If there were a “Jerusalem Post Remarkable Reader Award,” I would give it to
Hilary Gatoff, a multi-talented immigrant from England.
On Monday, I
visited Hilary in her elegant apartment at the Seven Stars House in Herzliya
Pituach and presented her with a copy of Front Page Israel, which features
historic covers of The Jerusalem Post over the past 80 years.
and I are very keen about what’s going on in the world, especially in Israel,
and we’re always writing letters,” she says in her northern English accent. “And
I’m a collector, so I’ve put all my collections together.”
of a doctor born in Hull, Hilary married a doctor, Barney, and made aliya from
Bradford more than 50 years ago (in 1962), with three children under the age of
five. They moved to the luxury retirement home in Herzliya almost 10 years ago
after living in the suburban community of Zahala in northeast Tel Aviv, and
today they have photographs of their three grandchildren (taken by Hilary) on
the bedroom wall.
Between them, the Gatoffs have many talents and
interests – music, theater, art, photography and film-making, to name just a few
– and they are avid readers of The Jerusalem Post.
Hilary treasures her
collection of well-preserved copies of historic newspapers, including the first
issue of The Palestine Post on December 1, 1932, which she eagerly shows
“I have had these old newspapers for so long that I really don’t
remember where I picked them up,” she says. “It was probably at Steimatzky’s
during the last 50 years.”
Hilary has written several articles for the
Post and more than 70 letters to the editor over the years (She has saved them
all neatly in an album), and she and Barney still do the crossword puzzle every
“As readers, we are always interested in what goes on, and
prefer the views of the Post rather than the leftist views of the other
newspapers, although some of my friends say their articles are better written,
which is nonsense and only snobbishness,” Hilary says. “As a contributor, I am
sometimes so interested in where we have been that I feel I want to share it
with other people, e.g. the Channel Islands, the Rhine odyssey and Beth Shalom
(in Nottinghamshire) run by two Christian brothers.
“As far as
letter-writing goes, I sometimes get the urge to put across my point of view
because I feel other people haven’t looked at the other side of the coin. When
the letters are printed, I feel that the letters editor has agreed with my point
of view and this gives me a good feeling, so I save it and put it in my
Hilary also has collections of photographs and slides from
her many trips abroad with her husband, historical books and documents signed by
their authors (including a letter written by David Ben-Gurion), paintings,
woodcuts, musical recordings and films.
In England, Hilary studied piano
(she got top marks in her Royal College of Music exam), as well as botany and
zoology at Leeds University. She got a job in medical research, married Barney
in 1956 and they moved to Bradford, where they built their own
“But one day, we went to London and saw a film called Exodus and
that did the trick. The summer was so bad in the north of England that I said,
‘Let’s go to Israel.’” “Instead of coming here on the Wings of Eagles as it says
in the Bible, we came on the wings of El Al,” she quips.
They sold their
home in Bradford, and after Barney had completed an ulpan in Netanya, settled in
“I fell in love with it. It was a little like Bradford, which we
had left,” she says. “There was a villa and a lovely garden.”
here, Barney worked as a GP for the Maccabi Health Fund while Hilary gave piano
lessons to children in Zahala and produced 50 English plays at ZOA House, acting
in half of them, sang in the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra choir and gave piano
After receiving a television diploma, she made short
documentaries for Esravision Community Television, on an English woman named
Esta Azouz who made aliya at 87 and remained active until the age of 106, a
South African man named Ron Lapid who started Burger Ranch in Israel, Dr. Sam
Zebba, who founded The Campus Orchestra in Tel Aviv, a film on Machal titled
Volunteers of Valor, 1948, and a 30-minute professional film on the
Kinderstransport, called Kinder-Exodus, 1939.
More recently, she has
given lectures at Seven Stars House in English on the theater and in Hebrew on
Hilary says she and her husband are very happy at Seven Stars,
which is not far from the Herzliya Marina.
It has a medical and security
staff around the clock, weekly lectures in English and Hebrew, a choir and folk
dance group, daily bridge games, exercise classes and a beautiful swimming pool
with a mural painted at the sides.
One of its residents is Mimi Reinhard,
Oskar Schindler’s secretary.
Hilary recently completed her own memoirs in
a self-published book called Recollections.
A day after my visit on
Monday, Hilary emailed me: “Front Page Israel was so interesting that it will
keep me happy for hours, although I was looking for a shelf deep enough to take
it, and I finally found the bottom shelf in my small room, as it was the same
length as my atlas!” Asked what motivates her diverse interests and activities,
Hilary says, matter- of-factly, “Opportunites seem to just fall on my lap
sometimes. I like to look at the positive side in life, and do good things for
other people and myself.”