‘Please don’t leave a message, I don’t listen to them,” is what you’ll hear if
you call Sunny Holtzman’s mobile phone and she is not able to answer it. She is
clearly a person of firm views who knows her own mind and is not afraid to say
what she really thinks. I met up with her recently at the Tel Aviv Port not far
from her home on Dizengoff Street. She’s been here since 1960 when she
arrived, a 20-year-old bride from her native Canada, not knowing a word of
Hebrew. As the country grew and matured, so did she.
The family in
Montreal was Jewish without being especially Zionist, although she clearly
remembers her mother listening to the United Nations vote in 1947 that would
lead to the creation of the State of Israel. At the end of the stream of yes, no
and abstain, her mother in tears said “We have a place.”
“Little did I
know that I would end up living my life in that place,” says
She and her new husband (whom she later divorced) arrived on
the Theodor Herzl
, which sailed from Naples to Haifa in four days. They went
straight to Tel Aviv and later moved to Bat Yam. Her husband went into business
while she spent the early years teaching English, which was very much in demand.
She already had a diploma and two years’ teaching experience in Montreal. (Later
she earned a BA degree at Bar-Ilan University.) She raised her two daughters and
quickly adapted to the radical change in lifestyle.
When I ask Holtzman
what Israel was like in 1960, she replies, “It was beautiful. The country was 12
years old and it was full of life. It always amazed me how, on Simhat Torah,
hundreds of people would assemble in what is now Rabin Square, and dance in
circles for hours.”
But while recalling the joy of those early years, she
also remembers how hard it was.
“Here was I, from a good, middle-class
Canadian family, living in an old house with no hot water and cockroaches the
size of your fist. I’d never even seen one before coming here. But I took it all
for granted; I felt that this is how it’s supposed to be.”
Among the many
discomforts of life in those early years was having to do all her shopping in
the local corner store because there were no supermarkets yet.
afternoon, if you didn’t get in all your provisions by three or four, you would
not be able to buy any food until Sunday morning,” she recalls.
waited seven years for a phone. When the Six Day War broke out, I got a
telegram from my parents saying I must come home and the tickets were waiting
for me at El Al. I wired back saying I’d pick them up after the
With two babies, no washing machine, no hot water and no ready-made
baby foods, raising two little girls was a struggle, but she says, “I was lucky
– I made friends and that way I also picked up my Hebrew because there were no
English-speakers around.” She recalls making a lot of mistakes, including
once addressing a man as “adonai
” (God) instead of “adoni
four years in the country, the family moved to Yehud and she began teaching
English. She taught in a high school, where she was also coordinator of all the
English classes, as well as in Israel Aircraft Industries.
years of teaching, she had had enough.
“I loved the children, but in the
end I had to leave because of the pettiness of the other teachers,” is how she
At the age of 40, after 20 years in Israel, she switched
careers and went into the hotel business, becoming director of sales at the Avia
Hotel in Tel Aviv.
“When I applied for the job, I managed to convince
them that teaching, which was the only thing I’d done until then, and selling,
which I was going to be doing, are very similar activities,” she says.
loved it and learned the hotel business on the job,” she says.
worked for the Dan chain and spent the next 17 years in the hotel business,
traveling widely and making a name for herself in what she describes as a widely
Finally, she says, she looked for a more relaxed
job and went into office administration.
“I preferred it, not having the
pressure of having to bring results in sales,” she says.
doing nothing have never been an option. Today she works part-time in a law firm
and is happy no longer having to “be a boss.”
Living on Dizengoff in Tel
Aviv means there is no need to drive a car. She walks or takes the bus
everywhere, enjoying the theater, movies and everything else the city has to
offer. She’s still mad about foreign travel, has just come back from Russia and
is now planning her next trip to India.
For years she has volunteered at
the blood bank at Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer and plans to carry on
with that and other projects. With her daughters both in good careers, and two
grandchildren growing up, she can look back on a fruitful and satisfying 52
years in Israel.
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