call to prayer from one of the village mosques echoes around the hills and a loudspeaker being used by a fruit vendor as he drove between the buildings all clearly heard.
The course of the security fence coming down the Gilboa mountains, across the Jezreel Valley between the moshavim of the Tanakhim and Palestinian villages on the right hand side of what was once the road to Jenin from Megiddo, all clearly seen from above as well as the security fence passing twenty meters from the spot where the students and guide Lydia Aisenberg were standing. The path of the fence continuing up the Amir mountain range to Umm al-Fahm also all clearly visible on such a clear February sunny day after a few days of rain.
From Salem the journey continued to Umm al-Fahm, an overview of the city and on the other side of the security fence passing around the outskirts, the Palestinian village of Anin and superb view of the Jezreel Valley from the Amir mountain range.
Continuing on to the village of Barta’a the IAS students met with local businessman Allam Abu Abead, a Palestinian from Jenin who runs a perfume and textile shop in the divided village of Barta’a.
The students had previously visited Barta’a but as there had not been enough time to engage in conversation with the locals the opportunity arose to rectify that fact and the time spent with Allam – was invaluable for the students to realize just how complex the situation is – and how much had been seen, heard, learned, experienced that very long but special day, which finished with an incredible downpour of much needed rain.
At the Barta’a checkpoint students met with Hitham Kabha who told of how he had left the village of East Barta’a some years before and joined members of the clan now settled in Sydney, Australia where he had a wife and two children. Working temporarily as a taxi driver in the area, Hitham Kabha said he was planning to take another wife from one of the Palestinian villages in the area! The students are seen on the left chatting with donkey riding elderly Palestinian Mahmood Yehiya from the Dotan Valley through the open door of the bus.
Pictured left are the students with with Allam Abu Abead in his Barta’a perfume and textile business.