While an abandoned suitcase on a Tel Aviv street corner is often cause for panic, when Yosef Halper saw a vintage leatherette travel bag on his commute home from his bookshop a few years ago, he turned around to investigate. “I used to be a compulsive garbage examiner,” he joked.
Inside, he discovered a “collector’s dream,” a perfectly preserved time capsule: over 500 delicately packed love letters with postage and the word “censored” stamped onto some of the envelopes. The postage stamps indicated that the letters were sent between 1940 and 1942, before Israel was a state.
“I was amazed,” Halper said, sitting in his eponymous bookstore, Halper’s Books, in the gentrified area of south Tel Aviv.
The letters, he would soon discover, made up the correspondence between a Jewish soldier, Lieutenant Haig Kaplan, a member of the Rhodesian regiment of the British Army who was stationed in Egypt and southern Palestine, and a Tel Aviv woman named Ophra Carsenty. (She now goes by Karin, a Hebraicized version of her married name, which is Krinsky.)
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘How am I going to find these people?’” Halper said.
About a week after finding the suitcase and reading through the majority of the letters, a South African couple stopped by Halper’s shop, which attracts a large number of expats because of the sizable number of English book titles.
Halper asked if they knew of a Lieutenant Kaplan who served in Palestine prior to 1948. As luck would have it, the couple knew Kaplan’s brother, who lived in the tight-knit community of neighboring Rehovot, only a few miles from Tel Aviv. They put Halper in touch with Kaplan’s brother, who in turn connected him to Kaplan, who was living in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe at the time. (Kaplan passed away five years ago.)