Israel, Day 9

September 11, 2023 • 9:45 am

I’ve been chilling in Tel Aviv, resting, walking along the sea, and eating, as sightseeing is thin on the ground here. This is a far more secular and modern city than is Jerusalem, and somehow I find the latter more interesting—though less relaxing. As Steve Pinker wrote me when I told him I was going to Israel for R&R, “Most people wouldn’t say that Israel is a place to go for some rest.”  But for me, resting is not the aim of a vacation, and I doubt that I’ll put in any beach time here, though there’s a beautiful beach on the Mediterranean right across the street.

However, there are several sights I want to see, and today I went to the first one: the modest and well-preserved domicile of Israel’s first Prime Minister, David Ben-Gurion, only a few blocks from our hotel.

First, though, some food—for humans and then cats.  Breakfast at the hotel; as usual, it’s the big meal of the day:

Fresh bread, and they have lox and an adequate cream-cheese substitute:

There is Turkish coffee, “American” coffee, or you can, as I do, order a cappuccino.

Part of the spread:

Fruit, yogurt and some veg (the fruit and veg here are infinitely better than available in the States. The melon, for instance, is perfectly ripe:

Vegetables and salads:

Cheeses, dairy stuff, tuna, and lox (depleted):

Eggs and western breakfast stuff (you can also order oatmeal, Belgian waffles, omelettes, and green shakshouka (see below):

Something I always get: the King of Israeli breakfast dishes, shakshouka (the classic red version with tomatoes):

Free red and white wine by the reception desk, 24/7:

And a free happy hour from 5-7 p.m. daily, with wine, hard liquor, juices, and all kind of tasty nibbles (I haven’t had a drink since I’ve been here: for some reason I lose my appetite for booze when traveling).  They will also make drinks for you.

Happy hour nibbles, and not insubstantial ones. Last night they had big veggie spring rolls:

I always check out the cat food in local grocery stores to see if there’s anything interesting. Here all we get is American-style cat food with Hebrew labels:

And a certificate of compliance with kosher specifications (kashrut) at a local pizza parlor. Even in Tel Aviv they take this seriously, as conservative and Orthodox Jews (though I’ve yet seen none of the latter here) take it seriously. Note that the certification must be renewed every five months.

A few sights on the walk to Ben-Gurion’s house. Below, a warning, though I’m not sure what it’s warning about unless you have a pacemaker. Are you in danger of having your hand fly off?

Tel Aviv is a center for Bauhaus architecture, and driven by seen some but haven’t photographed it.  I will as I come across it, Architectural Digest explains:

When the Nazis rose to power in Germany in 1933, resulting in the closure of the Bauhaus design school that same year, tens of thousands of Jews fled Germany to settle in Mandatory Palestine. With 60,000 new immigrants arriving within just a few short years, housing was urgently needed. Dozens of architects were commissioned to build a new city. Among the most influential European architects selected were six German Jews who had studied at the Bauhaus school in Weimar and Dessau. They were key to the development of Tel Aviv’s “White City,” whose moniker is attributable to its whitewashed façades.

This may be Bauhaus:

Thie certainly isn’t, but it’s interesting, like third-rate Gaudi:

And the nearby British Embassy, surrounded by barriers.

Israel harbors 94 embassies, of which 89 are in Tel Aviv and 5 in Jerusalem (the U.S., Guatemala, Honduras, Papua New Guinea, and Kosovo). In 2017, Trump, facing much criticism, moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.

David Ben-Gurion’s modest Tel Aviv home still stands a few blocks from the sea, and is pretty much as it was when he died. Here’s a capsule bio from Wikipedia:

David Ben-Gurion (/bɛnˈɡʊəriən/ ben GOOR-ee-ən; Hebrew: דָּוִד בֶּן־גּוּרִיּוֹן [daˈvid ben ɡuʁˈjon] i; born David Grün; 16 October 1886 – 1 December 1973) was the primary national founder of the State of Israel and the first prime minister of Israel. Born in Płońsk, then part of the Russian Empire, to Polish Jewish parents, he immigrated to the Palestine region of the Ottoman Empire in 1906. Adopting the name of Ben-Gurion in 1909, he rose to become the preeminent leader of the Jewish community in British-ruled Mandatory Palestine from 1935 until the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, which he led until 1963 with a short break in 1954–55.

