House of Israel, one of 31 international “houses” in San Diego’s 1,200-acre Balboa Park, opened mere months after Israel declared independence in 1948. Since then, the cultural center has been “showcasing Israeli music, culture and history, and providing an inviting environment for our many visitors,” per the Jewish Federation of San Diego.
It had to temporarily stop being welcoming after a window was broken at the center last month. “I’ve concluded that we cannot guarantee the safety of volunteers, neighboring houses and visitors,” Ruth Mastron, House of Israel president, stated at the time.
Mastron told JNS recently on site that House of Israel is working with the San Diego Police Department and the city. “As a result, we are working to put in place a comprehensive security plan,” she said.
She told JNS that the center has received support, particularly from the House of Ukraine—a country that is grappling with its own war. “Ukraine was among the first to come over,” Mastron said. “They hugged us and said, ‘We understand.’”
“One woman came in and said, ‘I’m not Jewish, but I wanted to do something, so I brought cookies,’” Mastron added. “The support has been great.”
Despite the challenges, the House of Israel remains open to the public on weekends, providing a sense of community that helps bind the Jewish population together.
Situated amid a circle of international cottages, the House of Israel neighbors cottages representing England, France and Germany. As visitors approach, volunteers welcome them warmly from a table full of Jewish magazines and informative pamphlets. Other volunteers guide visitors through display cases, as well as a live stream of the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
When JNS visited, missing posters for kidnapped Israelis covered the entrance of the House of Israel.