My Father’s Family — Part 5

1916 was no better than its predecessor. The citizens of the Allied Powers have all gone to Egypt by the end of 1914 but even citizens of the Axis powers started leaving and moving north. 1917 came and made things worse. The British opened a forceful front north of the Suez Canal.Mostly Australian, New-Zealand and Indian troops, 3 Jewish infantry regiments under the Star-of-David flag, one French regiment and a batalion of Italian soldiers mounted on bicycles. They quickly conquered the Sinai desert and advanced on Gaza. The Turkish ruler of Syria and Palestine, Jamal-Pasha decided upon the expulsion of all the Jews of Jaffa and Tel-Aviv far north as possible, including the Jews who were citizens of Axis Powers and even Ottoman citizens.

The expulsion order was given on Passover 1917. Weisser and his family first moved to Kfar-Saba and later to Tiberias. The Abarbanel family moved to Petah-Tikva. There, Haya Abarbanel gave birth to her youngest son Yitzhak (Isaac).Grandpa was idle and what little cash he had was soon gone. Once the United-States joined the War, American ships stopped arriving at Haifa harbor and bringing supplies–mainly wheat–as they did before. Hunger struck the land. It struck everybody. The Abarbanels were no exception. To add to this misery, a bad typhus epidemic broke out.

There were 100,000 Jews in Palestine who were Russian citizens when the War broke out. Most of them went to Egypt. Of the few who remained almost all changed their citizenship from Russian to Ottoman (Turk). Abarbanel and his family remained in Palestine and did not give up their Russian citizenship. This was quite a dangerous decision. Ransom or bakshish was to no avail during wartime. Actually the Abarbanels remained as they were only thanks to Cinema “Eden”. Not only because the cinema served as a milking-cow for Hassan-Beck but because he believed that finally, in the near future, this movie-house will serve the Turkish army and its allies the German and Austrian armies. And for this reason the Abarbanel family remained as hostages of Hassan-Beck since December 1914 until all the Jews were expulsed from Jaffa and Tel-Aviv on Passover 1917.

The family arrived in Petah-Tikva in March 1917. Grandpa walked endlessly in the colony (as it was defined then), the keys to “Eden” were in his pocket and he was going out of his mind from sheer idleness. In October Abarbanel became ill. It was Typhus. This epidemic wreaked havoc on the whole land. There were no appropriate medicines in this country that could treat it. The front was approaching and on November 16 the British army conquered Jaffa and Tel-Aviv and stopped south of the Yarkon river. On December 11 General Allenby entered Jerusalem and then turned back to advance North along the coast. All this time grandpa’s illness was getting worse and the doctors said that he was still alive only because he was otherwise so healthy and strong and that at the French Hospital at Jaffa they had some injections which may save his life. At the end of December 1917 the British entered Petah-Tikva. Grandma and several compassionate Jews went to the British CO and begged that he transfer Abarbanel and 3 more seriously ill Jews to the French Hospital in Jaffa. They were immediately dispatched in a Red-Cross wagon. The Jews of Petah-Tikvah thought that, at last, the Messiah had come, but alas the Turks and Austrian Artillery commanded by a German General counter-attacked and made the British retire south of Petah-Tikva.

Grandma Haya remained in Petah-Tikva with her children: Haim, Zeev, baby Yizhak, Sarah, Yehudit and Esther. The baby was only three months old. The hunger situation was alleviated by the food which the British left behind them. My father, Zeev, who was very attached to his father kept asking when will it be possible to travel to Jaffa to see him. In January 1918 the British re-took Petah-Tikva and as soon as Zeev saw the first Australian cavalry entering he decided to go see his father and without saying a word to anyone he packed a thick slice of bread and two oranges in a pillow-case and stealthily left the house on his way to Jaffa. He was 15 years old.

Many years later he told me of his journey. He had to cross the Front where the fighting ceased only an hour ago. The scene was horrid. He kept his eyes straight in the direction of his walk, afraid to look aside and see the horrific sights of the dead and wounded, mainly Turkish soldiers moaning for pity. Advancing through the trenches he met two British medical orderlies carrying an empty stretcher who asked him where he was going. He spoke no English and just said: “Jaffa” several times. They let him go on and many hours later, close to sunset he reached Jaffa tired, covered by mud and very hungry. He proceeded straight to the French Hospital and found his father.

Moshe Abarbanel’s condition was very bad. He told his son that the injections which were mentioned by the doctors in Petah-Tikva were indeed available in this French Hospital but they were outdated. And yet the French doctor used them and they resulted in purulent abscesses where the injections were administered but did not help to heal the typhus. Abarbanel had a high fever and felt very bad. While talking to his son he told him the following:

A day after Abarbanel’s arrival at the hospital, David Izmozhik who replaced Meir Dizengof as Chairman of the Municipal Committee came and without asking for Abarbanel’s health demanded the keys to cinema “Eden” saying that the British Governor of Jaffa and Tel-Aviv asked for the keys in order to operate the cinema for the allied troops. Abarbanel refused. A loud row developed between the two, the nurse called the doctor and as soon as he came in Izmozhik drew the keys from under Abarbanel’s pillow and escaped. Zeev promised his father that he will remain in Tel-Aviv and keep an eye on the movie-house. The French doctor took Zeev to his room and told him that the only chance for his father to survive would be if he could be transferred to Doctor Moshe Wallach at “Shaarey-Zedek” hospital in Jerusalem.

