When Eilat was just an outpost ... the Northern beach area in 1958
For those of us in the over 70 age bracket who were born in Israel or have lived here for many years, memories of the past bring back the special “to be” spirit that existed in those early decades of the State of Israel. We faced border attacks and wars that were forced upon us by all the surrounding countries plus the continual absorption of thousands of Jewish people with different levels of education and mentality. So many public services were just being established, but we had to survive and build a homeland that would stand firm for the Jewish people and make a positive impact on the world.
I arrived in Israel’s 10th birthday year and fell in love not just with the blossoming country, the determination of its inhabitants the sense of being with ‘my people’, but also meeting with a young man who lived and worked in Eilat. So from 1959 Eilat became my home for seven years.
Eilat in 1959 was simply referred to as a faraway place of beauty on the shores of the Red Sea – it was no more than an outpost of some 6,000 residents. The first proper road, which was constructed from Beersheva, was only completed in 1958. Road transport was provided by Egged or in a Desoto 7-seater automobile owned by a company called Yael Daroma. Arkia Inland Airlines – as it then was – operated daily flights on board a 32-seater Dakota Aircraft. The stunning beauty of this southernmost part of Israel carpeted by the desert, surrounded by mountainous hills that were dramatically sculptured by nature and narrow beaches washed by the ever-blue Red Sea presented a perfect incentive for the development of tourism.
However, in 1959 scarcely anything practical existed to encourage tourism apart from a lone building on the North Beach which was a holiday home for the Workers’ Union. There were another two small hotels which had been constructed amongst the buildings that housed the residents some distance from the seaside and a youth hostel. Meanwhile the growth of tourism to other places began to soar as the face of Israel was transformed. Eilat’s potentials were realized by investors and in the 60s the Northern Beach became a nest for initial development as hotel after hotel appeared along its shoreline and the first of what was planned to be several lagoons was completed in 1967. Arkia upgraded and multiplied its aircraft. With the take-over of the Sinai Peninsula after the Six Day War, more green lights lit up with ‘GO’ for the additional possibilities of tourism.
In 1947 the Federman brothers had purchased the Kaete Dan on HaYarkon Street overlooking the shores of Tel Aviv, and from this small 21-room hotel the Dan Hotels chain began to expand. Vivid happenings of these years are painted in my memory. The initial one is of the luxury Dan Hotel which had replaced the Kaete Dan in 1953. It was October 1958, I was there at their regular afternoon tea dance, finding it difficult to believe that I was actually in Israel, swinging, jiving and waltzing – and not out in open fields doing the Hora!
Dan Caesarea Hotel
Come now to Caesarea that same year - the spread of sandy dunes reminded James de Rothschild, who had been drawn to invest in this area, of Scotland’s links courses, and the vision of a golf course came to life. A committee was established and the course was developed and opened in 1961 by Abba Eban, himself a golfer. The Federmans decided to build a hotel there, and in 1971 the Dan Caesarea was opened. Frustration followed as the growth of tourism to this area did not bloom, even with the golf course and the hotel. In stepped the Rothschild family once more as Edmond had inherited a large amount of money and, as he liked to invest in promising new activities, the international Club Méditerranée beckoned him. Having purchased the company, he found a part solution for Caesarea - the Dan Caesarea would be used and promoted by Club Méditerranée.
1953: Kaete Dan Hotel in HaYarkon Street, the origin of the Dan Hotel chain
Now comes this memory - An invitation from Club Med. to celebrate New Year’s Eve was delivered to Arkia Management and Head of Tourist Sales - little me. We arrived by taxi at the Dan Caesarea to celebrate the Reveillon in true French style with all their guests. There was delicious food – many ingredients that we could not purchase in Israel - wonderful music, elegantly dressed people, a chance to speak only French and the champagne went down very well!
Let’s return to Eilat in 1974 when the first Laromme Hotel was opened at Coral Beach, managed by an ambitious young man Raffi Sadeh. Since then Raffi has played and is still playing an ongoing and important role in the development of hotel chains in Israel. After the Yom Kippur War the Ministry of Tourism established a committee of sales managers from hotels and airlines to meet regularly and compile a combination of proposals to promote and improve tourism to Israel. With the added territories of Sinai and the Golan Heights there had to be a growth of investment and the means to meet the challenge of making an extended Israel an attraction to a wide range of travelers. Raffi and I served together on this Tourist Development Committee and would share our hopes and thoughts over many a cup of coffee after the meetings.
The beat goes on ... thriving and jiving at the Dan Tel Aviv
One last memory – Caesarea Golf Club in the early years of this century - and I was back playing golf, which I had done in my teenage years in Belfast. One day I was asked if I would like to join Sam Federman and two of his guests for a game as the guests were French speaking – the game passed successfully, and over the years Sam and I played together on a number of occasions. He loved his golf and, like so many of us, would release his outside frustrations as he gave the ball a good wallop off the tee!
Perhaps you are wondering why I am bringing back these specific memories – well, it is due to ESRA. I was asked to organize the annual Golf Competition at Caesarea Golf Club, and we decided to also have a raffle. One of the first companies I approached for a donation of services was the Dan chain, only to discover that the C.E.O was no other than Raffi Sadeh. He generously awarded us two weekends, one at the Dan Hotel, Tel Aviv, and the second one at the Dan Carmel, Haifa, each for a double room, bed and breakfast and including Friday night dinner.
And so these special memories from the past were brought to life once again and I share them with you.