70 Hungarian postcards to the 70-year-old Israel
The miraculous papaya cream of Jericho
Dr. Rose (Rózsika) Bilbool
By Zsuzsa Shiri - 2018-02-14
Translated from the Hungarian original: Bea Sara Goll
In Jerusalem, Rózsika Bilbul was well-known for decades for the wonderful story of her life and her excellent herbal creams; she even received a medal from the city in recognition of her achievements.
But Rózsika has also given Israel a lot more, apart from discovering the miraculous powers of papaya: her fate signifies the embodiment of eternal renewal, hard work, an example of creating value, as well as of the possibility of cooperation and coexistence with the Palestinians.
Rózsika Perl was born as the seventh of eight children to Mose and Fanni Perl in Máramarossziget. The priorities and talents of the family are indicated by the fact that seven of the eight children, including Rózsika, completed their studies with a doctorate. In the Holocaust she lost 89 relatives. Of her close relatives, only two sisters survived the Shoa; her sister, Gizella later wrote a book about her memories with the title Orvos voltam Auschwitzban [I was a doctor in Auschwitz].
Rózsika studied pharmacy in Bucharest, where her being Jewish presented a disadvantage at the university and in 1938 – just in time - she decided to continue at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, founded in 1921. At that time, this university had an excellent faculty that had fled from Germany, thanks to Hitler. She came with a three-month tourist visa, and then somehow stayed here.
In 1940 she worked in the illegal Haganah, traveled in the country, and made maps of what she saw, assisted by her incredible photographic memory. During one of her trips to Jericho, she bought a large papaya at the market because she had never seen such a plant before and wanted to show it to a botanist professor at the university. On the way, however, they found a seriously injured, bleeding British soldier on the road. She did not have any sterile bandages, but knew that the fruit was sterile inside, so she broke the papaya open and put it on the wound. It would take about an hour to reach the hospital; she was sure by that time the soldier would have bled to death, but to her astonishment the bleeding had stopped, and miraculously, the wound actually seemed to begin to heal.
It was also around that time that she had to go to a dentist who complained that because of the war he could not get ethyl chloride, an anesthetic. This should not be a problem for a pharmacist - she thought - and she had searched the literature until she figured out how to produce it from the available raw materials quickly and at an industrial scale. She took it to the dentist who told her to show it to the British as well, because, caused by the war they had a shortage too. The British army spent like a sailor, so Rózsika could rent a laboratory in Jericho to finally unravel the papaya’s secrets and benefits.
Her life would just about begin to straighten out, so that she could live on more than just orange and bread when a girlfriend called her to come to the hotel King David in order to introduce her husband’s wealthy Jewish friend from Beirut to her. She took a girlfriend of hers – a survivor from Bergen-Belsen - with her, thinking she could arrange the girlfriend’s fate. She went along mainly because they could get coffee only by coupons, and even so, it was hard to get, and the King David would have a real good Turkish coffee. The 48-year-old Simon Bilbool, as it turned out, was a filthy rich Oxford-educated Jew from Iraq, a banker in Beirut. He said he would have business to do the next day in Haifa, and they agreed that he would give a ride to the girlfriend to Haifa. When they said goodbye, Rózsika remarked that she envied him for being able to ski in Lebanon. Simon Bilbool asked if she would go skiing to Lebanon with him, provided he got a visa for her. Rózsika laughed, "for skiing I would go to the end of the world."
All the way to Haifa Simon kept gushing to the girlfriend only about Rózsika and promptly sent her the visa. First of all, Rózsika Perl took her time skiing, then got married, gave birth to a little boy and a little girl, and lived rich in Beirut on Simon Bilbool's side for a few carefree decades.
It happened, however, that in 1971 the PLO, after having been chased out by the King of Jordan, moved its headquarters from Jordan to Beirut. The civil war in Lebanon broke out and the Bilbool’s had to escape. The children were sent to university in Israel via Cyprus, so the couple only had to save their own lives and luckily, they managed to rescue the full jewelry box.
They settled in Jerusalem to live close to their children, and soon the jewelry box was emptied. But the children had graduated from the university; the laboratory was re-established in Jericho, and a cream with the fantasy name Norma was created, which is still available in drugstores offering natural products throughout Jerusalem. Only papaya grown in Jericho watered by the water of the Elisa spring will result in the magical effects of the cream, which were attributed to the healing power of the spring water by Rózsika.
I had the privilege to meet Rózsika in the nineties. I had read about the medicinal cream in a newspaper, and since my mother was suffering from an erysipelas infection on her leg in Budapest, I called her that I wanted to buy it. She invited me to her apartment where she gave it to me for free, even though I would have paid her for it. It was sent to Pest, my mother's leg healed within a week, after having tried just about everything in vain. From then on we stayed in touch, and I was very happy to be able to attend her 100th birthday celebration.
Simon Bilbool did not work in Israel; he was old and left Rózsika a few years later. She was driving until the age of 98 and went to Jericho many times a week. There she was received with love during the wildest intifada, and nobody ever hurt her even with a loud voice. Of course, she always spoke with respect and love to the Palestinians, and helped them wherever she could. Her ability to speak nine languages was not the only reason why she could get along so well with everyone.
Her son also followed his father at a young age, but there were grandchildren, and Rózsika herself lived a long, healthy life filled with work. She was well respected, and wherever she was in Jerusalem, everyone knew that she was Rose Bilbool, the discoverer of the miraculous Jericho papaya, the honorary Yiddishe grandmother of all.
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