We visited Israel in 1981 as part of a four-month trip across Europe and North America.
Two days into the Israeli leg, we met up with a university friend living in Safed, an ancient hill town in the north of the country. It is a beautiful and deeply spiritual place.
We had left the bulk of our belongings in an hotel in Jerusalem and were travelling with the bare essentials: a change of clothing, a few cosmetics and cameras to capture special moments. We were also carrying a sizeable sum in travellers’ cheques, onward flight tickets and our passports. In these were stamped visitors’ visas for Canada and the USA and – most importantly – our Australian residency visas.
After a tour of Safed’s old quarter, we made for the coast. Near the Lebanese border, our friend suggested we stop at a beach to look at a Phoenician ruin. We parked the car and opened the boot to retrieve a camera, then walked the few hundred metres to the ruin.
We returned to the car park 10 minutes later to find that the boot had been forced and emptied of its contents. A neighbouring car with a gun showing on the dashboard had also been targeted. The thieves ignored a United Nations car parked nearby.
Our friend drove us to the nearest police station where we made our statement to disinterested police. They were far more concerned about the gun theft because now – in their words – some “Lebanese terrorist” was wandering around the district with a firearm. With a shrug of their shoulders that told us that they had written off our stolen goods, we were shown the door.
It was a quick and brutal lesson in the importance of securing one’s belongings. The experience would have been far worse if not for a cousin living in Ra’anana who generously provided us with shelter while we went about replacing our stolen goods.
After a week of dealing with embassy officials, travel agents and banks, we had enough documentation to leave the country. With our departure, the curse of the Israeli visit was largely expunged, although we had some tense moments reinstating our Australian residency visas in London.
Towards the end of 2008, I received an unsolicited email from Israel. The author lived in Ra’anana and, as I had surmised, had found me through my cousin. He was working on his as well as his wife’s family tree and hoped that I would help fill in a few gaps for them. The bait was his connection to me through my paternal grandmother, Rose Kantor. I swallowed it.
Through this new connection, I immediately acquired another set of great-grandparents, Wulf and Sarah Kantor, and another great great-grandfather, Abram Zelik Kantor. I could now claim two Sarah’s for great-grandmothers and two Zeliks (Zeligs) for great great-grandfathers – how coincidental was that? My absurd self fleetingly pondered that Woody Allen’s 1983 movie about a nondescript man who changes his appearance to that of the people around him could have drawn inspiration from people like my ancestors…
My newly found Israeli relative wrote again in early 2011 to say that he had found a “booklet” written by Avrom Saltman. He knew that Avrom had migrated to Israel in the 1950’s and that he had a brother, Michael. He had also made contact with Avrom’s nephew, whom I deduced must be Michael’s son.
Was I about to get another opportunity to find Avrom……?