Fifty years on

Bonds are strong among those immigrants housed in Haifa’s Mahaneh David in the 1960s.

Doreen and Merton Feingold enjoy the Carmel Forest (photo credit: Courtesy)
Doreen and Merton Feingold enjoy the Carmel Forest
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Meet up with a bunch of English-speaking immigrants and they are happy to reminisce about their early days after aliya. Those who spent that first period in an absorption center often made friends that have lasted a lifetime, with occasional reunions and invitations to family celebrations.
For the families who were housed together at the Shikun Akadema’im in Haifa in the ’60s, these bonds are particularly strong, and they have followed the professional and personal progress of one another over more than 50 years.
Poring over old photographs with Doreen Feingold and Annette Cohen, who still live in Haifa, those memories flooded back as they laughed over the antics of their children, all of whom are now grown and married with families of their own.
The pint-sized versions of Susie and Keren Feingold, alongside Dalya Cohen, at the Shikun Akademai’m (photo credit: Courtesy).
In 1962 the Jewish Agency handed over a block of apartments in Mahaneh David to Amidar, the Israel National Housing Company, which offered them to professional immigrants for rental and later for purchase.
Mahaneh David was at that time a ma’bara, a transit camp for new immigrants, and this block was the first permanent structure in the area near the city’s southern beaches.
Annette and Ben-Zion “Butch” Cohen moved there in 1962 with their six-month-old daughter, staying until 1966. Their son was born in Haifa three years later.
Butch Cohen was a qualified social worker, eventually becoming the head probation officer for the region. Annette started working as a teacher at the ORT school in Kiryat Bialik, but after two years could not cope with discipline issues. During the Six Day War in 1967 she went to the absorption center in Haifa’s Kiryat Eliezer to welcome new immigrants; shortly thereafter she began working for the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, continuing as director until 1985.
Doreen Feingold and Annette Cohen share reminiscences after 50 years (photo credit: WENDY BLUMFIELD).
Doreen and Merton Feingold left Liverpool in 1962 with their two small daughters. Merton took temporary work until he got a job in his own profession as a teacher. Today that neighborhood is separated from the beach by a busy highway, but speaking of their first impressions of Mahaneh David, Doreen remembers that she could not sleep because of the sound of the sea.
“But we spent a lot of time at the beach,” she recalls.
Although the Feingolds were the first of their family to make aliya, they were soon joined by Merton’s parents and sisters.
The Cohen family is religious and wanted to continue synagogue attendance.
Butch was rather shocked by the noise and other unfamiliar habits he found in the nearest synagogue, so he managed to get a room in the religious school and started a youth minyan.
A young Susie Feingold wanders around the ‘ma’abara.’ (photo credit: Courtesy).
“We all used to sit outside on the steps, chatting and sharing experiences while the children played,” remembers Doreen.
The health-fund clinic in the area was very poor, so they founded among themselves a network of health professionals, paying one another in kind.
Some years later Merton gave lessons in preparation for matriculation exams to the son of one of the immigrant doctors who had helped them at Mahaneh David.
The Feingolds had two more sons born in Haifa, and today have 12 grandchildren.
Doreen is a ceramics artist and creates colorful animals, each with an individual expression and personality.
Merton in his retirement is a passionate gardener and walks several kilometers a day, never taking the car if he can manage the uphill streets of Haifa.
The Cohens extended their network of friends over the years they lived in Haifa, and are now busy with their seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Butch lectured at Haifa University until his retirement and still volunteers in prisons teaching strength perception.
Selina and Jack Beris immigrated from Australia in 1961 and spent a year at Kibbutz Jezreel. Choosing city life, they moved to Haifa and, together with one child, joined the immigrants at the Shikun Akadema’im. Jack found work in his profession as a civil engineer, later working for Petrochemicals and the Goldschmidt building company.
“My sister also joined us there,” recounts Selina, “but that English-speaking group became our family. We had no money, few had cars; we entertained ourselves.” She also talks of sitting on those steps talking and singing.
“I remember when US president John F. Kennedy was killed [on November 22, 1963]; we were all in shock,” she says. “Times were very hard. The Romanians had grandparents, but we had nobody, so we helped each other. We would swap pregnancy clothes, cut each other’s hair, sew clothes.”
Selina relates how they bought a car but sold it when they purchased the apartment. Meanwhile, the climate did not suit her; she became very ill while pregnant and suffered from asthma. She missed her family, and her sister returned to Australia. It was the close-knit group of Anglos that sustained her during that difficult time.
They also got to know the local community.
The corner grocery store was run by Iraqis who put all the bills on the slate to be paid at the end of the month, a memory shared by most immigrants before the days of credit cards.
“When we needed loans or mortgages, we all guaranteed each other.”
IN 1965, the Beris family left the shikun and in 1970 moved to Jerusalem.
Selina worked as a secretary at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and for the Jerusalem office of the United Israel Appeal of America. Later, she went into business with another friend from the shikun days.
Jack became project manager at Kiryat Wolfson and is still working.
