David Ben Gurion, Levi Eshkol, and Golda Meir lived in this house between the years 1949 to 1974. They lived here during all the major ups and downs of the first quarter of a century of the State of Israel. Perhaps one would expect something more grand like the official residence of the leader of Denmark in Copenhagen, or any of the official residences of world leaders, all of which are more impressive than this house.
Well, the Israeli house is understated, which says something about the modesty of our founding fathers and mothers, and Israeli society in general.
The kitchen of this house became famous during Golda Meir’s time. She would invite the inner circle of Cabinet members over for strategy meetings. She would bake a cake, serve tea and coffee, and they would all plan how they would relate to the larger cabinet the next day. Because they met in the kitchen, it became known as the “Kitchen Cabinet” (or in Hebrew, the Mitbachon) a term used in Israeli politics since then and including Netanyahu’s government today.
When we look more closely at the architecture of this house, we can see there’s something unusual about it. On the one hand, it has the plain white plaster and lack of ornamentation of the Bauhaus style that was brought to Israel by German Jewish architects fleeing the rise of the Nazis to power in the 1930s. On the other hand, it has classical Roman or Byzantine style arches. It seems that the architect, Benjamin Chaiken who designed this house, and Richard Kaufman, who designed the neighborhood of Rehavia, were trying to develop a new style for Jerusalem when they built this house, blending the ancient with the modern. You’ll notice that the wall and guard house were not part of the original design. (Photo by Benny Powers). The house was first owned by Julius and Nechama Jacobs. Julius was a clerk in the British Mandate government and was killed in 1947 in the ongoing skirmishes between Jews, Arabs and the British. On December 5th,1949, Ben Gurion declared that Jerusalem was the Eternal Capital of the Jewish people, and as such the government would move immediately to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv where it had been during the War of Independence. This house was the most logical choice for the Prime Minister’s residence. Why? It was already in the hands of the Jewish Agency (it had been leased from the Jacobs family), it was in the neighborhood of the Jewish Agency and many Zionist leaders, and it was on the corner. So, it was easy to just build a security wall and booth for a guard in order to secure the house for the Prime Minister.
Paula Ben Gurion was known for being more concerned that the guard had a good meal than was actually guarding, so she often invited him in to eat with them. In 1974, when Yitzchak Rabin was elected Prime Minister, Leah Rabin came to see the house. She felt it was in poor condition, so the Rabins requested a different residence. The official Prime Minister’s residence was then moved to a house down the street where Bibi Netanyahu lives today. While this original house is not a spectacular piece of architecture, it is certainly an important part of the history of the State of Israel.
P.S. So, what is happening with the house today? A few weeks ago, some protestors broke in to the house to continue the summer protests regarding lack of affordable housing in Israel…but that’s another story. There were ideas about 10 years ago to turn it into a museum for Levy Eshkol, but the funds weren’t raised. The current plan is turn it into a beautiful apartment building which will retain some aspects of the original house as a memorial.
© 2011, Lisa (Leah) Bowman. All Rights Reserved.
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