Thursday, 28 November 2019

Levi Eshkol House

Levi Eshkol was an Israeli statesman who served as the third Prime Minister of Israel from 1963 until his death in 1969. A founder of the Israeli Labour Party, he served in numerous senior roles including Minister of Defence and Minister of Finance. It was Eshkol who established Israel's ties with West Germany and was the first Israeli Prime Minister officially invited to the US. He was one of the most important figures during the period of the establishment of the state of Israel and he was Prime Minister through the Six-Day War, when Jerusalem, Israel's capital, was reunited. In 2017 a museum dedicated to his life opened in what was formerly the Prime Minister's residence on Ben Maimon Boulevard in the Rehavia neighbourhood of Jerusalem. At one point an abandoned site and a haven for homeless people, the building has been renovated and is open to the public. My dad and I went to take a look.
The two-storey building was designed by Russian-British architect Benjamin Chaikin. It was constructed in 1933 as the home of Julius Jacobs, an English Jew from a Zionist family who was Deputy Governor of the Jerusalem District for the British Mandate and a founding member of the Philharmonic Orchestra. The house had six rooms, a well-tended garden in which receptions were held and another housing unit in the yard. Jacobs died in the 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel (by a twist of fate, Chaikin was also the architect of the King David Hotel) and the house was subsequently rented - and eventually sold - to the Jewish Agency. When David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister, moved the government to Jerusalem, he needed a residence that would be close to the Jewish Agency, which was the seat of government and the Knesset at that time. The house was used by the Jewish Agency and between 1950-1974 it served as the Prime Ministers' official residence. Over the years it housed Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol and Golda Meir.
Eshkol lived in the residence on two occasions, as Minister of Finance (1954–1955) and as Prime Minister (1963–1969). Sadly he was also the first Prime Minister of Israel to die in office and he passed away from a heart attack at this house on 26th February 1969. From the time of his death his widow, Miriam - his third wife and his junior by 35 years - devoted herself to perpetuating his memory. Although there is an Eshkol Park in Be'ersheva, the Eshkol region in the Negev, the Eshkol Power Station in the northern industrial zone of Ashdod and a Ramat Eshkol neighbourhood in Jerusalem, Miriam Eshkol wanted something to remind people of who Levi Eshkol was and what he did for the country.
Over time the building deteriorated and when Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister for the first time in 1974, he and his wife Leah moved to what they considered more appropriate surroundings on nearby Balfour Street. In 1977 the government gifted the house to the Eshkol Foundation, headed by Miriam Eshkol, to commemorate the life and legacy of Israel's third Prime Minister. But for the next 39 years it stood empty due to lack of funding, finally surrendering its grandeur to overgrown dry weeds and graffiti-covered walls.
In 2015 the Eshkol Foundation, together with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and the Ministry of Jerusalem and Heritage, finally began work on the house. The SPNI was offered the upper floor of the house in return for helping to finance the restoration of the building. Several private donors also contributed to the cost.
Today the ground floor's restored rooms are filled with photographs and memorabilia which tell Levi Eshkol's life story. The living room is classic 1960s austerity, whilst the bookshelves in the library contain decades-old volumes, though they were not part of Eshkol's personal library. The table in the breakfast nook is set with bone china cups and saucers and a facsimile of a half-century old copy of Maariv, a national Hebrew-language daily newspaper. In the kitchen there is a period four-burner stove with saucepans and a kettle on top. The stove is adjacent to a doorway that leads to an underground bunker. Leaders of the country spent time in the bunker during periods of security tension such as the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. At present it is being used to store the boxes holding Miriam Eshkol's personal archive.
The 12-seat dining-room table, above, which is an exact copy of the one that was in the Eshkol home and was used for emergency meetings, shares floor space with Eshkol's personal desk and chair, which had been in his study. On the desk are two old-fashioned telephones with dials. One is a red phone, which was the hot line. The other is a regular black phone.
In 1964 Eshkol was the first Israeli Prime Minister to be invited to pay an official visit to Washington, thus laying the groundwork for relations between Israel and the US. Photos of Eshkol with world leaders - including Richard Nixon, Harold Wilson, Charles de Gaulle, Konrad Adenauer and others, as well as Israeli political figures who were legends in their time - adorn the walls of the house.
The garden at the Levi Eshkol House is cared for by the SPNI and features an ecological pool, a green wall, composting, bird nesting boxes and more. The fact that the premises are shared with the SPNI is symbolic because when Eshkol immigrated to Ottoman Palestine in 1914 (he was born in a small town in the Russian Empire)his ambition was to be a farmer and not a politician. He first settled in Petach Tikva and worked in the setting of irrigation tunnels at the local orchards, then was among the 25 founders of Kibbutz Degania Bet. He was also the Minister of Agriculture and a managing director of Mekorot, the national water carrier of Israel.
Unfortunately Miriam Eshkol died less than a month before the opening of Levi Eshkol House, 47 years after her husband. Miriam, Eshkol's third wife, met him when she was a tenant in the housing unit in the yard. Miriam looked after Elisheva, Eshkol's second wife, when she fell ill and until Elisheva's death in 1959. Miriam and Eshkol married in 1964. She worked tirelessly for many years to establish a visitors' centre to memorialise her husband. She believed that the government should take on the responsibility for the restoration but budgetary, bureaucratic and administrative difficulties delayed the project. The recently remodelled house means that her wishes have finally been achieved.

