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Family Brought Power to the People

1922: The Waldman family in Tel Aviv (from left) Elka, Moshe, Lala (Dave Bloom’s mother), Rose, Betty

 My story starts almost 100 years ago when my maternal grandfather, Moshe Waldman, arrived in Palestine in 1922 after being recruited by Pinhas Rutenberg to help set up what was eventually to become the Israel Electric Corporation.

Moshe trained in his home town, Boryslaw, and then in Lvov in Poland (at the time) and became a renowned expert in heavy-duty electrical networks and infrastructure. Boryslaw was a major center of oil drilling and production and it needed skilled men to support the growing industry. The area was known as Galicia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and previously part of the larger Pale of Settlement which had suffered numerous pogroms by marauding Cossacks. After World War I, during which Moshe was a prisoner of war twice on both the Russian and Italian fronts, he married my grandmother Rose Linhard and they had three daughters. 

Moshe Waldman as a young soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Army – First World War

Moshe had been a member of the General Zionists in Boryslaw and jumped at the opportunity to move with his young family to the fledgling Jewish State and offer his skills to the new country.

He worked on several projects including the hydro-electric power station known as Tel Or at Naharayim on the Jordan River. Unfortunately, the station was later bombed and destroyed by the Jordanians in the 1947 War of Independence. But it was certainly a pioneering project in renewable electricity production. Soon afterwards, working at Naharayim, Moshe was appointed chief engineer of the first main diesel-powered electric station in Tel Aviv on Hachashmal Street.

Family legend has it that Moshe was given a room located in the power station before my grandmother, mother and her sisters arrived from Boryslaw. He had to be on location and available to maintain the station. 

The Power Hydro Electric Power Station on the Jordan River in the 1920s. Photo: Zionist Archives

A month or two after living in the room, he received a bill from the then Electric Corporation for usage of electricity. He was insulted for being billed and went to the workers' committee of the company to appeal the charges on the basis that the room was on the premises of the power station and he was available 24/7 to help maintain the noisy generators. He took his protest further and lit a candle in his window so that all passersby would see - so the legend reports.

After much debate, the committee recommended to management that the bill be cancelled but it appears that they took the recommendation a step further and eventually management agreed that all workers of the company would be given free electricity as part of their salary package. 

Some of the Photovoltaic (PC) panels on the roof of Gail and Dave Bloom’s home in Kochav Yair

At the time, there were fewer than 100 workers but that decision and policy lived on in infamy, especially when the company grew to over 10,000 workers. It remains a major blot on the company's reputation, plus a huge hole in its budget. Moshe, I am absolutely sure, had no idea what he had started.

Which brings me to my part in the story. As of April 10, 2017, my wife Gail and I are the proud owners of a 10 KWP Photovoltaic solar system on our roof. It consists of 30 panels and the brains behind the system is a power inverter made in Israel which provides amazing features to convert the power from the panels and send it to the grid whilst monitoring and reporting via the internet its production and performance. Under a contract with the Israel Electric Company called Meter Netting (direct translation), our PV production will be offset by our usage and - if we have done our math correctly, we should no longer be paying any costs for electricity in the years to come. As I write this piece, we have already produced nearly two megawatts of power in the first month. 

Moshe Waldman (second row on left), with Pinhas Rutenberg (second row, fourth from left, ) and workers of the original Israel Electric Corporation at the first diesel-powered station in Hachashmal Street, Tel Aviv, circa 1926

It is gratifying to feel that we are doing our small bit to reduce global warming but of course the financial incentive is the key motive and any such project has to make commercial sense.

In my humble opinion, giving free electricity to IEC workers may have been justified all those years ago but not today.

It has taken nearly 100 years and at this time it is perfectly legal and legitimate. But we are maintaining a proud family tradition in helping to produce electricity for the country using renewable technology, saving the world from CO2 emissions and enjoying it at no cost, other than the capital investment. I am sure that Moshe Waldman is smiling down at his grandson's perpetuation of the tradition which began in a somewhat controversial way but is now perfectly kosher and the "current" in the family keeps flowing.



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Friday, 19 July 2024

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