They have three children and 11 grandchildren.
Not all of these immigrants needed the social networking that was so valuable at Shikun Akadema’im, but it provided a good place to live while settling into city life in Israel.
Zev “Bibi” Kedem traveled a very different journey, for although he made aliya from England, he was born in Katowice, Poland, 80 kilometers from Auschwitz. From the age of five to 11 he survived six concentration camps. The last time he saw his mother was behind barbed wire, as she was selected for Schindler’s List.
Although they were not reunited for another 40 years, they both knew that the other had survived.
At the end of the war, totally alone at the age of 11, he charmed a beautiful young French relief worker at the displaced persons camp and she nicknamed him “Bebe” – a name that stuck and in time, became Bibi.
Bibi was among 900 surviving children who were sent to England by the United Nations; he received an excellent education and graduated as an agricultural engineer. In 1955 he came to Israel for a year at the World Zionist Organization’s Machon (Institute) for Youth Leaders from Abroad, a training course that sent youth leaders back to their home countries to pass on Zionist values and promote immigration to Israel.
After hachshara (lit., “preparation”) at Eder Farm in Sussex, he and his wife and child made aliya in 1962 to Kibbutz Amiad. It was an ideal life for someone with his background, but because of the communal children’s houses of that time, he felt deprived of contact with his child and the new baby born at Amiad.
“I grew up without family, and it was important to me for my children to live at home,” he details, noting his devout Zionism had matured during the Machon experience. “After the Holocaust, I fantasized about Zionism and the cooperative endeavor.”
“I have had a rich and fortunate life, maybe because of my beginnings,” reveals Kedem. “I had to justify my survival when so many children died.”
Asked how he did indeed survive, he replies: “By being silent and invisible and distrusting others, one does the impossible like going through the eye of the needle to survive.”
He confesses that he is a very isolated person after coping so long on his own.
His former wife, Joan, has made her life in the capital, but is still in touch with her friends from the shikun. Joan was born in London but brought up in Croydon, Surrey; like so many Jewish youngsters of that postwar period, she also dreamed of living in Israel.
“We had a kindertransport group in our area,” she recalls, “and my family was very involved in their care.”
She says that her parents’ attitude to life was never to close a door on anyone and always to be there for them.
At the age of 15 she volunteered as a counselor at the Norwood Orphanage and from then on, was determined to adopt a child when she was older.
Joan belonged to Habonim and also participated in the Machon in Israel.
She was impatient to make aliya, but her parents persuaded her to study first. She graduated as a kindergarten teacher qualified to work within the Jewish preschool system.
Asked about her feelings on communal living for children, after they made aliya to Amiad, she responds that at the beginning they were able to keep their small child at home, but later there was a reverse decision to have the children sleeping in the communal houses.
“He was only a toddler, but he used to climb out of his cot, dodge the guard and we would wake up to find him in our bed,” she says.
Joan would have been very happy to stay at the kibbutz: “When everyone went to sleep for the afternoon, I would climb the hills and learn about the flowers and shrubs.”
Bibi was already working as district engineer for Hof Hacarmel and the Galilee for the Agriculture Ministry, specializing in soil conservation, so it was logical for the family to move to Haifa and the Shikun Akademai’m in Mahaneh David.
“It was a good environment for me,” maintains Joan. “We made deep and lasting friendships, we had so much in common. We were all in the same boat – no money, no family connections.”
She also reminisces about the famous wall and steps where all the mothers used to sit while the children played, recounting how her parents visited them while they were at Mahaneh David.
“One morning my father was looking out of the window, and he started crying and shouting for them to come and look.”
His cries were of delight and joy, for what he saw was a group of men walking to synagogue wearing their tallitot and kippot.
“He never saw that in Croydon, and he put on his own tallit and kippa and joined them.”
After Mahaneh David the family moved to Haifa’s bayside suburbs, and Joan worked for the British Zionist Federation, as it was then called.
It was during that period that the couple had one more child and adopted a little girl, as Joan had always dreamed.
Today they have seven grandchildren.
In 1967, they moved to Jerusalem. Bibi no longer wanted the life of a bureaucrat and became an independent engineer.
The couple separated and Joan started working in special education.
For the past 15 years Joan has been responsible for the Lone Soldiers program run by the Masorti Movement at the Moreshet Yisrael Synagogue, a study project coordinated by volunteers for lone soldiers, some from abroad and others who are Israeli but without families.
When asked why some Israel-born soldiers are alone, Joan replies that some are rejected by their ultra-Orthodox families for serving.
In her job with lone soldiers, she also visits the injured hospitalized at Hadassah University Medical Centers in Ein Kerem and on Mount Scopus.
Joan indeed follows her parents’ values – to never close a door on anyone and always be there for them.
While there were several other English- speaking families at the shikun at that time, Metro was not able to trace them. Yet what is evident from these few stories is the powerful idealism and strength that brought these olim to Israel, and the rich contribution they have made to the country – with their professional and voluntary work, as well as their large extended families who still keep them happily active and occupied.