* This post has been shared on My Corner of the World, Little Things ThursdayAll SeasonsWordless Wednesday (on Tuesday)Sharon's Souvenirs, Our World TuesdayTravel Tuesday and Tuesday's Treasures.
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Monday, 25 November 2019


Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that my eldest son became eligible for conscription into the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) when he turned 18 and is now several months in to his service. Of course this meant that he was not home for his recent birthday, though we were able to celebrate it with him several days later when he returned - with all his washing - for the weekend. Birthdays in our family always include a card handmade by mum and this year was no exception.
Truth be told, we hardly see our son on the rare occasion he is home. The usual timetable of events is as follows: arrive home; hand over washing; sleep; go out for hummus and a cold beer with friends; Shabbat dinner with the family; meet friends again; sleep. It's okay though. It's good that he is so busy with friends!
I have shown my son in his olive green army uniform on his birthday card. He has a bottle of Maccabee, a popular Israeli beer, in one hand (though he tells me that he actually prefers Israel's more popular Goldstar) and a plate full of hummus in the other hand. Of course his passion for Arsenal Football Club remains. I had to include the Arsenal crest on his card. A blue number 19 marks his age.
There was cake too, decorated with lots of buttercream icing and chocolate buttons covered with hundreds and thousands. We had dinner out and a beer together as well, though as you can see from the photo, we have rather different tastes for our favourite tipple!

Thursday, 21 November 2019

Piano and Triathlons

Gavriel and Amitai recently celebrated their Bar Mitzvah but before that they had their 13th birthday to mark. Mum asked me to make some special cards for the occasion. Gavriel plays the piano and loves swimming, she told me, while Amitai likes to run, bike and swim in triathlons. He also plays the guitar.
Since the boys were soon to celebrate their Bar Mitzvah, Mum asked me to add a Magen David, or Star of David, to add a Jewish element to the card as well.
I have shown Gavriel, whose favourite colour is red, playing the piano. He is wearing swimming goggles so that he can move on to his other favourite activity after a few tunes!
A big yellow number 13 marks his age.
Amitai's favourite part of the triathlon is running. Mum told me that he always wears black shorts and black and white adidas T-shirt for it. I have shown him running across the card, guitar in hand! His black bike is in the background and the black flippers that he uses for the swimming part of the triathlon are to his left.
Amitai likes yellow, so I made that the background colour of his card.
"Great cards" mum said.
Since I already knew the boys' favourite colours, I decided to make them special cards for their Bar Mitzvah just a few weeks later. These cards show a tallit prayer shawl, a kippa (skullcap) and a Sefer Torah (a long scroll containing the entire text of the Five Books of Moses: the biblical books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). A Jewish boy who has reached the age of 13 wears a tallit for morning prayer, during the week, as well as on Shabbat and other holy days. Gavriel and Amitai wore a tallit for the very first time when they were called up to read from the Torah on the first Shabbat that followed their 13th birthday.

Monday, 18 November 2019


Benjamin (or Benjo, as his parents call him) was turning 8. Mum asked me to make him a birthday card showing him in his yellow and blue swimming trunks (mum actually said bathing suit but, hey, I knew what she meant 😉) and wearing his yellow and blue goggles on his head. She remembered that I had done a swimming themed card for his brother back in 2012 so I checked it out and made sure that Benjo got something quite different!
Mum also asked me to add the symbol of HaTzofim, the Hebrew Scout Movement in Israel and a little picture of "Brawl Stars", a mobile video game where you can play quick matches with your friends and "shoot 'em up, blow 'em up, punch 'em out and win the brawl". Yup, I can see why mum said that it should be really small!
I love these photos she sent me of Benjo happily showing off his birthday card. "Another amazing success!!!" she wrote to me. It is always so lovely to receive photos such as these from happy customers. They really do make my day.
* This post has been shared on The Good. The Random. The Fun.Weekly Link Up and Inspire Me Tuesday.