For those of us who spent a year in Israel, back in the 20th century, our memories come in a particular shade of blue. It’s the light blue of the aerogramme, the almost transparent, weightless paper that we’d write our letters home on and then fold up, origami style, as it turned into its own envelope.
These memories of this old-fashioned communications technology make us feel old, particularly when we contrast the multiweek communication lag in our letters home back in the day with the instant WhatsApp connections we have with our children on their Israel adventures — not that we’re complaining, mind you, about being more connected with our kin than we might have wanted to be when we were that age.
Comes now the Israeli post office, in its latest set of stamp issues, to restore our feeling of youth by reminding of us of eras of much earlier, much more erratic postal communication between Israel and chutz la’aretz, the rest of the world.
The stories these stamps tell go back to the 1850s, when Austrian, French, and Russian steamships began weekly visits to ports in Jaffa, Haifa, and Acre, connecting the backwater province of the Ottoman empire to Europe. As the Israeli Philatelic Service explains, “Thanks to this regular shipping schedule, foreign post offices were opened in Jaffa and in Haifa under the auspices of the Austrian, French and Russian consulates. The stamp dedicated to Sea Mail features an envelope sent from the French post office in Jaffa bearing the Jaffa postmark, with a postcard of the Jaffa Port in the 19th century in the background.”
A second stamp in the series tells the story of a business built by two British soldiers who settled in Palestine after their service there in the Great War which ferried passengers, cargo, and mail between Haifa and Baghdad via Beirut and Damascus — a five-day journey through the desert. The stamp features an envelope sent from Baghdad to Haifa in the service’s first postal delivery.
The third stamp features a letter sent from Cyprus to Tiberias in 1932 on a seaplane that landed in the Sea of Galilee — part of a global postal connection between Britain and its far-flung outpost in India.
You say you don’t remember when Israel served as the geographical center of the British Empire? Maybe we ain’t that old after all.