My father Zeev left the hospital heartbroken and despaired and asked some people he knew to let him stay with them until his family returns from Petah-Tikva. They took him in, washed him, fed him and gave him a bed to sleep in. Next morning he went with several good Jews to the British Military Governor. They told him about Abarbanel who was the owner of the cinema and asked him to help transfer Abarbanel to Jerusalem. Next day Abarbanel was placed on a stretcher and taken with the mail-wagon from Jaffa to Jerusalem. Zeev spent most of his time making rounds around the cinema and the soldiers and officers who saw him at the office of the Governor were kind to him and asked him to go in and watch the performances and gave him some chocolate and biscuits.

The entertainment service of the British army operated the cinema screening movies, performing shows and concerts. The hall was almost full at every show. The buffet was operated by the NAAFI and was full of goodies. The British army paid a monthly sum which they decided upon and which was not high to the Tel-Aviv municipal committee and Izmozhik used it as part of the fee which had to be paid for the concession. Zeev asked him to hand over a small sum to the families of Abarbanel and Weisser so that they would be able to survive but the felon refused. It was only due to the kindness of the Tel-Aviv Jews that Zeev did not starve during the two months which he spent there by himself.

Moshe Abarbanel remained a long time at the “Shaarey-Zedek” hospital in Jerusalem. He was treated by Doctor Wallach and Nurse Zelma. The hospital was founded in 1902 by German Jewery and received the latest medicines rapidly and Abarbanel’s condition was getting better from week to week.

One year after their arrival at Petah-Tikva, during Passover of 1918, Haya Abarbanel returned to Tel-Aviv with her children. Moshe Abarbanel returned from Jerusalem, fit and healthy, soon after. They were all so happy to reunite with Zeev whom they missed all this time. The only problem was how to make a living while the cinema was still operated by the army, which payed the municipal committee, which refused to give even one penny to the owners.

The economical situation remained quite poorly in Tel-Aviv throughout 1918. The family lived in a large rented apartment on Lilenblum Street. A family consultation was called and the senior son, Haim and his brother Zeev proposed to set up a tea-room in the large sitting room of this apartment. Zeev was purchasing the products from the NAAFI, mother Haya was baking cakes, cookies and biscuits, the Samovar (Russian boiler) which they brought along with them from Kremenchug stood on the cupboard and the girls were serving real English tea. There were also fresh fruit from Jaffa and jam which Haya Abarbanel was producing herself. The British who were used to similar tea-rooms which were spread all over the British isles started coming inn, soldiers and officers in steadily growing numbers. This house had a garden and with spring at hand the garden became part of the tea-room. There was a piano in the apartment and medical-orderlies from the British military hospital which was erected in the German quarter of Jaffa used to play the piano as well as a violin and there were some fine tenors and baritones who used to sing along. This tea-room had all one could wish for. Income was growing and fed the whole Abarbanel family. All of the British military in Jaffa and Tel-Aviv knew that the unique tea-room belonged to the owners of the cinema which was operated by the British military entertainment service and this granted the family affection and honour. The British Military Governor used to visit the tea-room quite often. He specially liked the “Babka” (Russian-styled tea cake) which Haya Abarbanel used to bake. All the family’s children learned to speak English and Izmozhik from the municipal committee ate his heart out.

The joy which returned to the family was disturbed by the sad news about Mordechai Weisser’s death in Tiberias. Abarbanel lost a good and dear partner and Mrs Weisser was left a widow with young children. She was contemplating the offer made by an American Jew called Shmuel Wilson to buy her partnership. When Abarbanel heard about it he hurried to advise her not to do it and promised her that she can replace her husband in the partnership as best as she can until her son Moshe graduates from Gymnasia “Herzelia” and takes over. Mrs Weisser was convinced and Moshe Weisser took over as full partner when he graduated, a partnership which lasted 61 years.

As soon as summer started Abarbanel went to the British Military Governor and asked that the cinema be returned to its owners. The Governor answered that a decision was taken to do that on January 1, 1919 and that it would be wiser to wait until then instead of going into lengthy judicial procedures. Abarbanel agreed. Meanwhile he had an idea: Ice was being produced and sold in Jaffa so that he could produce Ice-Cream. Haya his wife agreed and Zeev brought cans of concentrated and sweetened milk which he bought at the NAAFI. The ice-cream was a huge success at the tea-room. Abarbanel had just enough money so as to be able to help Mrs Weisser in her hour of need.

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