My Father’s Family — Part 6

On January 1, 1919 the military handed over the keys of cinema “Eden” back to Abarbanel who hastened to renew his contracts with the film agents in Alexandria and Beirut. Throughout 1919 and 1920 the movie-house operated at full steam. The inhabitants of Tel-Aviv and Jaffa came back and the military continued to come to the shows. The till was full after every show. Dizengof came back and took over the chair at the municipal committee. The money which was due to the committee for the concession was paid in full. So was the loan which Abarbanel took from the Anglo-Palestine Co. Bank. Abarbanel’s head was buzzing with ideas.

The movie-house occupied only half of the plot of land which was granted to “Eden”. The other half was bare and seeing how hot and humid were the summer months in Tel-Aviv, especially inside the movie-house during shows Abarbanel thought it would be wise to build a second movie-house on the free part of the plot and joined to the original building. A roofless building which would operate during the spring and summer months. The plans which he handed to the municipal committee were approved. The building of the summer theater took only three months since it needed no roof and only three walls. Abarbanel bought a new projector and generator for the projection room of the summer-theater so that the winter-theater (as they were called by the spectators) continued presenting shows during the afternoons and Friday mornings. The summer theater had also 800 seats and was decorated by flowering bushes placed in large flower-pots in several spots of the hall. At the start of spring of 1921 the open-air theatre showed its first show. It was delightful to watch the film under the star-strewn skies and the shining moon and in comfortable temperatures. The seats at both theaters were occupied and the residents of Tel-Aviv were proud of their twin movie-theater “Eden”.

In 1920 the Israeli Theater troupe was organized and produced their shows on the stage of the “Winter-Eden” and later on the stage of the “Summer-Eden”.

In the summer of 1920 Haim Abarbanel went to Paris to study medicine and a year later, in the summer of 1921 Zeev Abarbanel went to Montpellier to study Commerce and Administration (today named Business-Administration).

Mordechai Golinkin arrived in Israel in 1923 and soon formed the Israeli Opera. In autumn of 1923 the premiere of the first Israeli Opera, Verdi’s La Traviata was performed at cinema “Eden”. During 4 continuous years Golinkin performed 19 operas on the “Eden” stage. The house was always full. People arrived from the four corners of the country and fought for a seat at these operas. Abarbanel who loved vocal music did not miss one performance or even one rehearsal of the Israeli Opera and considered it as the height of musical culture of the growing Jewish population in its homeland.

In 1919 Baruch Agadaty arrived in Palestine. He was a ballet dancer with the Odessa Ballet and was considered a talented dancer and artist. Abarbanel invited Agadaty to perform ballet dancing shows on the “Eden” stage from 1920 to 1930, charging him twenty percent of the usual fee charged for the use of the theater. Abarbanel had a high regard for Agady’s talents and used to consult with him frequently about artistic shows performed at “Eden”. Together they conceived the idea of performing two grand balls in “Eden” every year. The one was a masked-ball held every Purim and the other was a grand-ball every New-Year’s Eve. The seats were removed from the winter theater to the summer theater. Agadaty used to decorate the whole theater according to the subject of the ball which was chosen and changed every year. These balls went on from the mid-twenties to the mid-thirties. There were always two dance-music orchestras which played from evening to far after midnight. The bar was full of drinks, including Champagne. These balls were as grand as similar balls held in Vienna, Paris or Venice. Abarbanel used to spend very high sums of money for the performance of these balls although he knew that the income would not come close to it. The fact that Agadaty and he performed two such magnificent and joyful balls in Tel-Aviv year after year gave him a lot of satisfaction and pride.

In 1921, a Russian Jew by the name of Salomon Gregorovich Kraznovsky came from England, turned immediately to Izmozhik who was still Meir Dizengof’s deputy, told him that he had 30,000 Pounds Sterling and that he wanted to build a Casino which would be connected by a street to the center of Tel-Aviv. A Casino is not just a gambling house but an immense building which includes a rich Bar, a gastronomic Restaurant, smoking and reading salons, a library, and in many cases it also included an Opera or Vaudeville hall. The gambling rooms were secondary to the early European Casinos which were set up in beautiful surroundings

Izmozhik, without checkimg Kraznovsky’s credentials, recommended him to Dizengof, who knew that he could only grant a building permit but the permit for a gambling joint could only be granted by the British Mandatory Administration in Jerusalem and he was convinced that such a permit would not be granted. On the other hand having a so-called Casino at the Tel-Aviv seashore which would supply the people a pleasant and relaxing place to meet, eat, drink and dance, that was a good idea. Therefore Kraznovsky received from the Tel-Aviv municipal committee a 20 year concession to build his Casino at the beach, opposite the start of Allenby Street (today’s Knesset Square, Jerusalem Beach).

Kraznovsky started building in 1921. Reinforced concrete pillars were sunk into the shore sand and a three-floor building was built above them. The construction took one year and in 1922 the place was opened to the public. The first floor which was at sea-level served as the reception floor. The second floor served as a gastronomic restaurant surrounded by a winter-garden and the top floor served as a cafe surrounded by a summer-garden. A dance-music orchestra played background music as well as music for dancing in the afternoons and evenings.

