Veterans: Woman of resolve

Sunny Holtzman’s firm approach to life has helped her follow her dreams.

Sunny Holtzman 370 (photo credit: gloria deutsch)
Sunny Holtzman 370
(photo credit: gloria deutsch)
‘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 Holtzman.
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.
“On Friday 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.
“We 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 war.”
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” (sir).
After 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.
After many 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 explains it.
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.
“I loved it and learned the hotel business on the job,” she says.
Later she 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 competitive business.
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.
Retirement or 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.