The newly renovated Beit Levi Eshkol in Rehavia
The newly renovated Beit Levi Eshkol in Rehavia
The newly renovated Beit Levi Eshkol in Rehavia
President Reuven Rivlin speaking at the inauguration  of the renovated Beit Levi Eshkol on December 20
President Reuven Rivlin speaking at the inauguration
of the renovated Beit Levi Eshkol on December 20

On December 20, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, and Jerusalem Affairs Minister Zeev Elkin joined the leadership of Yad Levi Eshkol and the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) to officially open the doors of the Levi Eshkol Museum and Gardens to the public. Once the official residence of Israeli Prime Ministers David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, and Golda Meir, the newly renovated property will now function as an interactive museum memorializing Prime Minister Eshkol and as the new headquarters for SPNI’s Jerusalem community branch.

From 1950 to 1974, Beit Levi Eshkol in the Rehavia neighborhood served as the official residence of Israel’s prime ministers. Yad Levi Eshkol, the official fund established to memorialize Prime Minister Eshkol, and SPNI, the oldest and largest environmental nonprofit organization in Israel, joined forces to renovate the abandoned structure with the goal of establishing a national museum to honor the legacy of the former prime minister, an outspoken champion of environmental issues and urban planning, and securing a hub for social-environmental activism in Israel’s capital.

“I am excited to participate in the inauguration of the revamped Beit Levi Eshkol, a historic landmark and a keystone of my youth. Here, in this yard, my friends and I were scolded by Paula Ben-Gurion for playing soccer too loudly while Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion tried to nap,” President Rivlin reminisced during the opening ceremonies, noticeably moved by the revitalized courtyard. “Those in the know say that Levi Eshkol stands out as one of Israel’s finest prime ministers, as he strengthened our alliance with the West and brought us a decisive victory in the Six Day War. But most importantly, he was never the leader of just one political camp–from the moment he was elected, he was the leader of all Israelis. He was a brave, generous, and worthy leader, and he brought honor to this house.”

Built in 1933 for a senior official of the British Mandate, the house became a central part of Israeli history during the state’s tumultuous post-establishment period. Prime Minister Eshkol oversaw the Six Day War from the facility’s home office, and later, during Golda Meir’s tenure, the residence’s kitchen became the most famous meeting place in the history of Israeli politics–known as Golda’s kitchen cabinet, where she hosted her closest advisers for meetings, having prepared the coffee and cakes for them herself.

Though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to cancel his appearance at the event at the last moment, his wife, Sara Netanyahu, took his place for the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Those in attendance, including SPNI’s Chairman of the Board Haim “Jumas” Oron, the organization’s newly appointed CEO Iris Hann, and the two remaining members of Levi’s Eshkol’s government, former Supreme Court chief justice Meir Shamgar and former minister of education Aharon Yadlin, then joined the museum’s designer for the very first tour.

On the ground floor, an interactive exhibition narrates the fascinating life story of Prime Minister Eshkol. Visitors use electronic tablets and visual aids to immerse themselves in the experience, with all content available in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. The building’s remaining floors and its courtyard are operated by SPNI, whose significant contributions to the yard include the planning and operation of an ecological pool and a “living wall” constructed with greenery from the local ecosystem.

“While the museum allows for an exclusive look into Israel’s history, the social-environmental activism and conservation work being implemented under the same roof by SPNI’s Jerusalem community branch ensures the future of Israel’s nature,” said Hann. “It is our hope that local residents, students, and tourists from around the world take advantage of everything that this unique educational and cultural site has to offer.”

To learn more and plan a tour, please e-mail international@spni.org.il.

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