The drive down Tchernichovsky Street did not seem unusual at first. The street is narrow and congested much like many streets in Tel Aviv. Unable to find a parking spot, I leave the keys in the ignition, tell my wife to move the car if a cop shows up, and then walk the rest of the way to my destination: building no. 4. It was at that moment that I felt as if someone had hit me over the head with a hammer. I stare at the two-story building, trying to figure out why it appears familiar. Then I notice several eateries, restaurants, a coffee shop on the ground level. I proceed robotically to the one clothing store, recalling the instructions of the on-line hotel reservations.
Inside the store, young women are trying out winter coats. The woman proprietor approaches me.
“You’re Nelly?” I say, in English.
“Oh, you’re here about the apartment?” she replies in English. “I’m not Nelly, but I will take care of you. My husband will show you upstairs in a minute.”
I nod and run to the car, my mind racing in all directions. What is it about the place? Minutes later, my wife and my twin daughters carry our bags to the clothing store. Nelly’s husband appears. “Come, it’s this way,” he says, and points the way to a reinforced glass door. He leads the way up the stairs. We follow. Going up the steps I feel as if I am part of Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’ film, the narrow steps twisting in the well. I remember going up these same steps before. But when?
The man stands before the door, keys an entry code. The door
cracks open. We go in, put our bags down. The man says, “The apartment is equipped with a kitchen, dishes, silverware…” I hear all he says and I hear nothing. “You are staying here for two nights, yes?” I nod. He continues, “We have more blankets in the closet. You want something more, you come downstairs to the shop, yes?”
Once he leaves, I rush to the flimsy mustard-colored curtains on the large windows. I pull them to the side abruptly. And what appears in front of me is the year 1977…
I’m standing in the very place I had worked at almost 40 years ago.
Of the hundreds of apartments and hotel rooms in Tel Aviv, I landed on this one. I must have talked a mile a minute to my wife, unable to contain myself. “Don’t you get it?” I tell her. I point to the floor tiles, to the bare walls. “This apartment was once the office of Kopel Tours.”
Fresh out of the University of Tel Aviv in 1977, I interviewed with Kopel Tours. It was one of the largest tour operators in Israel. Kopel booked airline tickets and vacation packages by the thousands. During the mid-1950s they started taxi service from Tel Aviv to the Gaza Strip, at a time when Gaza was not controlled by Egypt.
I return to the large windows. I worked in this very spot for about a year. My role was to handle incoming tourism from the United States, predominantly rich Jews from New York.
Back then, first thing in the morning, I checked the Telex. It was like working in a War Room. I fed the hole-punched yellow tape through the machine and within seconds the overseas message materialized on paper. Most messages went something like this: “Mr. and Mrs. Goldberg, Brooklyn, reserve a private guide with American car, 2 nights in Tel Aviv, 5 star hotel, followed by 4 nights in Jerusalem at the King David Hotel, plus 2 nights in Galilee at a Kibbutz Guest House. Quote and confirm.” I immediately went to work, calling hotels, airlines, and car rental companies. By the end of the day I confirmed all by Telex to Kopel headquarters in New York. There were times I greeted the American guests at Tel Aviv airport, escorted them to hotels, to functions about town.
Mr. Kopel, a Polish immigrant, spent most days in New York. He dropped by my Tel Aviv office a couple of times. He was a big man, wore drab, gray suits two-sizes too large, just in case he decided to grow into them. My immediate boss was Mr. Pavel, the Sales Manager for North America.
Pavel was handsome, a jet-setter of the 1970s. When in the office, he used to throw his Texan boots on his desk, hold the phone to his ear, talking long-distance to America, in English with an Israeli accent marinated in Czech. He travelled to the Bible Belt, called on churches in Atlanta and Houston, told evangelists about Nazareth and Bethlehem, signed them up on the dotted line.
I drink water from the kitchen faucet, still dazed from my travel inside the Time Machine. The smell of falafel and Hanukkah jelly donuts wafts through the open windows. The one thing that doesn’t change is change.
“Come on,” I tell my wife and daughters. “Let me show you around the neighborhood, the beach. Let’s jump to 1977.”
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com
or at BN.com