I didn’t plan it this way, but for decades I’ve lived in the company of prime ministers.
In 1964, when my husband and I moved in to our newly built apartment in Jerusalem’s Katamon neighborhood, prime minister Levi Eshkol (Israel’s third) was living across the street in a graceful rosy-stone home I could see from our kitchen window.
Katamon had many Christian residents before 1948, and its name, which is Greek, refers to the Greek Orthodox San Simeon Monastery overlooking the neighborhood. The owners of the rosy-stone house probably fled during the fierce battle in the War of Independence for control of the monastery, which Israeli author Meir Shalev immortalized in his recent novel A Pigeon and a Boy.
But Levi Eshkol was not our neighbor for long: He moved out the day we moved in, and the mansion was later rented to a succession of diplomats. It housed the Consulate of the Dominican Republic and the Embassy of Costa Rica, one of only two embassies in Israel’s capital after 1984 (both of which eventually moved to the Tel Aviv area).
While the diplomats were here, the neighborhood children became friendly with the housekeepers and were even invited to a party at which they had their first encounter with a piñata. Finally, the property was sold to a wealthy British family that more than doubled the size of the house but comes to live there for only about two weeks a year.
Meanwhile, in a squat single-family home I can see from another window, the parents of Israel’s ninth and current prime minister moved back from a sojourn in the United States. This is the prime minister everyone in Israel calls by his nickname, Bibi; it’s one of the few things the right and the left can agree on.
In a radio interview some years ago, Bibi recalled the days when the street ended at his family’s house and there was just a grassy field beyond it where the family kept a horse.
I’ve had tea in that house, but not because we’re neighbors. The parents of a close friend were friends of Bibi’s parents; when they would come to visit across the street they would call and invite me over.
Bibi’s mother died some years ago. His father, a centenarian scholar, still lives in the house and I see him going out occasionally. Bibi is a devoted son, visiting his father often (and that’s apart from the times he uses the house for meetings).
And each time Bibi turns up for a visit before heading to the US for more peace talks, my husband and I hope our wishes will cross the street and that Bibi’s father will give his son his blessing for bringing an end to the conflict that has plagued us for so long.
Text and photo copyright 2010 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text or photo may be used without written permission of the author.