A very special high-school reunion

More than half a century after their graduation from Gymnasia Rehavia, septuagenarian classmates reunite.

One-time students at the Gymnasia include world-renowned writer Amos Oz and Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, who will be attending the reunion of former Gymnasia students celebrating their 70th birthdays this year (photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
One-time students at the Gymnasia include world-renowned writer Amos Oz and Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai, who will be attending the reunion of former Gymnasia students celebrating their 70th birthdays this year
(photo credit: WIKIMEDIA)
September 1 was the first day of the new school year, but for a group of former students of Gymnasia Rehavia, September 2 was a more important date on their calendars: the day of their septuagenarian reunion.
This meant that all those who will be attending were born in 1946, and at one stage or another were in the same class at the Gymnasia, one of the most famous and prestigious coed schools in Jerusalem.
The Gymnasia was founded in 1909, the same year as the City of Tel Aviv. The Gymnasia was originally located in the Bukharan Quarter, and moved to Rehavia towards the end of the 1920s.
The school boasts three former presidents.
Yitzhak Ben-Zvi was a member of the teaching faculty, Ephraim Katzir was a student and so was current president Reuven Rivlin, who was at school together with world-renowned writer Amos Oz.
Other alumni of note include Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, eminent archeologists Trude Dothan and Yigael Yadin, who was also later a politician, writer A.B. Yehoshua, internationally renowned jurist Eli Salzberger, Israel’s ambassador to China Matan Vilna’i, and briefly, Yoni Netanyahu, the late brother of the prime minister, who lost his life as the commander of Operation Entebbe.
Three years earlier during the Yom Kippur War, Yoni Netanyahu rescued tank commander Maj.-Gen. Yossi Ben-Hanan, a Gymnasia alumnus, who lay wounded on the battlefield behind enemy lines after his tank was hit by a Sagger anti-tank missile. Ben-Hanan was one of the most highly decorated heroes of the Yom Kippur War.
Among the numerous politicians who were students at the Gymnasia are Rehavam Ze’evi, who was assassinated by Palestinian terrorists, former Likud MK Dan Meridor, who served in several ministerial positions including minister of justice, minister of finance and minister of intelligence and atomic energy, and Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai whose previous positions include head of Army Radio, IDF spokesman, director-general of the Second Authority for Radio and Television, and chairman of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
Meridor’s younger brother Sallai, who also attended the Gymnasia, was an ambassador to the United States.
Shai will be one of the people attending the reunion of former students of the Gymnasia who are celebrating their 70th birthdays this year. The event will be held at the home of Pesach Zeidel, who took over the family business of heating and cooling equipment.
In an interview with In Jerusalem this week, Shai said that he was looking forward to the event with both excitement and trepidation. So many of his old school friends have died over the years, and the realization that mortality is inevitable is not a happy thought. “But we will remember each of them by name,” he said.
The education system in Israel has changed and is changing all the time.
“It was more classical,” replied Shai when asked to comment on what his schooling was like compared to curricula today. “For instance, we studied Shakespeare, and now there is talk of Shakespeare being sacrificed in favor of spoken English. There’s no reason not to have both.”
During his schooldays, the attitude to education was different. “Today, it’s more practical. Education Minister Naftali Bennett wants more math and less humanities. Today’s students are educated toward career goals, so that they will be able to enter professions in which they can earn the most money. This carries over from school to university. With us a comprehensive range of knowledge was more important.”
When Shai was at school, the whole purpose of education was to broaden horizons and to impart values. “In addition to all the regular subjects, we studied Talmud and Bible.
Some students also studied Latin, though I chose French, and we certainly had more literature than students are exposed to today.
But what was important to our teachers was that we should all turn out to be decent human beings.”
The teachers were extremely dedicated to their professions and to the subjects which they taught. Shai fondly remembers Shimon Krieger, whom he described as “a wonderful teacher.”
Though English was not Krieger’s mother tongue, he taught it with meticulous care, and the standard was high.
Shai remembered getting a low mark from Krieger. His English subsequently improved to total fluency, but he often thought of Krieger while working as spokesman for the Israeli delegation at the United Nations, and speaking mainly English. He wondered what Krieger would think of him if he could hear him.
Shai had a choice of schools to attend. “I was lazy,” he admitted, so he chose the Gymnasia, because it was not far from his parents’ apartment on Narkiss Street.
A remnant of the British Mandate period was the school uniform.
It wasn’t a uniform in the strictly formal British sense, but everyone had to wear light blue shirts and navy blue trousers.
With few exceptions, most of the students came from homes that were politically left of center, though not to the extent of having laborers as parents. Most were the offspring of doctors, lawyers and academics. Shai was a notable exception.
“My father was an Egged bus driver.”