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Haifa Reborn

A guided tour with Diana Barshaw on the Carmel with Eileen Martell in the foreground

Most voluntary organizations have starts and stops. The founding committees lose members who leave the area or even the country, or those who become more fragile. So it is inspiring that a new group of people come together to recharge the batteries and revive activity.

This is what happened in Haifa. The local ESRA chapter was launched in 2016 with Harry Hiller and Melvyn Sandler as chairmen. When Melvyn returned to the UK, Harry and his committee worked tirelessly, organizing successful monthly lectures attracting 50-60 members, games evenings, day-trips to the north of Israel and raising money for specific projects agreed on by the group.

Alas Covid struck and all social activity came to a standstill.

The challenges during the isolation periods inspired ESRA to focus on the ETP (English Tutoring Program), which Helen Osimo coordinates from Haifa and continues till today, as well as the Chat Away program which attracts volunteers from all over the English-speaking world.

However, in recent months, as people learned to live with Covid and returned to social interaction, an enthusiastic group put together a committee of 12 volunteers with Eileen Martell in the chair. At the first "Meet and Greet" event at a local café in September 2022, now a regular monthly event, a large attendance of established members and newcomers completed questionnaires. Activities were planned to suit the needs and interests of all members, hoping also to attract new immigrants of a younger age as well as families.

We have a range of activities from the monthly lectures to special interest groups for mahjong, collage, gourmet vegetarian cooking, and hikes.

At the first major event, an evening of music with Sheli and Michael Wallach, 89 members attended, and how delighted we all were to see old friends whose only contact for the past three years had been by WhatsApp and Zoom. There was time to mingle and welcome new faces and this launched Renewed Haifa with a bang.

A licensed tour guide, volunteer Diana Barshaw, led three hikes, one from the war cemetery in downtown Haifa through the little-known sites along the Bat Galim seafront to Shikmona; the second by cable-car for those coming from further afield to the university and a visit to the Chai Bar, a beautiful nature reserve on the Carmel; and a unique-to-Haifa hike, the Thousand Steps from Yofe Nof Street adjacent to the Bahai Gardens, down through the streets of the Hadar area to the port area. Those flights of steps feature hidden gardens and works of art, never seen by those who travel by car or bus. The next trip will be a visit to the worship centers of the "Five Faiths", an example of coexistence in Haifa.

Bonnie Baram, also a licensed tour guide and a member of ESRA, has an unusual home and she invited a small group to visit her. She has devised a unique storage system in her kitchen and living room, where tables and chairs are folded within each other and kitchen utensils are found slotted in the most unexpected places. Bonnie also showed the group the beautiful collection of Chanukiot made by her husband Amatzia's late father.

An ideal venue was found for the monthly lectures, accessible by bus and with ample parking. These lectures, also on Zoom, included the narrative of a visit to Ukraine and the Jewish communities there, and the First Settled societies, Natufian settlements in the caves near the Haifa area, which will be followed up by a visit to those caves. The next lecture will be by Prof. Jesse Lachter, an expert gastroenterologist, who will talk about Jewish genetics during 5783 years.

January finished with a trip to the Monet Virtual Reality exhibition in Holon, a wonderful opportunity for some newcomers to get to know us. We all exchanged impressions while having a picnic in the sunshine in Peres Park.

Laura Aronson reports that Prof. Daniel Kaufman guided a special tour for us on March 1 at the cave excavations and archeology lab of Nahal Me'arot, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Humans have lived there for some 500,000 years, a long-term habitation that is very rare anywhere in the world. The caves are in a karst cliff, a remnant of an ancient reef. The 25m thick strata preserved Stone Age remains, and earlier humans. The site shows the eventual shift from nomadic life to sedentary agriculture and reflects the development of domesticated plants and animals. The tour was organized by David Toubkin.

Who are the movers and shakers of this dynamic new group?

Eileen Martell, who also set up the Haifa ESRA Facebook page and website, said: "I was blown away by the amazing ideas and offers of help. Our committee includes English speakers who made aliyah from only one year ago to 50 plus years and they are in the age range of 30-70. People are really motivated and feel they are part of a community. It's wonderful to be part of this."

Eileen continued: "We want to expand volunteer services, the befriending program and to investigate local projects for ESRA Haifa to adopt for fundraising and voluntary assistance.

"Looking at the list of committee volunteers, each one is experienced in community work and is focusing on their area of expertise. An innovation is outreach to families, and hopefully the old-timers will be able to advise them how to overcome the hurdles of that first period of adjustment."

Watch the ESRA weekly bulletins for news of events or check our Haifa website:;


Or contact: Eileen Martell: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.;

Treasurer: David Toubkin: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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Sunday, 21 July 2024

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