A collector of valor

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 me.

January 31, 2013 22:13
Hilary Gatoff.

Hilary Gatoff 370. (photo credit: Steve Linde)


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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.

“My husband 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.”

The daughter 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 me.

“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 morning.

“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 collection.”

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 house.

“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 Zahala.

“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.”

Once 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 recitals.

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 her aliya.

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.”

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