APRIL 6, 1959
LONDON—In Eilat, we lunched with the mayor and afterward took a trip in a glass-bottomed boat to look at the coral and the beautiful colored fish of the Red Sea. Four years ago they had one boat; today they have ten. That is perhaps a good way to gauge the growth of Eilat.
The fish are many and varied, but I was particularly fascinated by a kind of sapphire blue variety which, darting through the water, looked more beautiful than any of the others. We were told we did not have time to go out to the best coral beds, but what we did see was interesting and we were grateful for the time allowed us for this little trip.
We took the plane at 3:30 and flew directly from Eilat to Beersheba. There is no real landing strip there; the planes just land in the field. But everyone was waiting to greet us and take us at once to the opening of the Youth Centre at 4:30. This is a Youth Aliyah Day Centre.
With the new influx of immigrants to Israel, these day centres have proved very valuable for the older children from 14 to 17. They have to learn Hebrew as quickly as possible; and at the same time, if they come from countries where they have a regular education, they must not be allowed to fall back in their studies. It might be difficult to fit them into the regular school system, so the day centres provide both educational and vocational work. They also provide a place where many children of the community come to play together. The director is usually chosen because of his capacity for giving special guidance to this age group, and by the time they go into the army they will be prepared to get the maximum out of their training and vocational experience. The boys remain two and a half years, the girls two years.
Although a cold wind blew up as we sat on the platform in Beersheba during the dedication of this centre, no one seemed to notice it—least of all the youngsters who played and sang for us. A group of girls danced for us in bare feet on the board platform, and I felt they certainly would gather many splinters in their feet. But not a girl seemed to experience the slightest discomfort, and I thought again what hardy youngsters these were.
We were fairly frozen by the time the speeches ended. I felt very much honored in having the Youth Centre dedicated in my name, but I must confess I was glad when we were able to get back in the car and drive around the town. It has grown completely different from my recollection of four years ago. Then there were 20,000 people in it; now there are 42,000.
On my very first visit, seven years ago, I saw a young man and his wife who had just arrived and settled in a little two-room house. Three years later I saw them again. They were better settled, they were happy because he was a good carpenter and had plenty of work, but she had no children and felt there was a shadow in the house. This time I asked the mayor if I might go and see them again, and to my joy I found that they have two children, a boy and a girl. Their garden is growing, and her husband, in his spare time, is adding two and a half rooms to the house. These are substantially built, and the wife told me with pride they would have a bathroom. Her icebox already stood in the kitchen, though the roof is not yet on.
After our drive around, we returned to Hias House. This was built as a hostel for visiting engineers and technicians of every kind who constantly come on business because the two factories which were here four years ago have now grown to six. A great deal of research is being carried on, for UNESCO has established a desert research project which seeks to find what kind of things grow best here and how the area can be reclaimed in the best possible way.