I love Israel for its absolute randomness. There are just so many amazingly unexpected places to discover here. I had first heard of the old Dolphin House Hotel years ago, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that I had the opportunity to visit the site and learn about its history. A friend of ours took us to brunch at The Breakfast House in the little village of Shave Zion (pronounced SHAH-vay Tsee-YONE in Hebrew).
Shave Zion (Return to Zion) population 1209, is located exactly 2 miles between Akko (Acre) and Nahariyya, 5.5 miles south of the Lebanese border. It sits right on the Mediterranean Sea and is one of the most beautiful places to relax and enjoy the sun and sea breezes. It was established in 1938 by a small group of German Jews who were escaping the Nazis. In its early days, the moshav was primarily an agricultural one, growing carrots, wheat, dates and citrus fruits. Fighting off armed bands of Bedouin raiders was not uncommon in the days of the British Palestinian Mandate.
Joshua Malka (1920-2005), was born in Egypt, one of seven children born into an upper-class Jewish family. Speaking Arabic, French, English and Hebrew, he served in the hospitality sector as a manager at the Luxor Hotel in Alexandria waiting on the elites of Egypt including King Farouk. Egypt, however, was becoming increasingly hostile to its Jewish population. Joshua and three of his brothers escaped persecution, immigrating to Israel in 1948, just in time to serve in the IDF during the War of Independence. He was 28 years old.
Afte the war, Joshua, now known as ”Shua,” returned to the hotel industry. He became head of reception at the famous King David Hotel in Jerusalem. At the time, it was Israel’s only luxury hotel serving foreign dignitaries, businessmen and celebrities of the highest order. In the late 1940s, immediately after World War II, Israel saw a huge wave of new immigrants: they were Jewish refugees rising like Lazarus from the concentration camps of Europe, arriving on the shores of the newly-reborn nation with nothing but the clothes on their backs. It was an interesting time for Israel, impoverished from the war with few resources, food rationing and in most places, third world living conditions. Despite all the hardships, the people came with hopes and dreams. It was around this time that the South African movie producer, Norman Lurie started to build a beachfront hotel in Shave Zion.
The new Beit Dolfin, The Dolphin House Resort Hotel and Country Club needed a manager. Someone used to working with VIPs, serving them and catering to their unique needs. None other was more suited for this job than Shua Malka. Shua and his gorgeous wife Eva (Chava), herself a Czech refugee who had survived Auschwitz, moved to Shave Zion in 1951. They lived a charmed life. In the winter they would travel to Europe with their young daughter. At night they would scout the hottest Parisian clubs and Berlin coffeehouses for singers and dancers to entertain at Beit Dolfin. While Shua made business connections, Chava would shop for high fashion in London and Milan. They brought back the highest quality furnishings for the new hotel as well as European chefs and entertainers.
By the mid-1950s, Dolphin House had earned a reputation among royalty, diplomats and Hollywood movie stars. With ”unbeatable scenery and impeccable service,” the luxury hotel had an Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis courts, shuffleboard, library, theatre, synagogue, and activities center. Tsimmerim, private suite cabins on the beach were always in high demand year round. Besides a Kosher dining room, there was a cafe and five-star gourmet chef restaurant. There was a house orchestra, jazz band, and celebrity entertainment. It was not unusual for there to be ballroom dancing one evening, jitterbugging on the terrace the next and Israeli folk-dancing around a huge bonfire on the beach another night. Peter Sellars, Danny Kaye, Elizabeth Taylor, Frank Sinatra and Sofia Lauren were among the most prominent regular guests. Leon Uris wrote his novel, Exodus, from a beach chair on the sand there. Later, during the filming of the major motion picture by the same name, Pat Boone, Eva Saint Marie, Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward would stay at Dolphin House. Kirk Douglas first stayed at the hotel while filming ”The Juggler,” the first full-length Hollywood movie to be filmed in Israel. It was there that he ‘discovered’ the young Dalia Lavie who lived on the moshav. She told him she wanted to be a dancer, and Douglas convinced her parents to let her study ballet in Sweden. Dalia Lavie would go on to become a top model and Hollywood starlet, often playing the role of femme fatale. She is best known for her performance in the James Bond film, Casino Royale.
Beit Dolfin didn’t just bring Beverly Hills style living to Shave Zion, it raised the entire quality of life of the moshav. The resort complex employed round-the clock workers from chefs, waiters and waitresses, cleaning crews, entertainers, valets and chauffeurs, activities leaders, lifeguards, tennis instructors and managerial staff. Private tour guides would escort the guests on hikes and to historical sites throughout the land. The Malkas built a waterfront villa and were the first in Shave Zion (outside the hotel) to own a telephone, television and private car. By the mid-1960s, Shave Zion had one of the highest standards of living in Israel.
I heard the stories over what is arguably, the best brunch in Israel…The Breakfast Club cafe. We sipped mimosas on the patio – the place is always packed and reservations are an absolute must! It’s a bit out-of- the-way, but easy to find as the village only has one main street, lined with shade trees, boutiques, cafes and pubs. Their scrambled eggs on brioche served with creme fraiche and lox was to die for. My husband ordered the chavita, an omelette topped with asparagus, basil, Mediterranean vegetables and feta, equally delicious.
After brunch, we were in desperate need of a walk, so we made our way down the street to see the hotel I had heard so much about. Unfortunate is not the word. Today it is completely abandoned, fenced off, and in absolute disrepair. Sad. Sad. Sad. The bones oof the building are still there, but it is hard to imagine the glory days. We pray someone will buy and restore it to its former self, abuzz with VIPs and alive with activity. Until then, ghosts of the past haunt it halls and memories of music and laughter waft from the balconies of Beit Dolfin.