My dad had a fascination for tracking down historic homes and travel routes of historic figures. Sometimes those locations were transformed into house museums, but his true call was to find the unmarked ones, the off-the-beaten-path homes.
Often, we found ourselves in fascinating surroundings, exploring basements in search for original walls, even searching for hidden spaces, rooms, or secret passages and tunnels.
I can still remember my heart pounding of fear, afraid of getting nabbed, when he was so passionate in pursuing his mission, he would first search, and then get consent of owners or the authorities. However, he had great charm, when he was caught, they would immediately forgive him and listen in awe to his stories. Afterwards I have witnessed them helping him out and looking for new clues in service of his quest.
He had an extreme urge to open doors, especially those that were locked. He was always searching for the unanswered, whether we were in an abbey in the Pyrenees in southwestern France, in the Jewish Quarter of Córdoba in Spain, or in the souq of Damascus in Syria.
He could spend hours re-enacting how life must have been back then, searching for the personalities of those that lived there, by studying everything inside the house, as well as the surroundings. He wanted to feel the atmosphere, smell and touch the actual circumstances, visualizing the person in the setting he or she lived in, in order trying to “understand” the decisions they made in their lives.
It wasn’t enough to visit the Lion’s Mound at the battlefield of Waterloo, he would walk around for hours and hours, with maps and old photographs or painting reproductions, and take us on treks to experience the actions and strategies of the armies. It was such a delight to see him marching through the fields, where there was little else to see but farming and cows.
In Tel Aviv he would always shout in the middle of the street that we should never forget that this city was built on a sea of sand dunes by 66 brave families. He demanded that we closed our eyes to imagine the founding ceremony that took place in 1909.
Today I pursue his mission, following in his footsteps, still exploring with him the secrets of the hearts and minds of those that once occupied these spaces.
You know, it is true what he said, each house has a story to tell.
People fill it with their wishes and dreams to keep the world outside. Their worries, desires, and obsessions are reflected in the objects they leave behind. The answers he was seeking strongly related to our own past and the evil that engulfed Europe so many times. His journey became a search of reasons behind human behavior and the existence of good and evil in the world.
Which is of course the perennial question with no solution.
One of his favorite places in Tel Aviv was the Ben-Gurion house. When I walk through this house I often wonder why my dad loved this house so much. I know that he tried to make sense of this world. He was tracing the footsteps of people who made decisions, choices or reacted to impulses that inflicted others. He had the conviction that he would get closer to answers, if he just could get closer to them.
We had also visited Ben-Gurion’s birthplace in Płońsk (Poland), where Ben-Gurion met Theodor Herzl and he made such a strong impression on him that he said, “One glimpse of him and I was ready to follow him then and there to the land of my ancestors.”
But it was here on the former Keren Kayemet Boulevard in Tel Aviv that my dad felt Ben-Gurion was the closest. In this house you can still imagine seeing Ben-Gurion taking his morning coffee.
The rooms are still furnished, the shelves stacked with books, and all the things that had been cherished down the years by him and his family, gathered and safely shut away. It is easy to imagine him here, practicing yoga and doing a headstand in front of his house. In 1957, he was photographed by Paul Goldman doing a headstand at the beach in Tel Aviv. There is now a statue depicting this iconic moment to be found on Tel Aviv beach.
This home tells the story of David Gruen, who became Ben-Gurion (“son of a lion cub”). He named himself after Joseph Ben-Gurion, a first-century democratic leader of the Jews, whom zealots killed for his restraint in the uprising against the Romans in 66 C.E. At the age of nineteen he arrived in Jaffa harbor, almost died of malaria, studied law in Istanbul, and lived in Jerusalem until he was deported to Egypt in 1915 by the Ottoman authorities.
His father was a lawyer, a prominent member of the Jewish community, and an early member of a society called Hibbat Zion (Love of Zion). “The Land of Israel” was a faithful subject of conversation in the Gruen household and in his memoirs, Ben-Gurion recalls that at the age of three he had daydreams of coming to The Holy Land. From a very young age the settlement of the land became central to his views. Ben-Gurion’s identity was formed by Zionist ideology and the Zionist cause became the most important goal in his life.
Between the walls of his Tel Aviv home you will find Ben-Gurion’s four library rooms. The Knesset passed legislation to preserve Ben Gurion’s legacy by saving not only his home and books in Tel Aviv, but also his shack (‘tsrif’) in Kibbutz Sdeh-Boker, including the library, as it existed at the time of his death.
Now is the thing that I have a penchant for books and libraries. I feel there is no place more beautiful than a library or a room stocked with books and I love the smell of old book-scented air. I have this urge to know what people are reading and am quite the book- collector myself. I am always out of bookshelf space and space for more bookshelves. In my view you can never have too many books.
Clearly Ben-Gurion shared the same sentiments. His books take up the largest space in both houses. In his Desert Home you will find 5,000 books and in Tel Aviv more than 20,000 volumes, each of them reflects his interests and personality. In the Negev he wrote his memoirs, books and articles, and in his libraries, you can find the Tanakh, books on Judaism, philosophy, history, geography, the IDF and defense strategies.
In this house, on the present-day Ben-Gurion Boulevard, the Declaration of Independence was written. Seventy years ago, Ben-Gurion left this house and went to the former home of Meir Dizengoff, now known as Independence Hall, on Rothschild Boulevard, for the ceremony in which he proclaimed the establishment of the state of Israel and the Declaration of Independence.
My dad was happy here, and so am I. This house breaths vision and trust in the future. From here the People’s Administration, the proto-cabinet, and the People’s Council decided to act. Standing on the very spot where the 2,000-year-old dream became reality, and a written statement of hope became the State of Israel, is simply magical.
If you would like to visit The Ben-Gurion House, it is open for individual and group visits. Location: 17 Ben Gurion Blvd. Tel Aviv 63454.
You can also visit the shack at Kibbutz Sde Boker. Opening Hours Sunday-Thursday 8:30–16:00, Friday and Festivals 10:00–16:00. Please arrive at least an hour before closing time.