From Holon With Love

To say that Tel Aviv-Jaffa's southern neighbor is overshadowed is a gross understatement. A new exhibit, which includes love notes from the Israeli city's second mayor, seeks to change that.

Fifteen years ago, somebody threw away the personal archive of Chaim Kugel (1897–1953), Holon's first mayor. Some of the papers, which had been thrown out onto the street, made their way to the Jaffa flea market. Others vanished. But others reached Yaniv Pechter, 35, a teacher of history, civics and Bible and a member of the Holon city council.

Pechter is an amateur collector of Holon memorabilia. Last week, Holon's Beit Meirov Art Gallery opened an exhibit entitled "Collecting Holon," which includes hundreds of items and rare papers starting with Holon's beginnings in the 1920s and its declaration as a city in 1940.

“I rescued the archive of Mayor Kugel, the first mayor of Holon. But there are many more items that never reached me, and I’ll never know what was among them,” Pechter said during a tour of the gallery last week.

Kugel, who was born in Minsk in 1897, was the principal of the Munkacs Hebrew Gymnasium in what is now Mukachevo, Ukraine. It was then part of Czechoslovakia. Kugel was also an MP in Prague, where he earned a doctorate. He came to Israel when the Nazis completed their takeover of the Czech lands in 1939. He was Holon’s mayor from 1940 until his death in 1953.

His archive includes correspondence with the heads of the Jewish community during the British Mandate, including David Ben-Gurion and Chaim Weizmann. “It’s a terrible foul-up that these papers were never given to a museum,” says Pechter, who started his hobby about a decade ago. “Today everybody knows me as ‘the collector of Holon,’ so I get telephone calls from dealers and people who are emptying out their homes."

Pechter shows selected parts of Kugel’s archive in the new exhibit: his student ID from the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, which he received in 1921; a press card from Munkacs that he received in 1935; his Czechoslovak passport; his Israeli passport and a pair of his glasses. “I bought a whole suitcase of his effects,” Pechter says.

One of the exhibit's most important artifacts is the letter in which Kugel announces the establishment of the city, saying that Holon's five neighborhoods would fall under the municipality. Alongside it are work permits that Kugel issued to peddlers and milkmen in the 1940s. There are also documents from 1953, the year of Kugel’s death, which were framed in black ink as a sign of mourning for a whole year.

There is also a leaflet dated April 15, 1948, calling on the people to donate books to soldiers serving in the city during the War of Independence.

"Soldiers are stationed among us, performing their task of defending the country," the leaflet states. "It is our duty to make their stay here as pleasant as possible. The soldiers use the few free hours they have to study and read. It would do us honor to let them spend their free time reading a good book .... We will also work toward establishing a library. I ask all the residents to donate books from their own libraries."

Pechter’s collection also includes a pinkas booklet that belonged to Holon's first resident, Rachel Horowitz, who bought a plot of land in 1924.

From the Arab revolt to the War of Independence

Pechter also made a small historical discovery. “Contrary to what people think, Holon was actually six neighborhoods, not five. The sixth, Tiferet Yisrael, was abandoned during the 1936 Arab revolt, so it didn’t exist when the neighborhoods were brought together as a city in 1940," Pechter says. "But in the exhibit, I included a document recording the purchase of land in that neighborhood."

Other documents in the exhibit include contracts for the purchase of land from Arabs who lived in the area in the 1920s. In the documents, Holon is referred to by various names — a memento from the period before it became a city – such as “South Tel Aviv," “near Ya’azor” (an Arab town east of Jaffa), and “Jaffa on the way to Mikveh Yisrael.”

Another item on exhibit is the Haaretz front page from February 7, 1946. The main headline reads “Army base in Agrobank attacked.” The sub-headline reads: “Two Jews are killed and four wounded by black soldiers in the neighborhood.”

The British army base in the Agrobank neighborhood had been attacked by the Lehi pre-state underground – the Stern Gang. African soldiers serving in the British army retaliated. Three Jews were killed: Ben Zion Shenkar, the manager of the Lodzia textile factory; Samuel Perlman, a factory owner; and Eliahu Youdeiev, a 16-year-old boy riding his bicycle who was stabbed to death.

Another front page, from Yedioth Ahronoth, is dated June 20, 1949. One story is on a quiz with a prize – a plot of land in Holon. The exhibit includes items from factories such as the Concordia tannery, the Tempo soft-drink plant, the Ardi jam factory and the Michsaf and Friedlander cutlery factories.

Pechter’s exhibit also has the first ticket sold by the Holon cinema in 1945, together with its license, which was signed by Kugel. Alongside it are tickets issued by the Drom Yehuda bus company. The city’s 17th dog license is there, as is the ID of the city’s fifth firefighter.

One of the most fascinating papers is a plan to build a subway line from Holon to Tel Aviv submitted by a Tel Aviv engineer in 1955. “A subway train with a sewer from Holon to Bat Yam as far as the Yarkon,” the plan reads. The 12-kilometer route would include 40 stations. The cost: 30 million Israeli pounds. The planners expected to take in 30 million Israeli pounds per year and detailed the projected savings in buses, fuel, tires, electricity and oil.

The exhibit documents love as well. It contains letters and notes written by the second mayor, Pinhas Ayalon, to his wife. “One of the dealers telephoned me,” says Pechter. “He told me: ‘Yaniv, we have stuff that belonged to the mayor.’ I said I already had Kugel’s archive, and he said, ‘Not Kugel’s, the second mayor.’”

The love letters from Ayalon, who died in 1987, include one to his wife from France in 1962. There are also two notes he wrote to her before going to work – one from 1979 and one from 1984. “He would write notes to her in the morning," says Pechter. "He was a great romantic. I’ve got dozens of letters like that.”

In one letter, Ayalon writes, “Good morning, my darling! It’s not so pleasant to go to work today on our anniversary. I wish you, my darling, that we be privileged to celebrate many more years of our marriage in good health and great contentment. May we see happiness from all our grandchildren, amen! Many many kisses from your Pinhas, who loves you as he did then — yes, as he did then.”

Nir Keidar
Nir Keidar