Grapevine: New guard at Rotary Club

Stories about the first Arab to head Jerusalem's Rotary Club is installed and renovations at the former prime minister's residence.

YMCA Tower 480 (photo credit: Courtesy)
YMCA Tower 480
(photo credit: Courtesy)
• The Rotary Club of Jerusalem generally meets at the YMCA on King David Street, and last week held its gala dinner there to mark the changing of the guard – in which Nezer Tannous, a Christian Arab who lives in Talbiyeh, succeeded Alexandra Darmon as president.
Tannous is not the first Arab to head the Jerusalem Rotary Club.
Another was Rizek Abusharr, the former director-general of the YMCA who retired in December 2001 after a 46-year relationship with the organization. Having worked there since he was a boy, Abusharr was the first native son of Jerusalem to hold the post of director-general of the Y.
Because both the Y and the Jerusalem Rotary Club have Jewish, Christian and Muslim members who live and work together in harmony, there is a natural correlation between the two. Even during the most tension-filled periods in the city, both before and after the creation of the state, people of all three faiths found a haven of safety and harmony both in Rotary and the Y.
Following his retirement, Abusharr and his wife, Alice, settled in Claremont, California, to be closer to their immediate family. Just as they were involved in many humanitarian, peace-motivated projects in Israel, they became so involved in their new home, returning every now and again to Israel – as Abusharr’s roots in the Holy City go back some 500 years. Although he may be removed geographically, he cannot separate himself from Jerusalem emotionally.
To the delight of their many friends, the Abusharrs were at the dinner to witness the installation of Tannous in his new role; it was Abusharr who first introduced Tannous to the Rotary.
The guest speaker at the event was opposition leader Isaac Herzog, who was made an honorary member of the Jerusalem Rotary. It was very much a Jerusalem day for Herzog. Earlier on, he had spoken at the Jerusalem Press Club and from there, had proceeded to a demonstration of Tag Meir, which fights hate crimes; he then went on to the Rotary before returning to Tel Aviv.
• For many years, the house at 46 Ben-Maimon Street, once the official residence of prime ministers, has remained neglected and in a severe state of disrepair. Its last prime ministerial occupant was Golda Meir. When Leah Rabin went to inspect the house after Yitzhak Rabin was first elected prime minister, she refused to live there and other accommodations had to be found in the area.
Thus, the house that is currently the residence of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his family was selected, and has since hosted Yitzhak Rabin, Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon and Olmert.
The house on Ben-Maimon, which was originally built in the 1930s for Julius and Nechama Jacobs, was designed by Benjamin Chaiken. Jacobs was a clerk with the British Mandate administration and was killed in the riots of 1947. His family subsequently leased the property to the Jewish Agency, and after the Declaration of Independence and the shifting of the government and the Knesset from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion decided the house at 46 Ben-Maimon Street was suitable for the prime minister’s official residence.
No Israeli official lived in the house after Golda Meir; instead, it was infiltrated by drug addicts, alcoholics and homeless people.
Then, several years ago when Levi Eshkol’s widow, Miriam, wanted to build a museum in his memory, she was allocated the house on Ben-Maimon.
Renovations and reconstruction began but Miriam Eshkol was unable to raise sufficient funds to complete the project, and it remained in a state of limbo for a relatively long time. Then, when the Russian Compound was handed over to the Russian government, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), which had long been located in Sergei’s Courtyard in the Russian Compound, was asked to evacuate, and was desperately in search of a new home.
After looking around, the powers that be saw no reason not to share premises with the proposed Eshkol Museum.
The SPNI will help to restore the house on Ben-Maimon to its former glory, and together with the Levi Eshkol museum will open it to the public.