|‘Dizengoff House’The establishment of the first Jewish neighborhood
By Yacov Markel
We are standing in front of the ‘Dizengoff House’, formerly home of the first Mayor of Tel Aviv, Mr. Meir Dizengoff, then a museum, and now the ‘House of the Bible’ and the “Independents museum”.
This is a most unique place. Exactly on this spot, both the city of Tel Aviv and the state of Israel were established. I believe there’s no other place like it in the world. And I’ll give priority to the city since it’s the elder one.
On a sunny day of April 1909, a group of 60 families gathered in this place to establish the first Jewish neighborhood out of Jaffa. The group bought the land. The organizer, guy named Akiva Arieh Weiss, according to a legend, collected from the seashore 60 white shells and 60 black ones. On the white shells he wrote the names and on the black ones he wrote the property numbers. Then a kid drew out the shells, one by one and thus each family got its property. The settlement was named ‘Ahuzat Bait’ and from this neighborhood the city of Tel Aviv was established.
I’ll give you just a short background of the period. At that time, beginning of the 20th century, the Jewish population of Jaffa lived in very bad conditions, sanitarily as well as high condensation inside the walls, without possibility to build new houses within Jaffa.
Here is the memorial in memory of the 60 founding families. One side lists the names of the families. The other side tells the story of the city. The lowest level shows how the place looked like before anyone settled here, so you can see here sand dunes and wild animals. The second level shows the beginning of the city as a small neighborhood with ‘single floor’, houses, and the Mayor’s house in its first version. The upper level shows the city as it looks today. The Mayor’s house, as it looks today, the national theatre, the national poet’s house and square on Dizengoff Street, named after his wife Mrs. Zina Dizengoff. The top level shows the city as it will be in the future with skyscrapers. On the side we can see the symbol of the East: the Palm Tree, the Tel Aviv harbor on the right side corner, which the first Mayor managed to establish one month before he passed away, in 1936. Here is the City’s shield, as created by the famous painter Nachum Gutmann. We see here waves that symbolize the sea or the dunes, the lighthouse of the Tel Aviv harbor. We also see 7 stars that symbolize the 7 hours that Mr. Hershel suggested as working hours for the new Israeli worker.
Now back to Dizengoff House. On May 14 1948, Friday afternoon, at 4 p.m., a taxi stopped here. Out came Mr. David Ben Gurion and rushed up these stairs into the hall, which was prepared for a ceremony. Mr. Ben Gurion took his place on the stage. After a short introduction, he stood up and made a most important declaration, the declaration of independence of the state of Israel.
The location of the declaration was kept a secret because of the 5 Arab countries surrounding Israel (Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq). These countries made it clear that if the Jews will declare a state, they will invade and destroy it before it might even be established.
Someone was put in charge to prepare the hall for the ceremony. He cleaned up the place and went out to look for chairs, in the neighborhood coffee shops. He asked for chairs and explained the reason. That is how the rumor spread all around the city, and the location was no longer a secret. When Ben Gurion arrived, there were lots of people outside waiting to hear the declaration. So Ben Gurion ordered to put out a loud speaker so that everyone could hear him making the speech. The whole ceremony took about 20 or 30 minutes, because it was Friday afternoon and they didn’t wish to disgrace the Saturday. As you may imagine, some of the members were religious people.
When Ben Gurion got out he saw the people outside dancing and singing. They asked him to join the spontaneous celebrations, but he said: “you may dance but I have a war to run”, because he knew that that night 5 countries will invade the new born state. And that’s what indeed happened.