Hundreds of people stood in the sunshine last Friday at a special ceremony held to honour David Lewis, the British Jew who helped transform the formerly sleepy southern town of Eilat into the now thriving Israeli resort.
To mark his contribution, the town chose the 60th annual Eilat Day celebrations to name a new walkway the David Lewis Promenade.
As President Shimon Peres, addressing Mr Lewis at the main Eilat Day anniversary event the evening before, pointed out, it was Mr Lewis’s vision which began the transformation of Eilat into the resort it is today. The city now has a population of 65,000, more than 50 hotels — eight belonging to Mr Lewis’s Isrotel group — five shopping malls, bars, nightclubs, diving centres, a yacht marina and countless restaurants and cafes.
When, 29 years ago, the then tourism minister, Gideon Patt, invited Mr Lewis to build his first resort hotel in Eilat — King Solomon’s Palace — Eilat’s population of 15,000 relied for its economy on the port and fish farming.
According to Eilat’s mayor, Meir Yitzhak Halevi, addressing guests on Friday, the opening of King Solomon’s Palace in 1984 was “such a significant event” in the city’s history that Eilat residents “separate their history into pre-Lewis and post-Lewis chapters”.
Mr Halevi also thanked the hotelier for his commitment to the life of the city, declaring: “Mr Lewis’s worldview lies in an awareness that every business is rooted in the surroundings in which it operates, so the prosperity of the city of Eilat is no less important to him than that of the Isrotel chain.”
Representatives of the many organisations in Eilat which receive support from Mr Lewis also spoke movingly of his commitment to them. Among them is the Orim special needs school, one of whose pupils, 17-year-old Uria Zuckerman, thanked him for “the connection of generosity and friendship”.
A visibly moved Mr Lewis responded with his own tribute, “as an Englishman, to the Israeli people and the residents of Eilat”.
He told them: “You have faced so many difficulties — wars, terrorism, intifadas — but I have to express my admiration for the way you face up to these difficulties, and how, through your resilience and hard work you have achieved so much. Not just in Eilat, but throughout Israel.”
Mr Lewis, accompanied by his wife Ruth, some close family members, the mayor and a couple of rabbis, walked to the new promenade where, before a large, noisy crowd and a military band, Ruth Lewis cut a ribbon to open Eilat’s David Lewis Promenade.