From Port Elizabeth and S. Africa, via Australia, to Haifa

The Herberts have made two major location changes in their lives and their success here is a story of determination and idealism.

herbert duo 88 224 (photo credit: )
herbert duo 88 224
(photo credit: )
Valerie and Gilbert Herbert have made two major location changes in their lives and their success here is a story of determination and idealism. For in their retirement, living in the same quiet apartment on the Carmel, with its sea and forest view, they bought soon after aliya, they can look back on years of professional achievement, activism and involvement in the community life of Haifa. Gilbert was both a student and a lecturer in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand in his home city of Johannesburg. Valerie studied speech training and drama at the University of Cape Town and mime at the Royal Academy of Music in London. They married in 1953 and with the birth of their two children, Barry and Margalit, began to be uncomfortable with the concept of bringing up children in the political environment of apartheid. In 1960, Gilbert became ill and was convalescing in the wilds near the Kruger National Park when he read an out-of-date advertisement for a reader in the University of Adelaide. His application was accepted and the family moved to Australia. Although the Jewish community in Adelaide was relatively small, the couple were very involved in Zionist activity. As the children grew, Valerie went back to work teaching speech and drama at the Adelaide Teachers College. They had a very comfortable life, good job prospects and a happy social life, although they missed their families in South Africa. They were about to sign a contract on a hilltop dream house designed by Gilbert, and their son was registered for a prestigious high school, when they started to ask themselves what it was all about. "My grandfather was an ardent Zionist," says Valerie, "and in fact he bought land in prestate Israel. He died when my mother was young, but in my grandparents' home there was a large portrait of Theodor Herzl and I always thought that was my grandfather. When I got to Haifa and went to the government offices, I could not understand why they all displayed 'my grandfather' on the walls!" But Valerie's growing desire to come to Israel was rooted in the collective Jewish grief over the Holocaust. "This left a deep scar in me. I felt that we needed our own country, we have to be there," says Valerie. Gilbert had been a member of Habonim and South African Friends of the Hagana and spent time in a hachshara training farm outside Johannesburg. He volunteered to join the IDF during the War of Independence, but an earlier injury while serving in the South African army prevented his acceptance. PREPARATION In Adelaide, the couple agreed that they had reached a point of no return. Their son was due to go to high school, there was a decision to make on the house, but their desire to live in Israel was becoming stronger than these ambitions. "It was now or never," they realized. There was only one school of architecture here at that time, the Technion, but until three weeks before their departure, Gilbert had still not received a commitment. "By that stage we were determined to come whether or not the Technion wanted me," he says. They used some of their JNF contacts to explore other options and even considered life on a kibbutz or moshav. "Meanwhile," continues Valerie, "we had booked an ulpan in Netanya, but less than two weeks before our departure, we received a note informing us that there had been a mix-up and they had no accommodation for us." But at the same time, a letter arrived from the Technion offering Gilbert a job and accommodation in Haifa. ARRIVAL Gilbert started work the day after arrival and he and Valerie went to morning ulpan. "The children had only Sunday school Hebrew and we had to find a private tutor for them," says Valerie. "Yes the culture shock, the drastic change in our lives, getting the children settled, it was a nightmare," she admits, "but we were determined that it would work out. I had to remind myself of the ideological reasons for coming here. I dared not look back - you have to strengthen yourself." Stress took its toll on Gilbert too and he collapsed one night with what appeared to be a heart attack. When he woke up five days later, he found himself in architect Eric Mendelsohn's famous Rambam Hospital building. "I missed a lot of my ulpan," he quips. "I learned the past and present tense but had no future in Hebrew." WORK Valerie resumed her career and taught extracurricular courses at the Technion and the University of Haifa and and created courses in movement and drama and phonetics for the Oranim teachers college and at the Gordon Seminar in Haifa. One job that continued for 18 years was teaching Arab teachers of English at their training college. "I felt it was helping in building bridges between Arabs and Jews," she says. Today in retirement, she teaches as a volunteer at a senior citizens' home. Gilbert became a full professor and later dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Town Planning at the Technion. He traveled widely, lecturing and writing and received many awards and academic prizes. His books and publications are diverse works of research and history, including Walter Gropius and the development of prefabrication, the history of the International Movement and the evolution of modern architecture and the work of the Bauhaus and the basis of modern industrial architecture in Israel. FAMILY In 1977 their son Binyamin (Barry), 22, was killed in a road accident in South Africa. He had survived the Yom Kippur War as a lieutenant in the navy and when he finished his IDF service toured South Africa. Following his death, family and friends planted a grove in the Nir Etzion forest on the Carmel overlooking the Atlit beach where he had served, and established an annual prize and scholarship at the Technion. Their daughter Margalit works for a Haifa lawyer. "The news of Barry's death came on her 18th birthday," recalls Valerie, "the day she was sitting a matriculation exam." There are three grandchildren, the older two having completed national and military service and the youngest still in high school. SOCIAL LIFE The Herberts soon made a large circle of friends. For some years they attended the synagogue at the neighboring retirement home, but for the past 10 years they have been active members of the Moriah Masorati community. "It is a wonderful supportive community, an important part of our lives," says Gilbert, who together with Valerie sings in the choir. Valerie was a founding member in 1982 of the Haifa English Theater and to this day is involved on stage and off. She is an active volunteer, is a member of the Haifa chapter of WIZO and Hadassah Israel, and was chairwoman of the Haifa Committee for Soviet Jewry. Gilbert is a former president of the Haifa committee of the South African Zionist Federation. HOBBIES They both sing in the Carmel Choir and enjoy painting and genealogical studies. Gilbert writes fiction and poetry and his poems are published in the annual anthology of Voices: English Poets in Israel. The couple are avid travelers and have explored every continent except Antarctica. To propose an immigrant for a 'Veterans' profile, please send a one-paragraph e-mail to: