By: G. D. Mostow
(published in Whitney Word-Vol. 32, No. 2-April 2016)
In 1961, I left the Johns Hopkins math department in Baltimore and we came to Yale. Baltimore had been divided into ethnically exclusive neighborhoods, with different religious affiliations, and public facilities were still partly segregated. We were pleased to find that the Yale math department had a warm and friendly social life. We got temporary housing in Woodbridge, renting the home of a professor on sabbatical leave. After a year spent in a futile search for a house to buy that would have space for my four children as well as a study, I decided to design a house and have it built. By the end of the first academic year, the house was ready for us.
At first it seemed that all of our neighbors had brought their friends with them when they moved from New Haven, and were making no particular effort to befriend us. But gradually we got to know the parents of our children’s schoolmates and we settled into the Woodbridge community, mixing with neighbors of diverse backgrounds, occupations, and religions. A number of our friendships grew out of sharing carpools to our children’s schools.
At one of the receptions hosted by the local Woodbridge elementary school PTA, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was talking to Menachem Meir, son of Golda Meir. He had graduated from the Manhattan School of Music and was living in Woodbridge while studying for a master’s degree in cello at the Hartt School of Music. His wife Ayalah was on sabbatical leave at the famous Gesell Institute.
Our conversations grew into a friendship. He visited our house and we visited the house that he was renting in Woodbridge.
In 1966-67, I had a sabbatical year, spending the fall semester of 1966 as a visiting professor in France and the spring semester of 1967 as a visiting professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. My wife and three younger children traveled with me and the children attended schools in Paris and Israel. Menachem and I had been in correspondence, and after we were settled, he invited me and my family to spend the day with him and his family.
Menachem owned the residence next to his mother’s house. With his invitation he included detailed directions for getting to his house, which was in a gated community that had a special guardhouse for Golda’s residence, manned on a 24-hour basis. When we got to the outer gate we had to give the guard our names and, after consulting a list, he led us to Menachem’s house. We spent the afternoon there while the children played outdoors. The previous year, Golda had redecorated Menachem’s house while he was away on leave. Menachem wanted to return the favor by redecorating Golda’s house while she was in Finland, attending the convention of the International Socialist Party.
We were about to leave when the doorbell rang and three workers in white coveralls entered the living room. Menachem turned to us and said, “Please don’t go. You can do me a favor. You Americans know more about these things than we do in Israel.” He knew that I had designed my own house and had made a lot of decisions. He said that he would like us to suggest how he could make the kitchen look larger. Everyone in Israel knew that Golda and her closest advisors often met around the table in her tiny kitchen when making important decisions.
This was a challenge!
Menachem asked us to accompany him next door to Golda’s house. When we entered the world-famous kitchen, we saw that the walls were of a dismal color and the paint was peeling. We could not help but contrast the simplicity of the tiny table in this modest room with President Nixon’s majestic surroundings. The workmen had brought samples of wallpaper and paint. We did our best, trying to brighten the room and make it more cheerful. (Our youngest son, Jonathan, chose the wallpaper.) Menachem and Ayalah thanked us profusely.
We left with the dream that we had made a contribution to some decision affecting the future of the State of Israel.
For more information about Whitney Center, or to make an appointment to visit the community, call 203-848-2641 or click here.