Ben-Gurion’s interest for Zionism developed early in his life, leading him to become a major Zionist leader and executive head of the World Zionist Organization in 1946. As head of the Jewish Agency from 1935, and later president of the Jewish Agency Executive, he was the de facto leader of the Jewish community in Palestine, and largely led the movement for an independent Jewish state in Mandatory Palestine.

On 14 May 1948, he formally proclaimed the establishment of Israel, and was the first to sign the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which he had helped writing. Under Ben-Gurion’s leadership, the 1948 Arab–Israeli War saw the uniting of the various Jewish militias into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and the expulsion and flight of a majority of the Palestinian Arab population. Subsequently, he became known as “Israel’s founding father”. Following the war, Ben-Gurion served as Israel’s first prime minister and minister of defence.

There are three things to add about him. Without Ben-Gurion, it’s likely that Israel wouldn’t exist.  Second, he was an intellectual and deeply read man, which you’ll see in a second. Finally, he was deeply beloved by Israelis, and may have been the best Prime Minister ever. (He’s buried by a kibbutz in the Negev Desert.) Here’s a photo from Wikipedia:

Here’s his house at 18 Ben-Gurion Street (of course):

Except for some honors and awards, and items behind glass (his office is glassed off), the house is pretty much as it was when he died in 1973. It’s not humble, but neither is it grandiose. What makes it stand out most is the huge number of BOOKS.

Ben Gurion’s office (the only room behind glass). Perhaps this is just as it was when he died:

The kitchen and eating nook, with an old Israeli fridge:

Formal dining room:

Two bedrooms (looks like, as many couples did, they slept separately):

The living room adjacent to the office:

And oy, the books, divided by language and topic. Here, for instance, are his books on Hinduism:

. . . and on American Judaism:

LOOK AT ALL THESE BOOKS!

This is a panoramic shot encompassing bits of four rooms (click to enlarge):

Besides the books, there are many photos of Ben-Gurion with famous people and heads of state, as well as awards given him by heads of state, like this tusk;

David and Winnie:

David and Nixon (I don’t know who the woman is, but perhaps Ben-Gurion’s wife):

The old equivalent of bobblehead dolls. From left to right: Menachem Begin, Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, and Theodore Herzl.

Finally, right by the door is a WEIRD MANNEQUIN of Ben-Gurion, perhaps to show how large (or, rather, small) he was):

There was only one other couple visiting the house when I was there, and it surely deserves more attention than that. I learned a lot by going there and reading up about its famous inhabitant.

Ben-Gurion had a wife, Paula, three kids, and yes, a few mistresses on the side.

22 thoughts on “Israel, Day 9

  1. Yes. Many years ago, an uncle was visiting my parents’ home and, standing in front of our den bookshelf, he commented that books are the mark of a proper Jewish home. That small interaction has stuck with me for more than 60 years. I am also impressed by the library ceiling lighting and the comfortable reading chairs in each room. Thanks for the insight into David ben Gurion’s life.

    1. I’m not Jewish, but I always respect a good home library and if it’s better than mine I feel a bit of envy as well. I liked how there was no wasted wasted shelf space, no knickknacks, and shelves on every wall. That is a proper library, not just for show.

      1. Yes. And my wife commented that she loves that books are even shelved above doorways and walkthroughs. No wasted wallspace

  2. It’s interesting–and depressing–to compare the number of books in Ben-Gurion’s library to the number owned or that have been read by some other current or recent “heads of state”. I think the Donald has read fewer books than he has “written”.

