Bahai News - Not Too Many Cooks
Friday, June 4 2001 03:48 13 Sivan 5761
Not Too Many Cooks
By Mark Schulman
(June 4) - A young Israeli couple enjoy life on an unspoiled group of islands
in the Pacific Ocean.
There are many people out there who at one point or another have thought about
"throwing in the towel" and moving to some remote island in the Pacific so
that they could spend the rest of their lives under a coconut tree, sipping
It's not a bad idea, especially considering the stress of everyday life in
Israel these days, but how many people do you know who have followed through
on such a whimsical fantasy? Of course, there are the hordes of Israelis
traveling the world over, from Katmandu to Phuket, from Goa to Rio de
Janeiro. But, they are usually your run-of-the-mill, post-army backpackers
who travel for a year or two before heading back home.
There is one couple, though, that doesn't fall within this category and has
gone a bit further than most of us would ever have dared to dream.
Israella Korlender, 28, originally from Nahariya, and her husband Eyal, 36,
from Kibbutz Kfar Giladi, sold everything they owned, including their house,
said good-bye to friends and family, and found their way to the remotest of
remote places - the Cook Islands.
The quasi-independent Pacific nation-state (Cook Islanders chose
self-government in free association with New Zealand in 1965) is made up of
15 islands and atolls scattered over some 2 million sq. km. of the southwest
Pacific Ocean. They are located pretty much in the middle of nowhere,
somewhere between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn. Samoa, Tonga and
French Polynesia (Tahiti) count among their closest neighbors, yet they are
still separated by hundreds and thousands of kilometers of ocean.
These little land dots which appear among a sea of blue in atlases
are a four-hour plane ride to the northeast of Auckland, New Zealand.
With this in mind, the first question that comes to mind is how does
one actually end up in a place like the Cook Islands? And why?
"This is a good question," Israella Korlender says from her garden on
Rarotonga, the main island where she and her husband run a lodge. "I
really don't have an answer." But, of course, she provides one.
"A few years ago I saw a program on Israel television about
Micronesia and thought it would be nice to go on vacation somewhere
different," Israella says.
"So, I bought a map of the Pacific Islands and started to look -
Micronesia, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, New Caledonia - and then I saw
places I had heard of, like Tahiti and Samoa. But I stopped when I came
across the Cook Islands. I don't know why, but I bought the Lonely
Planet book on the Cooks, read about them and then decided I wanted to
go to Rarotonga."
"It was more or less out of the blue," Eyal adds. In true kibbutz
style, he is wearing an Israeli-made Gali sports shirt and sandals,
sipping a cup of coffee.
The Korlenders arrived as tourists, planning to stay for only a few
weeks. But, one thing led to another and before they knew it, they were
investing in the Cook Islands and thinking about the long-term.
"It started out of curiosity and then got more serious," says Eyal.
"One day, we walked into the Cook Islands Investment Board and began to
ask questions about starting a business.
"Everyone said buying property here would be a good investment," he adds.
Three years later, the Korlenders are still in Rarotonga and are now the
owners of the Cook Islands Lodge. It's a hard business to get into, but so
far they seem content with working seven days a week and shuttling back and
forth from the airport twice a day, usually in the wee early-morning hours,
to pick up guests and to advertise their budget accommodations.
"I didn't think it was going to be so hard," Eyal says. "But I like
the fact that we meet different kinds of people."
Given the continued political unrest in Fiji, the Solomon Islands,
Papua New Guinea and Indonesia, the Cook Islands are fast becoming a
preferred travel destination of the Asia-Pacific region.
With their sandy white beaches, clear lagoons and low-lying coral
atolls, the islands are certainly a tourist's paradise. And the
statistics are there to prove it.
According to the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation, approximately
72,900 tourists visited the islands in 2000, a record high, compared
with 55,600 visitors the previous year. Rather impressive figures
considering the country's overall population is under 14,000, with more
than half that number living on the main island of Rarotonga.
Captain James Cook, after whom the islands were named, explored much
of the island group in 1773 and 1777, but never sighted Rarotonga.
Rather, that honor fell to the mutineers of the infamous HMS Bounty,
which touched upon the island in 1789. The Cooks remained in British
hands until 1900 when they were annexed to New Zealand. For decades they
were used as a base for traders and whalers.
They also became a popular site for missionaries, who successfully
converted the indigenous Polynesians to Christianity. Today, the tiny
islands are home to Protestants, Catholics, Seventh Day Adventists,
Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, and various other independent groups like
When it's not religion, it's tourism that sets the tone for life on
the islands, along with other economic activities, such as agriculture,
pearl farming and offshore financial services.
