The ever increasing popularity of the Telfed Trips was apparent with the oversubscription of bookings for this 'tiyul', which took place on 25 January 2017. Unfortunate seasonal illnesses and other factors resulted in a number of cancellations, which meant that we were eventually able to accommodate all those that had been wait-listed.
With 57 passengers on board, including Telfed Chairman Maish Isaacson, his wife Jocelyn and the ever efficient Dana Ben Chail, the tour bus left Raanana, after picking up a group in Netanya. We were once again happy to have our regular Ovadia Tours driver, Yossie, who has become quite familiar with the core tour group, driving our bus. A big time saver en route was the fact that the small group which we generally pick up in Tel Aviv, on the way south, were able to get to Raanana, saving us from negotiating the awful early morning Tel Aviv traffic. The tour group on the bus was entertained and enlightened by former Telfed Director, Sid Shapiro, now retired, who told us about the early development of Ashkelon and the part played by South African Jewry in making that development possible. As usual, Peter Bailey regaled the group with information and snippets of history about the places being passed on route to Ashkelon.
Following a comfort stop on the way, we arrived at Afridar Square in Ashkelon at 10.00, about 15 minutes later than planned. This in no way detracted from the warm welcome we received from the group of South African expatriates who were waiting to welcome us. After the long drive, we all enjoyed delicious pastries and other delicacies together with tea, coffee and cold drinks, while meeting and socialising with the expat locals in the Afridar Community Centre.
Reinvigorated after the refreshments, we went into the auditorium where we were officially welcomed to Ashkelon by David Zwebner and Raphi Bloch of the local Telfed committee, who had arranged the programme in the city for us. Middle Eastern Studies and Ashkelon expert, Professor Yitzhak Reiter of Ashkelon Academic College, gave us an extremely interesting talk on the history of Ashkelon, both ancient and more modern. This was followed by an audio visual presentation on the planning for the future of Ashkelon by Efrat, head of Tourism for the Ashkelon City Council. The future for Ashkelon certainly seems absolutely amazing from what we saw and heard. Raphi Bloch then presented a very moving video of a short interview that he had done with Jack Schneider and his wife, who were with us in the auditorium. Jack was involved in the planning for the initial development of Ashkelon by the Afridar Company, as well as becoming the first City Engineer of Ashkelon.
A feature of Afridar Square is the founding plaque, which comprises a three faceted sign board, each facet in a different language, Hebrew, English and Afrikaans, commemorating the opening of the Afridar neighbourhood by the then South African Ambassador, Dr. P. Snideman, on 18 December 1959. This plaque, almost 60 years old, recently refurbished at the initiative of 1948 Machalnik and long time Ashkelon resident, Gidon Katz, was then rededicated. The rededication started with Gidon Katz unveiling the refurbished plaque followed with short addresses by Telfed CEO Dorron Kline and then by Maish Isaacson, ending with the singing of Hatikvah.
Back on the bus, we were joined by eminent Ashkelon historian, Dr. Gad Sobol as well as Gidon Katz and Raphi Bloch, who accompanied us on a tour of Ashkelon relating anecdotes of the past and plans for the future of the City of Ashkelon during the journey. We arrived at our lunch destination in what looked like a really run down old Arab area of the city, to be pleasantly surprised when we entered a modern and very well appointed Italian restaurant, Bucatini, which had been booked for us by Raphi Bloch. The food, to say the least, just never stopped arriving, with course upon course of delicious Italian and Israeli foods being served. A very satisfied tour group once again boarded the bus for our next stop, Ashdod. A slightly amusing note was the fact that some Ashkelon residents were under the impression that they would be able to join us on the bus for the tour of the city and then for lunch. With the bus full to capacity this was impossible, much to their disappointment.
The first stop in Ashdod was the Philistine Cultural Museum, where we were split into two groups for the tour. The museum has the most fascinating exhibits going back to the time of the Philistines, which are very well displayed and presented. The whole visit to the museum was much enjoyed. Back on the bus we were on our way to the Ad Halom Bridge and the 1948 War Memorials.
This bridge marks the furthest point north that the attacking Egyptian Army was able to reach during the 1948 War of Independence, before being forced to retreat by Israeli forces. There is a magnificent memorial to the Israeli soldiers who fell during the decisive Battle of Ad Halom overlooking the bridge, which was so vital in saving Tel Aviv and Israel, from the advancing Egyptian forces. Uniquely, there is also a memorial to the Egyptian soldiers who died during the battle, with an interesting story behind its erection. During the meetings and discussions leading up to the Camp David Accords and the Peace Treaty with Egypt, the future of the two Memorials to Israeli soldiers in the Sinai became a contentious issue. Israel wanted the Memorials to remain intact and maintained after the evacuation of Sinai, which the Egyptians eventually agreed to, on condition that they could erect two memorials to Egyptian soldiers in Israel, which would in turn be maintained by Israel. The one is at Ad Halom and the other at Sde Yoav, near Kibbutz Negba, the site of the famous Battle of Negba in 1948. Professional tour guide Henry Lochoff, who was on the bus as a member of the tour group, gave an interesting and informed talk at the site of the Ad Halom Memorial which was much appreciated by all.
A short coffee and comfort stop on the way back, not far from Ashdod, and we were were our our return journey to Raanana. A tired and very happy tour group who had enjoyed a great day arrived back in Raanana at about 18.15 in the evening, while the Netanya passengers remained on the bus for their journey home.
Our next tiyul, again to the south, will be on 8 March when we will be visiting the Gaza periphery area. Details of this visit, including a special feature which promises to be very exciting and interesting, will be made available as soon as all the arrangements have been concluded.
Article written by Peter Bailey - Telfed Tiyul Committee.