  3. Another interesting post, thanks – thaa LOT of books. The only thing I know about Tel Aviv is that in their early days, the US and Russian diplomatic missions to Israel shared the same building, despite the Cold War:

    Given the contested status of Jerusalem, the Truman administration decided to lay the grounds for the foundation of the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv. The diplomat charged with setting up the new mission, special counselor Charles F. Knox, confronted a country embroiled in war. “More than half the day I am sitting in air raid shelters or waiting for the all-clear so that I can get a taxi, or running for cover,” Knox wrote to his family in August 1948.

    Knox’s qualifications for the job did not stem from expertise: He did not speak Hebrew or Arabic and had no experience with the Middle East. But, testifying to the danger involved, the State Department considered Knox ideal for the post for two main reasons. First, he had survived three Latin American revolutions during his career. Second, he was an unmarried man who would not be dragged down by marital anxieties in times of war.

    Exacerbating Knox’s problems, the nascent Cold War tensions were escalating in Israel. And because of a shortage of office space plaguing Tel Aviv, Knox had to carry out his duties in proximity to his Soviet counterparts.

    The only room that Knox found to (temporarily) house the offices of the new American diplomatic mission was a hotel on the Tel Aviv seafront. Yet soon enough, Walter Eytan, the director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry, approached him “with obvious embarrassment” to ask whether it would be okay with the Americans if the Soviets, who also were struggling to find office space, set up their own diplomatic mission in the same hotel, only on a different floor. And so, just as the Cold War intensified, the American and Soviet flags in Israel were forced to flutter peacefully alongside each other.

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/made-by-history/wp/2018/05/14/moving-u-s-embassy-to-jerusalem-created-a-dangerous-situation/

    1. That Walter Eytan was a remarkable man. Born Walter Ettinghausen in Munich, he became an Oxford don before the Second World War. He taught medieval German and was a Fellow of Queen’s College. During the War, he was involved in code breaking at Bletchley. When, after the War, he moved to Palestine, he changed his name to a name that fitted his new language, Hebrew. He played an important role in Israeli foreign affairs, as in the case mentioned by JezGrove.

  4. This the second time we have seen breakfast shaksouka this week…sounds great. So I am surprised that it has never, in my memory, been on any of our kosher synagogue breakfast or brunch menus here in the mid-Atlantic U.S. in my lifetime. I must ask the current caterer.

    1. Looks like there is also a green shakshuka made with such vegetables as brussels sprouts, spinach, and kale.

      Pink on American cans of Friskies cat food is for salmon. My neighbor’s cat spends his days with me and salmon is his favorite.

  5. You always seem to locate the best places to eat. Well done.

    The Ben-Gurion house is amazing. What a library! I had no idea that he was so well read, and need to read more about the man. Exactly the right leader for the time. It took real guts to declare the State of Israel in 1948, knowing that the Arab countries would immediately try to destroy it.

    1. “I had no idea that he was so well read . . .”

      Well, those who love books tend to have a wee bit more on the shelf than they have actually read. Not that I know anyone like that.

      1. As a famous author (I cannot remember which one, so the following is a paraphrase) has said, the value of a well-stocked bookcase lies not in the collection books one has read, but in the accumulated store of wisdom one has yet to behold.

        I try to remember that when the unread books on my own shelves stare me down with a reproachful eye. 🙂

  6. Fascinating!

    The shakshouka pic is really hi resolution compared to “spot the ___” pics.

    Is that just because of the camera, or is it me?

    Also the shakshouka looks delicious compared to any I have ever seen. Almost Italian-looking.

  7. Most of that house meant little to me until the library. Now that is a fantastic home library. I wish I had the room for a home library that grand. I liked how there was shelving up to the ceiling even over doors. Wonderful.

  8. I would expect eggplant to show up in at least some versions of shakshouka, but that’s not mentioned in the Wikipedia description. Have you encountered it with eggplant?

Leave a Reply