Why Did Grandpa Sell His Sea-shell Plot?

Noah Kosharek
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Noah Kosharek

On Friday, exactly 100 years after Abraham Soskin shot his famous picture of the lottery when Tel Aviv's first plots were distributed to its founders - an event that became known as the sea-shell lottery - photographer Ziv Koren captured its reenactment.

In the initial lottery, the area was called Ahuzat Bayit. The participants in Friday's reenactment of "The Photograph of the Century" - part of Tel Aviv's centennial celebrations - were the descendents of the city's first settlers.

Many of them do not own the land from that original partitioning, a fact that makes no small number of them wish their ancestors had handled things differently.

In April 1909, several dozen Jewish families who lived in Jaffa gathered on a desolate sand dune, on what is now Rothschild Boulevard. The families belonged to the Ahuzat Bayit Society, which had bought land north of Jaffa. The society's leader, Akiva Arieh Weiss, presided over the lottery with two kinds of sea-shells: Each white shell carried the name of a member, and each gray shell bore the number of a plot. One boy picked a white shell, another presented a gray one and that was how land was parceled out.

The 66 founding families built their houses on Rothschild Boulevard and on Herzl, Lilienblum, Ahad Ha'am, Yehuda Halevi and Hashahar streets. They probably did not expect that land would become real estate gems 100 years later.

The people present at Friday's event told Haaretz what had become of their parents' and grandparents' plots.

"My grandfather and grandmother didn't get a bad location," said Eli (Alexander) Cohen, the grandson of Alexander and Ahuva Cohen, who won plot 26 on Yehuda Halevi Street. "However, several years later they were told of plans to build something else at that site, and in exchange they got a plot on Ha'aliya Street [in South Tel Aviv], for which they even had to pay a mortgage. They were tricked."

Cohen said the Yehuda Halevi site now houses the Bank Leumi tower, and that the family no longer owns the plot on Ha'aliya Street. "We joke that the business instinct passes in the family from generation to generation," he quipped.

"My grandfather and grandmother got land on Rothschild Boulevard 3 and lived there until 1935," says Avraham Katz-Oz proudly, a former Knesset member and agriculture minister who established the society of Tel Aviv's founding families. He is the grandson of founders Sultana and Shmuel Taager, and the son of painter Tziona Tagger (who spells her name differently from her parents). "Later they sold the house and moved to Yavneh Street. After that they moved to Jaffa Road. Grandpa had a store on what is now Eilat Street," he said.

Yoni Harel, the granddaughter of founders Moshe and Shoshana Raskin, who built their home on Lilienblum Street, also believes her family made a mistake in selling the land in the 1980s.

"When we sold the plot it was not a good neighborhood. Now it's a very trendy place. Had we waited 20 more years, we would have made more money," she said.

Harel says that now there is an office building there, but she remembers her grandparents' home. "It was a beautiful building and I spent lots of time there."

Her mother, Yafa Lifshiz, added, "My parents lived there for 50 years and they had a very nice yard."

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