Searching for roots, A most unique way to tour

Posted on June 28, 2015

People always ask me.. what is your most unique tour ?

Exploring Roots while guiding a family tour of Israel.  It doesn’t get any better!

I arrived at the Tel Aviv Hilton hotel to pick up my tourists. They were a family of 3; 2 adults and a 10 year old boy. Our first planned stop on our tour was to be Caeserea. But unknown to me…. this family had other plans.

Estee had been born in Israel. She wanted to explore her roots.

Our first stop was the cemetery at Kfar Saba. It seems that Estée had a brother Haggai , whom she never knew. Haggai died in 1952 when he was 6 months old ! We went in search of his grave. Estee is the only member of her immidiate family still living , and wanted very much to visit his grave. All she knew was that he had been very sick. died at a very young age , and was buried somewhere  in Kfar Saba.

With the help of Waze we found our way to the cemetery . There we found  a very helpful cemetery manager . He researched his computer data base but found nothing . 1952 was a long time ago, before they entered names into a data base. After a few moments he gets up , locks his office and tells us to follow him. He gets on his bicycle, and we follow him in my VW Caravelle Tour Vehicle. We drive to the oldest part of the cemetery in to a neighborhood called Geulim ,which most people don’t get to. He shows us a row of graves with very small headstones. It seems that at that time more than one child died at a very young age. As we walked along the row…. We found her brothers grave. Estee and family were able to say the Kadish and other prayers in his memory. It was a very emotional and moving experience for all.

I thought we would now start visiting tour sites as planned. Estee had other ideas.

Our search for Estee’s roots continued.

Estee was born in Hadera. She had left to the USA with her parents when she was two years old! She wanted to see if the house she was born in was still standing . She had only seen it in pictures. A relative had told her… Drive north on Hiway 4, turn left after the gas station and it’s the 4th house. The relative was unable to give us  actual address. ( no street names in those days…)We followed these instructions as best as we could. We spoke to old timers in the neighborhood but no one seemed to remember her parents . Disappointed, we continued on.

We then drove to Caeserea and started our tour of this ancient site. We journeyed thru the  history of Caeserea  with the help of  holograms and the Time Trek in the Caeserea Visitors Center . Everyone enjoyed our tour of Caeserea.

We then continued on to Or Akiva for a quick felafel/shwarma lunch, while  Estee continued to tell her family story.

It seems that in 1940  her parents had left Hungary and  boarded an ” illegal immigrants”ship to Haifa. The British had captured the ship at sea and towed it to Haifa. The “illegals” ( including her parents) we’re then put into a  prison in Haifa for about 10 days before being forced to board a British ship and sail to a British  detention center in Mauritius on the South African coast.  Estee wanted to know if we could find this prison , or any other info. I suggested that the best place to find out any info would be at Atlit.

Atlit is the site of a detention camp that the British built to hold Jews who arrived to the shores of Palestine in the 1940’s and did not have entry permits. The British considered them “illegals” and kept them in detention camps in various locations . Atlit, Cyprus, Mauritania and Maritius were all British Detention Camps.

The  detention camp at Atlit was also called a “prison” by the “illegals” that were held there.  The detention camp at Atlit has been preserved and is a well known tourist site.

We were directed to the archives office, where we met a wonderful woman named Rena.

Estee proceeded to tell Rena her family’s story as best as she could.

Rena looks up at Estee. We can see her eyes glistening and she begins to shiver. She has on her desk some papers. She had recently received a list from the South African Jewish Community . This was a list of people who had been imprisoned in Mauritius by the British.

Rena had reviewed the list . She had made a note next to the name Eliezer Beck. She had planned to try to search further and see if she could find out more info about this  Eliezer; wether he was still alive or not.  Estee told Rena that her older brother Eliezer had been born while her parents were in the Mauritius detention camp. Rena had in her hand the names of her parents and the birthdate of her brother on the list in front of her!

We sat at Atlit for another hour. Estee and Rena poured over this list and other documents that Rena had. Rena showed us the ships manifest . Estee’s  parents had arrived as single adults on the same ship. They married in Mauritius. Their wedding was even filmed by the British for British propaganda. They had a son, Eliezer who was born in Mauritius.. The entire family (Parents and Eliezer) were listed on the ships manifest as going to Israel in 1945.

Rena filmed  Estee on video telling  her parents story . Their  story is now part of the archives at Atlit. 

We had completed Estee’s mission. Estee was now able to be at peace with herself. She had found her brother’s grave, and learned all about  her parents and older brother.

She had explored her roots and  completed the circle.

We were now able to continue the tour as planned.

And what a great tour it was!

On your next visit to Israel, be sure to explore your family roots while you tour.  You (and I ) will find it extremely rewarding.





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