Grapevine: Gone but not forgotten

All over Israel, historic sites are being torn down to make way for the dreams of real-estate developers.

Tel Aviv High rise 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Tel Aviv High rise 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
ALL OVER Israel, historic sites are being torn down to make way for the dreams of real-estate developers who are sacrificing history and tradition on the altar of greed.
Sometimes the Society for the Preservation of Historic Heritage Sites succeeds in preventing this from happening, but often a developer manages to destroy a building before the society can get a court decree to stop him. On occasion there is a compromise whereby the external façade is preserved but the interior is gutted. A plaque on the wall testifies to what once stood on the site.
But not all original buildings fade from memory. A case in point is the original Gymnasia Herzliya, established in 1905 as Tel Aviv’s first high school, which was torn down in 1963 to pave the way for the construction of the Shalom Tower, then the tallest building in the White City but today dwarfed by skyscrapers that are more than 60 stories high.
There is a permanent photo exhibition of old Tel Aviv on the ground floor of the Shalom Tower, but as of December 2, alumni of the Gymnasia Herzliya will be able to trade memories at an exhibition that has been mounted at the Eretz Israel Museum by curator Guy Raz.
In an introduction to the exhibition, Raz muses over how, with the passing of time, “pictures become blurred and increasingly fade, figures disappear, frames disintegrate, dust covers the files in which the photos are kept, torn bits of photos and pages fly about whenever the door to the archives opens.”
Raz wrote this introduction while sitting at one of three heavy wooden desks built by Avraham Krinitzky, a carpenter from Ramat Gan who later became its first mayor.
Other people who sat at or around that desk include Haim Nahman Bialik, one of the reviver of Hebrew as a language of the masses; Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv; and the principal of the Gymnasia Herzliya at the time, Yehuda Leib Matman-Cohen, who was succeeded by Ben-Zion Mossinson, Haim Bograshov (Boger) and Baruch Ben-Yehuda.
“Everyday ongoing matters were discussed around this desk, a silent witness to a history of decades,” writes Raz. “On the other hand, the archives next door hold numerous documents and photographs, which beg to be uncovered and tell the story, thus enabling readers to examine the stories and events for themselves, meet the figures whose names are now the names of streets, while in the photos they are immortalized in their educational and social endeavors.
The gymnasia began as the first Hebrew high school, and next to it was a boarding school for children from all over the world who came to study. The sense of mission that beat in the hearts of the founders was passed on to their followers. They perceived the educational mission as far more comprehensive than simple teaching and saw themselves committed to the building and shaping of society. Even in those days the gymnasia was far more than just a local high school. It was a school whose existence did not depend on one building or another, a school whose spirits made it possible for it to exist anywhere.”
Many of the school’s first students later became leading figures in the budding nation’s social, political, economic, cultural and artistic infrastructure. Raz has lovingly gathered much of the evidence that remains of the Gymnasia Herzliya. The exhibition should remind people of the importance of preservation and conservation, but, as so frequently happens, greed masked by progress will probably take the upper hand.
■ WHEN A letter was sent to The Jerusalem Post in 1971 by Reuben Rose, Leslie Summers, Moshe Ben-Zvi and Jacob Katwan, little did they dream that the English-language poetry group that they planned to establish would grow to be an international organization.
In spite of the rockets falling from Gaza, three Voices publications were launched at two events last week, at the David Yellin College in Jerusalem, moderated by Dr. Yosef Gotlieb, and at Beit Hecht in Haifa, compiled by Johnmichael Simon and Ezra Ben- Meir. For the launching of the 38th annual Voices Israel anthology, members traveled from all over the country to read their published poems. Ada Aharoni, well-known Haifa poet and peace activist, told the Haifa gathering that she replied to that letter in 1971 and has been a member ever since.
Starting with groups in Haifa and Jerusalem and then Tel Aviv, in the past two years Voices has established groups in the Upper and Western Galilee, Netanya, Rehovot, Beersheba, Beit Shemesh and Efrat to enable poets to attend monthly meetings nearer their homes. And groups have just started in Boston and London, with occasional Voices poetry happenings in New York.
The legacy of Reuben Rose lives on. For many years his widow, Susie, continued to support Voices and distributed the prizes at the annual ceremony for the winners of the Reuben Rose Competition. Last March, she was eagerly awaiting the publication of Culled from My Roses, an anthology of Reuben’s poems, letters and essays, her vision for many years and a project taken on by Voices editors Johnmichael Simon and Mark Levinson. Tragically, she died during a heart operation in June, but a few days before her death she received the anthology from the printers and prepared envelopes to send copies to her family and friends.
So, together with the 2012 anthology, Voices also celebrated the launching of the Rose anthology and a third publication, The Second Decade of Voices an anthology of the best monthly selections from 2000-2009, edited by Ezra Ben-Meir. These selections are published monthly with the Voices newsletter, which is sent to Israeli and international members.