Putting Israel on the map

Shelli (60) and Martin (64) Kalson From Ottawa to Ginat Shomron, 1995: "We had a very good life in Canada, but we were looking for more than material prosperity."

Shelli and Martin Kalson (photo credit: Courtesy)
Shelli and Martin Kalson
(photo credit: Courtesy)
People who make aliya often change direction and do something entirely different from what they were doing in their lands of origin.
Neither Shelli nor Martin Kalson, who left their Ottawa home in 1995 to settle here, could have imagined what they would be doing 20 years on.
Martin, a lawyer by training, worked for many years for the Canadian government.
He was involved in the claims of the aboriginal Indians in an organization called Diand – the Department of Indian Affairs and Development.
Shelli is a laboratory technologist and also worked as a sales representative for a dental company.
Their previous activities abroad are a far cry from their present roles as acknowledged experts on old maps, land deeds and other historical documents connected to the beginnings of Zionism.
“We sell decorative historic art,” they say. “Many of our clients are lawyers who want something original on their office walls, such as old English land deeds on parchment or 19th-century maps of Palestine.”
Since starting their business 10 years ago, they have developed personal relations with many lawyers and businessmen interested in their form of decorative art. Over time they began to get requests for material specifically related to the Zionist enterprise.
They began by collecting old Holy Land maps and documents relating to the British Mandate period. Soon they were getting requests from Ramat Hanadiv, the burial place of Baron Edmond de Rothschild, for any documents relating to him and his family for a memorial they were constructing.
Another ongoing project there is the recreation of all the natural flora of ancient Israel, so any documents relating to horticulture are automatically designated for Ramat Hanadiv.
“We have acquired so much that I feel a personal connection to the baron,” says Martin with a smile.
The Kalsons also find that diplomats serving here are among some of their best customers.
“For many of them, these maps are a souvenir of their time spent here, or they buy them as parting gifts when they leave,” says Martin. “Many ask for documents that have a New Testament orientation.”
Adds Shelli, “There are so many different ways of looking at this country and so many different perspectives – religious Jewish, religious Christian, geopolitical, secular Zionist and so on.”
Among the many old Middle East maps they have collected, they noticed an interesting phenomenon – that the Holy Land is often given a disproportionate amount of space in relation to other countries in the region.
“It shows the significance the place held in the consciousness of the Western world,” they say.
The earliest map they sold dated from 1648. It is Dutch and shows the Holy Land divided into the Twelve Tribes.
One of their prized possessions is a bound volume of the London Jewish Chronicle from 1904, which they bought at auction some years ago.
It is quite fascinating to thumb through this book and see that the Social/Personal column (universally known as “hatches, matches and dispatches”) is today exactly as it was over a hundred years ago. In this particular volume there are also many tributes to Herzl, as it was the year of his death.
They also sell old banknotes from Israel, and have a series from 1958 showing the different occupations in which the Jews were involved, 10 years after the establishment of the state. Israelis are shown as fishermen, factory workers and scientists – all activities important for a developing country, the Kalsons point out.
Among their prized acquisitions are decorative checks from the early days, which they have framed in groups of three, old telegrams and lithographs of towns in what was Palestine.
They point out that using maps as art and decoration is a trend that is developing internationally.
“Even in popular stores like Soho you will find dinnerware or linen decorated with maps. Or think of the London Underground map – an iconic representation used everywhere as a form of art,” they say.
Recently they have branched out into acquiring other historic objects besides maps.
“We have found old typewriters with Hebrew keys, old sewing machines made in the Thirties and radio sets from the early days,” says Martin.
Connecting these beloved old objects with the latest technology, they will photograph them on their cell phones and immediately send the picture to a potential client. They have developed personal relations with many of their customers and instinctively know what they would find interesting.
“This is history,” says Martin. “If we don’t treasure these things, they will be lost.”
When they first came here in 1995 with their four children, they were propelled by the idealism of wanting to give those children a direction in life.
“We had a very good life in Canada,” they say, “but we were looking for more than material prosperity.”
They also acknowledge that it was good to get away from the Canadian winters and they love living in Ginot Shomron.
“We have a house with land, great views and fresh air, a communal environment and the peacefulness of Shabbat and holidays,” they say.
Today the children are grown up, married and all working in satisfying jobs and the Kalsons have five granddaughters and one grandson.
“We’ve enhanced all of our lives by being here,” they say.