For most people, the Cook Islands are a perfect stopover between New
Zealand and Los Angeles. For others, it's a popular honeymoon spot.
"It was a great experience - the beaches, the people, the food, the
atmosphere, everything," says Yael Haigar, an Israeli working at the
Consulate in Sydney, talking about her honeymoon in the Cooks with her
husband, Sasha. "We definitely plan on going back."
Despite their growing reputation, the islands are not always first
choice for the post-wedding vacation.
"I didn't pick the Cook Islands myself," says Eli Bloch, an Israeli
broker based in New York, about his recent honeymoon there. "We wanted
to go to Tahiti, but the whole island was booked solid."
The majority of the Korlenders' guests so far have been from the UK,
Australia, New Zealand and Germany. Only a few Israelis have made their
way to their lodge, including a cameraman from Channel 2 and the
Cultural Attachˇ to Australia. Other Israelis, of course, have
visited the island on vacation, but only one for work.
Israel's Ambassador to New Zealand, Lydia Choukron, was in the Cook
Islands last August to meet with the Cooks' prime minister and foreign
minister, and attend their Constitution Day celebrations. Although New
Zealand is technically responsible for the Cook Islands' foreign and
defense affairs, it doesn't oppose the island state's having low-level
diplomatic relations with other countries. That's why the Cook Islands
have consulates in several countries, like Australia, Norway, the US and
New Zealand, but not embassies. Similarly, there are several countries
with some diplomatic representation in Rarotonga, including French,
German and New Zealand consulates. Although the Israeli Embassy is not
officially accredited to the Cooks, diplomats continue to visit the
country from time to time to promote bilateral relations.
In addition to the Cook Islands, the Israeli Embassy is New Zealand
is responsible for Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
The embassy in Australia takes care of the rest of the Pacific,
including Fiji, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Palau and Papua
Israel takes its relations with Oceania seriously, sending many
people each year to Israel to participate in a number of professional
training courses in the fields of public health, environmental
management, agriculture, and community and educational development.
According to the Israeli Embassy in Canberra, Australia, some 50 people
each year are sent to Israel as part of the Foreign Ministry's international
cooperation program, known by its Hebrew acronym, Mashav. This program is
considered a key aspect in strengthening bilateral relations and cooperation
in the Pacific, as well as in other parts of the world, and often pays off
when seeking support in the international arena.
Take Micronesia, for example, a country that has long participated in
Mashav activities. Since establishing relations with Israel in 1987, it
has been one of Israel's most reliable supporters at the United Nations.
To further confirm its support, Micronesian President Leo A. Falcam
stopped in Israel on his way back from the UN Millennium Summit last
September to meet with President Moshe Katsav, former prime minister
Ehud Barak and MKs.
"I have assurances from the president that Micronesia will continue
to support Israel," Ambassador to Australia Gabby Levy said recently
upon returning from an official trip to the Pacific.
Unfortunately, not all the Pacific countries have been expressing
their support in the same way.
On a separate trip to Papua New Guinea last month to host a reception
for Israel's Independence Day, Levy met with the country's prime
minister, foreign minister and other senior government officials, to
discuss this issue of support.
"I expressed my disappointment with the way that Papua New Guinea has
been voting at the United Nations in recent years," the ambassador said.
"Their record was more favorable to Israel five or six years ago, but
recently they have been voting with the Non-Aligned Movement against
Israel on all the UN resolutions concerning the Middle East," he added.
Established in 1961, the Non-Aligned Movement has become the main
forum representing the interests of the developing world. Today, there
are 113 members from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America and the
Caribbean. Together, they form an influential bloc in the international
arena, given that there is a total of 189 member states in the UN.
Although close links with New Zealand have prevented the Cook Islands
from having representation in the UN, islanders derive a number of
benefits from their free association, including New Zealand citizenship
and the right to go and come at will from both New Zealand and
The same goes for foreigners like Israella and Eyal Korlender, who
after five years are entitled to permanent-resident status in the Cook
Islands, and thus, to the same benefits.
According to the Cook Islands Minister for Immigration, the
Korlenders are the only Israelis, or Jews for that matter, to have
settled on the island.
"I'm here because it's a safe and quiet country, and the people are
nice and friendly," says Israella.
"I could see myself here for another 20, 30, 40 years. But, you never
know where life will take you."
©Copyright 2001, Jerusalem Post
Page last updated/revised 060701
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