Union Jack in Ramat Gan

A sneak peek into the home of Britain’s first Jewish ambassador.

living room 521 (photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
living room 521
(photo credit: URIEL MESSA)
Matthew Gould did not set out to establish any records when he took up his appointment as British ambassador in May. And yet there are several interesting firsts connected to the posting, not the least of which is that he is the first Jewish British ambassador to Israel.
On a recent visit to the residence in Ramat Gan where his wife Celia showed us around their new home, two more firsts emerged. Probably for the first time in its 60 plus years’ incarnation as a residence, a mezuza has been affixed to the front door. And in April Celia is due to give birth to the couple’s first child, the first time a baby has been born to a British ambassador here and one which will be, quite definitely, a sabra.
Gould has made quite an impact since his arrival, particularly because he is so visibly Jewish, turning up at social events like the Israel Britain Commonwealth Association’s Balfour Dinner wearing a yarmulke emblazoned with the Union Jack. During my tour of the house, Celia shows me some photos on an inner wall which go a long way to explaining her husband’s pride in his Jewishness. One is an old black-and-white portrait of a bearded shtetl Jew with two sons wearing cloth caps.
“This is Matthew’s great grandfather with his grandfather and uncle before they left Warsaw.
They were able to come to England, but five other brothers were lost in the Holocaust. This made a deep impact on him and shaped his Jewish identity. His grandfather taught him that dreadful things have happened because we are Jews and it’s up to him to remain Jewish.”
Gould is a seasoned diplomat, having been posted to Washington, Tehran, Pakistan and Manila in the course of his career, which also included a stint in London as parliamentary private secretary to David Milliband. For Celia, it’s her first posting, since she and Matthew got married less than 18 months ago.
The couple met through mutual friends in France. Celia had studied economics at Cambridge and become friends with the wife, who knew Matthew from the Pakistan posting. It wasn’t exactly a shidduch, but the friend felt the two should meet. Before becoming a diplomatic wife, Celia had worked as a banker/stockbroker and later as a headhunter for a media company.
Needless to say they love being here and knew as soon as they received the posting it would be an exciting place to serve. They have traveled around quite a lot, and Celia drives, goes shopping and enjoys life here.
“Everything I do in London, I do here, but in sunshine,” she says.
They had visited the residence on a trip before they were married, so they knew what to expect.
We sit first on the terrace and drink – what else ? – English tea from beautiful Minton china which Celia tells me is the same set as is used in Buckingham Palace, while Poppy the Labrador sits and gazes contentedly at the garden stretching into the distance.
“We spend a lot of time on the terrace and use it for formal events too,” Celia says. The Queen’s Birthday party is probably the highlight of the year and is always held in spring, so guests usually spill out into the huge and well-kept garden.
The formal entertainment rooms are furnished in classic British style, which includes solid mahogany and glass-topped side tables. Jackie, the housekeeper, tells me that a previous ambassador tried replacing the settees, but didn’t like the new ones so got the old ones back and had them re-covered in a local material.
The focal point of the sitting room is the splendid log fire set in a marble surround. Above the fireplace is the painting Women at the Western Wall by Anthony Eyton, purchased for the British government art collection in 1981.
Celia says many of the artworks displayed at the residence are chosen for their relevance to the country, and that the balance between modern and traditional art is well thought out. So there’s a Luigi Mayer watercolor, Fountain of Siloam near Jerusalem, and a drawing of the Grotto and Supposed Sepulcher of the Prophet Jeremiah by Sir Robert Ainslie. In another part of the lounge are an oil painting by David Roberts and several works by David Bomberg.
In the dining room, presiding over the elegant dinners which are frequently held there for visiting and local dignitaries, is a portrait of Lord Balfour by Ellis William Roberts acquired in 1986. The dining room is the place she has put her old desk from home.
Nearby is a silver halla board – a gift from Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who installed the three mezuzot.
But it’s not all formal entertaining at the embassy.
Recently they had a big party for Trinny and Susannah, the style icons from Britain who are to do a program for Channel 10 here.
“We had a huge number of Israeli celebrities, models, television presenters, so I think the neighbors quite enjoyed it,” says Celia. “I do know that sometimes our big events inconvenience them with all the cars and noise. In fact, when we first arrived we invited them all in for a drink. We felt that if we’re going to impinge, we should at least introduce ourselves.”
Finally we inspect the guest rooms which were all given names by the previous ambassador, Sherard Cowper- Coles. Guests can take their pick of rooms dubbed Balfour, Allenby, Sieff, Herzog and Montefiore. The nursery is around here somewhere, though we didn’t get to see what color it’s been painted.
The residence is situated in a high point of Ramat Gan next to the water tower which looms over the gardens, public and private, of the area. Several of the buildings around, like the embassy, were clearly built in the Bauhaus style so popular here in the 1930s and the area has maintained its quiet elegance for what must be coming up to 70 years.