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Architecture and Urban Planning - A Memoir \ David Best
II 1960 - 1970
The Six-Day War
Soon after completing the Caesaria Hotel, the office moved to a more prestigious address - Sirkin Street 34, just off Frishman Street in central Tel Aviv.  It was still a cellar, but was three times the area of our previous office.  The staff had grown to about 10 architects and the need for more projects produced its pressures.  The major work in the office was still Arad. The final stage of the Avishur Quarter was underway, but new works were coming in more slowly. The country was moving into an economic recession.  One of the projects in the office was for the design for ‘The Bet Lavie’ auditorium, built in memory of Shlomo Lavie, who was one of the founders of Kibbutz En Harod, and a personal friend of Ben Gurion.   I vividly recollect the project of the Shlomo Lavie Hall for the opening ceremony, to which the Prime Minister, Ben Gurion, attended.  When I was introduced to him as one of the architects, he questioned me regarding the design.  After I had finished answering he asked me how long I had been in Israel.  I replied quite proudly, “Fifteen years”. "‘Well’, Ben Gurion said without a smile, “you might be a good architect but it's about time you learnt to speak Hebrew properly”.  He was right. I had no talent for foreign languages, least of all for Hebrew. I regretted not having been born earlier. Had I come to Palestine during the Mandate period, the British spoke to everyone in English and if they were not understood, they would simply speak louder. I have recalled how for the first few years in Israel, I had taught most of my Israeli friends English; it was never the reverse.  I once made an effort to improve my Hebrew by attending an Ulpan (a language school set up by the Government for new immigrants). It was a disaster!  Classes took place in a local Elementary School in the Tel Aviv neighbourhood of Yad Eliyahu, where we then lived.  It turned out that I was the only male amongst about a dozen "mature" Eastern European ladies (a Daniel in the lion’s den). To exasperate this situation, the connected double seated desks in the classroom where we studied, were for small children. This resulted in involuntarily finding myself sitting in excruciating proximity next to a particular Rumanian lady of ‘opulent proportions’, who’s constant surreptitious fidgeting frightened the life out of me. It was mid summer, the evenings were hot and to concentrate on learning Hebrew grammar, as much as I endeavoured under circumstances which T.S.Eliot might have described euphemistically as “pneumatic bliss”, was impossible. I ultimately realized that I was facing either Hebrew illiteracy or ‘a fate worse than death’. I chose Hebrew illiteracy and fled.  How could I explain all this to Ben Gurion, he had probably never sat next to an opulent Rumanian lady in his life.  Even today, when giving a lecture or presenting projects to planning committees, there is invariable someone who will bring to my attention a mistaken use of gender or some horrific grammatical aberration. I have a rebuke ready for him.  I admit openly to having a sexual problem with the Hebrew language. This invariably frightens the audience, but always silences my interlocutor. No one I feel sure could discern the wistful expression and nostalgic smile that passes momentarily across my face. It saddens me though, that Ben Gurion of all people should not have appreciated the sacrifices that I have made to be an Israeli.


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