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Shavei Zion - Mediterranean playground of the rich and famous

Dolphin House Boutique Hotel, Shavei Zion, in its heyday

Moshav Shavei Zion is the setting for the next part of the Norman Lourie saga, so first a brief look at the moshav and its beginnings. The moshav was established in 1938 as a Tower and Stockade settlement, taking advantage of an old, but extant, Ottoman law that remained in force during the British Mandate era. The essence of this law was that once a roof had been affixed to a building, the structure acquired legal status and could not be demolished. Ever resourceful, the Jewish Agency arranged for the manufacture of a number of prefabricated guard towers and stockade wall sections, which were easily transportable and quick and simple to erect. This in response to British Mandate laws limiting the establishment of new settlements and reducing the number of Jews allowed into Palestine. The prefabricated materials would be transported to the selected site in the early evening, and by morning the guard tower, with a roof ensuring its legality, surrounded by a stockade wall for security, would be standing, and a new Jewish settlement born. Thus Moshav Shavei Zion came into being on the night of 13 April 1938.

Model of a typical prefabricated Tower and Stockade settlement

The founding residents of Shavei Zion were 38 Jews who left the German village of Rexingen for Palestine in 1933, after seeing the writing on the wall following Hitler's rise to power. They were later joined by a further group who left the town on 6 February 1938. The wisdom of their decision to flee was proved correct when the interior of the Synagogue was destroyed in November that year, while the remaining 126 Jews in the town were rounded up and deported, with only three of them surviving the Holocaust. Following the end of the war, a damaged Torah from the synagogue was recovered and is today housed in a cenotaph which has been erected in memory of the Rexingen Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Rexingen Synagogue, opened in 1837, the most beautiful synagogue of the rabbinate district

The building was ordained as a Protestant Church in 1952.

The damaged Torah Scroll now safely housed in the Rexingen Memorial, at Shavei Zion

Norman Lourie's duties as a military correspondent with the South African Engineering Corps during the Second World War took him to Rosh Hanikra. While passing through Shavei Zion on the way to his destination, Lourie chanced upon a charming 12 room hotel which fascinated him. He returned to Shavei Zion in 1950, a few years after establishing Palestine Films and purchased the hotel, with grandiose plans in mind.

Norman Lourie envisaged the hotel with its magnificent beach and Mediterranean setting becoming an exclusive holiday playground for the rich and famous. One of his master strokes was the appointment of Egyptian born Joshua Malka, a highly qualified hospitality manager, as the front office executive for the hotel. Although still in his early thirties, Malka was ideally suited as he had been trained in Hotel Management at the top rated Luxor Hotel in Egypt, where regular guests included King Farouk and his entourage. Wealthy members of the Jewish community were also frequent visitors and Malka had soon learned to rub shoulders with, and pander to the desires of the elite. Together with his brothers, Joshua made Aliyah in time to fight in Israel’s War of Independence, after which he obtained employment with the famed King David Hotel in Jerusalem. While working as the senior Reception Manager , he soon realised that every VIP visiting Israel, as well as most local dignitaries, all stayed at the hotel as it was the only establishment in Israel able to provide the quality of 5 star service they demanded.

Shortly after Norman Lourie had purchased and refurbished Dolphin House, Joshua Malka moved to Shavei Zion. He assumed his duties as the front office executive, soon becoming general manager of the hotel, where he formed a formidable partnership with Norman Lourie. They shared a common desire to turn Dolphin House into a worthy rival of the King David as a sought after destination for wealthy and discerning visitors to Israel as well as critical members of Israel's elite..

I have been fortunate enough to make contact with Joshua Malka’s grandson, Tel Aviv resident Yoni Leviatan, who says of the relationship between Joshua Malka and Norman Lourie “Both men basked in the pleasure of running the only luxury resort of its kind in all of Israel, though it was (Jo)Shua who took care of the day-to-day operations hosting world leaders, dignitaries, businessmen and celebrities”

Joshua Malka at his desk as front office executive, Dolphin House

Yoni’s mother has an impressive portfolio of photographs of many of the personalities of the day who visited Dolphin house in the fifties and early sixties. Unfortunately the quality of some of these old photos is not very good. Included in the VIP guest list were the first 3 presidents of Israel, the first prime minister and later president of Ghana (Kwame Nkrumah) as well as the first prime minister of independent Burma, U Nu. Ghana was the first Black African country and Burma the first Asian country to establish diplomatic relations with the young State of Israel. Among the famous Hollywood stars to stay at Dolphin House were Paul Newman, Sophia Loren, Danny Kaye and Kirk Douglas.

Kwame Nkrumah and Golda Meir

Burmese prime minister U Nu signing the guest register as Joshua Malka looks on

Paul Newman was a guest at the hotel during the filming of the movie "Exodus", as was Leon Uris, author of the novel of the same name, on which the screenplay was based. Kirk Douglas was in Israel for the filming of his first Israeli feature film “The Juggler'', and while a guest at the hotel, he met then 10 year old Shavei Zion born beauty Dahlia Lavi. Douglas took a shine to Dahlia and later arranged for her to move to Paris. He became her mentor, providing the initial impetus for her film career, which saw her co-star with such greats as Peter Sellers and Peter O’Toole. Dahlia appeared with Kirk Douglas in 1962 in her first U.S. movie “Two weeks in another town”, with her big break eventually arriving when she was cast in a starring role as a secret agent in the 1967 James Bond movie “Casino Royale”. Dahlia Lavi later added signing to her repertoire and is regarded as the best Shavei Zion export ever.

The magnificent swimming pool at the Dolphin House, which can be seen in the photo of the hotel, brings me to another South African connection. Family folklore is that my late father's first cousin by marriage, Meyer Lourie (no relation to Norman), a Johannesburg water pump and swimming pool expert of yesteryear, was brought to Israel from South Africa in 1950 or 51 by famed diplomat and politician Abba Eban (also South African born). The purpose of the visit was to oversee the construction of a swimming pool at Eban’s residence in Jerusalem. Dame Vivienne Duffield, British philanthropist and chairman of the Clore Foundation, a great benefactor of Israel, recalls the novelty of swimming in the Eban pool while a guest at the house in Jerusalem, which she visited as a nine year old in 1955. Family legend has it that Meyer Lourie then went on to build the pool at Dolphin House, having been introduced to Norman Lourie by his brother Arthur, who worked closely with Abba Eban in Israel's Foreign Ministry.

Following my comments in the previous Norman Lourie article about the Habonim movie, of which no trace has been found, Dave Kaplan however managed to locate a precious interview with the female lead for which I am most grateful. This link takes you to a short interview with Mavis Wolff, who talks about her casting and role in the film, "In Them Our Hopes" which was made in 1937 .

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Lovely to read this about my birth Moshav and my father Joshua Malka. He was an amazing and special person loved by all. My Moshav Shavei Zion is still a breathtaking place to visit. I've lived in the US for many years but my son Yoni lives in Israel and we often go to Shavei Zion when I'm visiting him.

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