Rachel Neiman
May 19, 2013

In its current incarnation, Israel’s airport is a marvel of polished sandstone, glass and chrome. In a previous life, Ben Gurion International Airport — once known simply as “Lod” (Lydda) — was unlovely. Very. And yet in our collective memory, it was a place of great emotion, of anticipation, of parting, of tears both happy and sad.

A bit of history, courtesy of Wikipedia: “The airport began as an airstrip of four concrete runways on the outskirts of the town of Lydda. It was built in 1936, during the British Mandate for Palestine, chiefly for military purposes. First known as Wilhelma airport, it was renamed RAF Station Lydda in 1943. During World War II it served as a major airfield for military air transport and aircraft ferry operations between military bases in Europe, Africa, the Middle East (mainly Iraq and Persia) and South/Southeast Asia.

“The first civilian transatlantic route, New York City to Tel Aviv, was inaugurated by TWA in 1946. The British gave up Lydda airport at the end of April 1948. Soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces captured the airport on 10 July 1948, in Operation Danny, transferring control to the newly declared State of Israel. Flights resumed on 24 November 1948. That year, 40,000 passengers passed through the terminal. By 1952, the number had risen to 100,000 a month… By the mid-1960s, 14 international airlines were landing at Lod Airport.”

“The airport was renamed Ben Gurion International Airport in 1973 to honor Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion.”

In the early days, relatives would stand on a balcony above the baggage claim area, waving frantically to their newly arrived cousins. After the waiting area moved downstairs, the tradition of continued with frantic waving contained behind a glass wall…

The terminal was given a facelift in the 1990s… but inside, the tumult was as bad as ever…

A wall of water was set up in the arrival area, ostensibly to sooth the nerves of anxious relatives and friends but really to stop joyous reunions from blocking the endless flow of exiting passengers…

It was in 1994 that the decision was made to built a new terminal but “Ben Gurion 2000” actually opened for use only ten years later, in 2004.

Today’s travelers landing at Terminal 3 of Ben Gurion International Airport glide on endless walkways past tasteful mosaics and water features. Compare those with the old “Natbag” (the airport’s Hebrew acronym) where the bronze bust of David Ben-Gurion shared equal billing with a glass encased scale model replica of the Terminal made entirely out of matchsticks by one loyal airport worker.

Where is that homemade homage today? Was it relegated to the dustbins of history or, worse yet, to an actual dustbin?

I was unsuccessful in finding a picture of the matchstick Terminal but did discover local crafter Zion Naji of Yavne. Naji has created matchstick replicas of Kaplan and Schneider Hospitals, is currently working on a replica of the tomb of Rabbi Jonathan ben Uzziel in Safed and just finished this Delek gas station made of 450 matches.

Just to give an idea of what’s missing…

Many more photos of the airport from the 1930s onwards, can be viewed at the Israel Airport Authority website. And, if anyone has a photo of the matchstick terminal, please send it along to rachel@israel21c.org and we’ll get it to the fine folks at the wonderful Nostal.co.il.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

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