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His Trademark Habit of Giving Oranges

Updated: Apr 5, 2021

“He took an orange from his pocket. Strange, one might think, that a character such as Zalman might carry an orange with him. But he always did.”

How he managed to carry so many is beyond me? I don’t recall ever seeing a picture of him carrying a bag or box, until now!

Thanks to Dany Benshalom, here’s a historic photo with his father Rafi, Ehud Avriel and Zalman (back right) waiting on the first delivery of Jaffa orange’s to the Israel Legation or consulate in Czechoslovakia at the time circa 1949. In the photo is an American Jeep delivering the boxes.

Zalman was noted in the Secret Police file as being incredibly nice and charming. That sort of comment is always suspicious, and all the more so in Zalman’s case because of his trademark habit of giving oranges to the people he met. It was an easy and clever gesture. Oranges grew in abundance in Israel, but they were a luxury in post war Europe, particularly in impoverished Czechoslovakia. Zalman went to Prague airport regularly, to meet visiting dignitaries and politicians from Israel, and the probability is that every time a flight arrived it brought supplies for the Embassy, including, of course, crates of oranges. Zalman would have had a ready supply. We can imagine the goodwill and sense of friendship he created through the personal touch of giving something as small and simple, yet so difficult to obtain, as an orange, to a contact that he was meeting, or to a source he was in the process of turning.

Where it started? The lovely “City of Oranges” known as the port of Jaffa or Yaffo greeted immigrants seeking new beginning in the 1930s and to find work. In Zalman’s case, one of his first jobs was patrolling the orange orchards to start to his “career”.

Even in modern Jewish history, sports and diplomacy are closely intertwined, players shook hands, exchanged jerseys, and enjoy the host country popular fruit - oranges. In a 1938 Israeli Sports Newspaper, you'll see Zalman giving "a refreshment" of oranges to the goalkeeper Viktor Havlicek an Austrian soccer player. The first Vienna soccer team made a trip in 1937-38 to Egypt, Palestine and Turkey. The Vienna team played 2 games against Palestine and a Tel Aviv team. Supposedly Viktor’s brother was a well known boxer at the time. Thank you Yuval Rubovitch and Alexander Juraske for the history lesson.

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