My Father’s Family — Part 3

In May 1911 Moshe Abarbanel took both his sons: Haim and Zeev and traveled south to Odessa. There they took a ship and departed for Jaffa. With a stop at Beirut the voyage took just over a fortnight. From the port of Jaffa they drove with a one-horse coach and an Arab coachman to Tel-Aviv where Moshe Abarbanel enlisted his sons into Hagymnasia Haivrit Herzeliah (the Hebrew Gymnasium Herzliah) which was the first Hebrew school in the world where Jewish and non-Jewish children could learn for 12 years (from age 6 to age 18) everything which was taught in similar schools in Switzerland, Germany, Austria etc’ in the Hebrew language.

Hagymnasia Haivrit Herzeliah was founded on 22.10.1905 in Jaffa. Tel-Aviv was founded in 1909. In October 1910 the school moved to its own building in Tel-Aviv.Tel-Aviv which was founded by 66 Jewish families had by the time that Haim and Zeev Abarbanel arrived about 200 families. It was actually a suburb of Jaffa and had only two short streets. The step which Moshe Abarbanel took by bringing his two sons to be educated in the land of their forefathers and in the language of their forefathers and turn them from exiled Jews in the Diaspora to free Hebrew speaking Jews in Israel was one of the many audacious deeds which this man, who was my grandfather did.

Moshe Abarbanel was a busy businessman. He had to return to Kremenchug. And so he left his sons with one of the Jewish families of Tel-Aviv which was highly recommended to him by the school’s directors and left two weeks later. The boys were received with warmth and great friendship at school as well as at home, and were so entranced by their new environment that they hardly missed their family.

The Abarbanel family used to go every summer to a summer-house which they owned in the Crimea, on the Black seashore. Beside the two boys there were three girls named: Sarah, Yehudit and Esther. But as the summer of 1912 approached Haya Abarbanel said that she longed for her boys and did not think that it would be fun to go to the Black-sea this year. She decided to go to Palestine to see her boys and she decided to take along her three girls who were also longing for their two big brothers. And so she took the girls and boarding ship at Odessa she left for Jaffa. She docked in Jaffa on the 26th of July 1912 and hurried to Tel-Aviv where she found two strong and suntanned boys who grew up and put on weight. Everybody could not be happier! She hurried to write her first letter from Tel-Aviv to Kremenchug where her husband, Moshe, remained and instead of taking his summer vacation did some more business.

As soon as Haya Abarbanel arrived in Tel-Aviv she rented an apartment for herself and her five children. Shortly after breakfast she used to fill a basket with fruit, vegetables and rolls, pick up the large umbrella which she brought with her and walked through the white and warm sand all the way from the top of Herzl Street to the seashore with her 5 kids, the boys carried baby Esther on their shoulders. It was a distance of between 200 and 300 meters. The beach was spotless and the seawater was so clear that you could actually see the bottom at a depth of close to 10 meters. The boys swam and Haya went into the sea up to her knees and then sat herself under her umbrella with the girls around her. There were many residents of Tel-Aviv around her, all chatting with each other. After sunset and dinner almost everybody used to sit on the veranda and enjoy the August sea-breeze and the moonlight.

Three weeks after she arrived in Tel-Aviv Haya Abarbanel wrote her second letter, in Russian, to her husband in Kremenchug: Dear Moshe, I am not returning to Kremenchug. I decided to remain here. This is our homeland and this is where we should live. We have all we need here and the children grow up as Jews of a different kind entirely than the one with which we are familiar in the diaspora. Had you seen it you would be fascinated. Even baby Esther hardly cries and asks to be cuddled in my arms. I was surprised when Haim and Zeev told me what they have learned here in one year! I suggest that you liquidate all of your business and come here. When you come do not forget to bring with you a large sack of potatoes. Oranges are rolling here freely in the streets but potatoes are more expensive than gold because they do not grow here and arrive here by ship. This intelligent and courageous woman who brought the Abarbanel family to its homeland was my grandmother.

Moshe Abarbanel had no difficulty selling both his textile business and his beautiful house which stood in the best quarter of Kremenchug.This was a good year in Ukrainian economy and he received the price which he asked for without argument. Taking leave of his relatives and his wife’s relatives he traveled to Odessa and departed two days later for Jaffa arriving in 1913. Joining his wife, Haya, and his five children they all moved to a house on Lilienblum Street.

My grandfather was not a person who could remain idle for long. He walked and drove around Jaffa and its suburbs of Tel-Aviv, Neveh-Zedek and Neve-Shalom and met quite a lot of people, mainly merchants and businessmen, almost the whole Jewish community, and finally went to the Tel-Aviv Executive Committee which had an office next to the pump of the water-tower which supplied water to all the buildings of the suburb. The Chairman of the Committee was Meir Dizengof. They both spoke Hebrew and Russian and soon became very friendly. Moshe Abarbanel told Dizengof that he would like to set up a streetcar system in Tel-Aviv so as not to depend on the Arab cabs of Jaffa. Dizengof did not think that the time was ripe for such an expensive transportation project since the suburb was small and had only six short streets. He told Abarbanel that what he needed was a large public hall where one could seat up to a thousand people for concerts, theater shows, holiday celebrations, ceremonies, speeches and such. Abarbanel left Dizengof deeply musing.

Two days later he came back to Dizengof and said: I will build such a large public-hall fit for all the functions which you mentioned if you agree that I install in it a cinematograph and use the place as a cinema (movie-house) when the hall will not be busy with other activities. Dizengof liked the idea and asked Abarbanel to present it at the next Committee meeting.

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