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FROM EIRE TO ISRAEL
Gerald Holland
May 25, 1959
Tell it not in Gath, runs an Old Testament injunction, publish it not in Askelon. But there's news that won't keep now: in cities, settlements and kibbutzim, the people are finding time, at last, for games
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May 25, 1959

From Eire To Israel

Tell it not in Gath, runs an Old Testament injunction, publish it not in Askelon. But there's news that won't keep now: in cities, settlements and kibbutzim, the people are finding time, at last, for games

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"I have heard," I said, "that feeling runs pretty high at the soccer games."

Phil Gillon nodded vigorously and said, "The bravest men in Israel are the soccer referees."

"I've heard some strong talk on that subject," I said. "Some people deplore the conduct of soccer crowds. But surely conditions are not as serious as in South America where they have to run a moat around the field to prevent spectators from getting at the referee."

"I have seen games," said Phil Gillon, "where a moat would have been most appropriate. But I must say that things are getting better. Some years ago the spirit of independence in the country produced side effects on the athletic fields. Players resisted any kind of discipline. They were given to what might politely be called discussion of any and all decisions by the referee. Sometimes the discussions became very violent."

Isaac Austrian, the government guide, stood up and looked at his wristwatch. "We must go," he said, "if we are to get to Beersheba for lunch."

"Will you drop me at my house?" said Phil Gillon. "We'll see the tennis court and the soccer field on the way."

On the way to Phil Gillon's house, noting the new soccer field and asphalt tennis courts, we picked up a 6-year-old hitchhiker named Chaim Abraham, a dark-skinned immigrant from Cochin, India. He spoke Hebrew, and Phil Gillon asked him if he played any games. "I play ping-pong," said Chaim. "Are you any good?" asked Phil. "No," said Chaim, grinning from ear to ear, "but I play anyway."

We pointed for Beersheba, the city of Abraham and Isaac, and drove along excellent roads lined by the fast-growing eucalyptus trees that were planted after 1948. There was cactus, too, imported from Mexico a half century or more ago to serve as fencing, and there were olive trees and beautiful, lush vistas and then arid stretches where the sand blew across the road and pelted the windows of the car. We passed a huge tent, and Isaac Austrian said it belonged to a Bedouin sheik who (Isaac had heard) had four wives, 100 concubines and a Chrysler. In the cultivated areas there were orange groves as far as the eye could see and, again, bare hills. Now and then a modern housing development of a new town would appear on the horizon or a huge factory would suddenly loom up. On every hand, it seemed, there was surprise of one kind or another, something very new, something incredibly old, something as modern as a missile, something primitive and unchanged since the time of Abraham—like the camel-driving nomadic Arabs who, along with their veiled women, would glance around as our car roared by.

That night in Beersheba, Isaac Austrian and I sat in the Last Chance Caf�, which is owned by Leon and Betty Hellman. Leon once lived in Elizabeth, N.J.; Betty is from France. I asked Leon how he happened to give his caf�, in this Old Testament city of Beersheba, a name that sounded like it belonged in the old Wild West. Leon said he had decided on the name because his bar offered the last chance for travelers to get a drink before they struck out across the Negev, the desert, for the port of Elath on the Red Sea. Betty added that the caf� also represented the Hellmans' last chance to make a living in Beersheba. They had opened the place with a stock consisting of one bottle of brandy. When that had been sold by the drink, Leon took the money and raced down the street to buy another bottle.

The d�cor of the Last Chance is definitely beatnik. It is lighted by candles, and in the center of the room a hangman's noose dangles from the ceiling. Incongruously, the record player was blaring out Colonel Bogey March, the theme music of the motion picture The Bridge on the River Kwai. A few people were sitting around, but they were not at all in harmony with their surroundings: they looked too healthy and robust and clean-shaven and not at all beat.

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