Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reshevsky's Visit to Israel, 1958 -- an Insider's View

In Eliyahu Fascher's archives (currently in the Yad Tabenkin Institute, http://www.yadtabenkin.org.il/) I have found the following interesting note. My translation from the Hebrew:

Reshevsky's First Visit to Israel

In 1958 the first international tournament took place in Israel. Its first part was in Haifa, in the Rothschild house on the Carmel mountain, and the second part in the Helen Keller house in the Yad Eliyahu neighborhood, Tel Aviv.

As the Israeli Chess Organization's secretary at the time I was given the task of bringing famous Jewish chess players to the tournament. The Israeli team had traveled to the Munich Olympiad -- then travel was still by ship, and tournaments sometimes took two weeks or more. At the same time the first problemists' conference took place in the Piran, Yugoslavia, and, in neighboring Portoroz -- the large international tournament with Bobby Fischer and Mikhail Tal. As a correspondent of "LaMerhav" newspaper I got funding for the trip and there could meet the world's chess greats. I wasn't too successful, since the Russians already were boycotting us, and only the Jewish grandmaster Laszlo Szabo agreed to come. In Munich we managed to recruit to the tournament grandmaster Samuel Reshevsky and a few players of lesser rank.

We sailed to Israel on the ship "Jerusalem". In the evening Yosef Porat comes to me and says that, when walking with his wife on the deck, he met the Dutch master Van den Bergh who told him an interesting take. Reshevsky evicted him from their cabin, since the moment he set foot on a ship named "Jerusalem" he cannot stay in the same room with a gentile (there were two gentiles among the guests: Wade from England and Van den Bergh from Holland.) When I went to Reshevsky's cabin I found him studying a page of the Talmud and we had to wait a long time for him to finish. The problem was that all the players were in cabins for 4 or 6, and only the two most important players had a dual cabin. After persuasion talks that lasted into the small hours, Sammy Reshevsky agreed to accept the gentile, on the condition that he must leave the cabin during prayer times. By the end of the trip it turned out the Dutch player got a few lessons about Judaism from Reshevsky and they parted as friends.

During the long sail there were numerous blitz games played, and we even had an official tournament with a large party at its end. The MC was Yosef ("Tommy") Lapid, which hanged around between the masters and got free chess lessons.

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