As soon as the place opened two problems popped-up: Kraznovsky’s financial means and the fury of the sea. The Casino was a small but beautiful building. The people who built it forgot only one thing: The Eastern Mediterranean Sea which was calm and friendly during the warm and sunny summer turned to a furious monster during the winter months with strong winds and storms which brought with them waves as high as several meters which went far inland and wrecked everything on their way. The builders did not build a breakwater behind the Casino so that nothing could be achieved inside: It was deadly dangerous for people to be inside. During its first year Kraznovsky succeeded in operating it for only six months. It was slowly uncovered that Kraznovsky did not even have 3,000 Pounds Sterling, let alone the 30,000 Pounds Sterling which he claimed he had. He was in great debt, especially to the municipal committee for his concession. At the end of the first year he declared bankruptcy. The municipal committee cancelled his concession and requisitioned the Casino. Everything which it contained was sold so as to pay the debtors. All this drove Dizengof furiously mad.

Dizengof knew that there was only one specialist who knew about entertainment, so he called Abarbanel and asked him to take over and revive the Casino. He even extended the concession from 20 to 25 years. Abarbanel knew and was aware of the objective difficulties of this place but believed that it could be profitable. He set four conditions to Dizengof: The first was that the concession be granted to the partnership of Abarbanel & Weisser the same as it was for cinema “Eden”. The second was reducing the sum which he had to pay for the concession by 50%. The third was that the municipal committee would not share at all in any profit made by the casino. And the fourth was that the committee allow him to set-up a seawater bath-house and a line of individual dressing cabins along the beach, next to the Casino, similar to bath-houses and cabins on the French riviera. The committee had no choice but to grant Abarbanel all four conditions. In 1924 Abarbanel & Weisser took hold of the Casino.

Abarbanel decided that “Casino” is not a proper name and added to it: “Casino Galey-Aviv”. He started immediately to refurnish and reequip the place. He wrote to his son Zeev who was still at the Montpellier University to go to Paris so as to buy from “Fréres Bril” all the necessary kitchen utensils as well as silver cutlery for 120 guests, twice as many wine glasses and various other glasses and to remain there until he ascertains that all this merchandise was properly dispatched to Tel-Aviv. Then he instructed Zeev to travel to the Riviera and try to learn as much as possible about the management of the Casinos over there, especially concerning food and drink. Zeev carried out all his father’s instructions and while at the Riviera he concluded that they will have to engage a French Chef so as to be able to serve the guests meals of a much higher class than the ones which were served by the former management. His father agreed and Zeev hired a famous Chef and sent him hurriedly to Tel-Aviv. Once all this was carried out Abarbanel asked his son, Zeev, to return home. Abarbanel decided that so as to run both business-houses properly Moshe Weisser should manage Cinema “Eden”, Zeev Abarbanel should manage Casino “Galey-Aviv” and he, Moshe Abarbanel will supervise both these young Managers. During the period that Abarbanel & Weisser owned the Casino and Zeev Abarbanel managed it they succeeded in keeping it open and running fully and successfully for 9 months every year and during the 3 winter months it was closed. The guests were served by 15 waiters wearing dinner-jackets. Throughout the open hours an orchestra used to play background music. In the afternoon the orchestra played dance-music during the thé-dansant. Dance music was played also along the evening hours. This is where one could hear the latest musical hits and dance the latest dances which were danced in Europe. The food was first class and the Chef used to come out of the kitchen sometimes, walk around the tables and get complimented by the guests in French which was the second main language spoken in those days both by the Jewish and the Arab intelligentsia. The prices which were indeed expensive (Abarbanel knew that he will not be able to profit but was not willing to loose.) did not prevent the upper class of the country and any of the important guests who arrived from abroad to pamper themselves by visiting Casino “Galey-Aviv” again and again. Bialik and Ahad-Haam were there every day. The High-Commissioner of Palestine used to have his meals there whenever he visited the area. The golden-age of the Casino lasted from 1924 into the late twenties. This was the most prestigious enjoyment place in the country and was very popular with all those who could spend largely.

My parents’ wedding took place at the “Galey-Aviv” Casino on the 16th of June 1925. I was born on the 16th of August 1926 at the “Eyn-Geddi” Private Hospital of Dr. Stein in Tel-Aviv. I was my father’s first son and my grandfather’s first grandson and therefore when I reached my thirtieth day the ceremony of redemption of the first-born son was celebrated at the “Galey-Aviv” Casino. Abarbanel operated the Casino succesfully for three years. The place was always full of customers. But there was no possible way to continue operating it during the three winter months. The building used to be damaged during these winter months and had to be overhauled every year before reopening. This made the operating of this place even more expensive. In 1927 and once the Herbert Samuel Promenade was erected a batch of cafes were opened alongside which became competitive to the Casino. Abarbanel’s fine business-sense told him that it would be better to sell it now before the situation gets worse and causes great losses to the partnership of Abarbanel-Weisser. The Casino was sold that year after three full years of successful operation to Nahum Greenblatt and Moshe Abarbanel went back to manage Cinema “Eden” and carry out the necessary preparations for screening the new invention: The Talkies. The films were no more silent, they spoke and sang.

The story of my father’s family still goes on to this very day and God-willing it will last far more. I have only one more thing to say: It is I who added a second L at the end of our name which was originally spelled ABRAVANEL, changed to ABARBANEL, and is now ABARBANELL. The reason being that English-speaking people used to pronounce the last syllable “eel” when it had only one L at the end. As to the meaning of the name: Nobody as yet has come with an explanation that is acceptable to Linguists and History Professors and I am quite comfortable with having inherited a name which is both honorable and mysterious.



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