When we think of the likes of David Ben-Gurion, Theodor Herzl, Zeev Jabotinsky or any of the other great Zionist leaders, it is a fair bet that it is their sterling efforts for the founding and leading of the State of Israel that spring to mind.
But on August 10, on Tu Be’Av – our Valentine’s Day – we will be introduced to the more romantic side of some of the country’s great pioneers as part of the Love and the Big City program overseen by the Society for the Preservation of Israel Heritage Sites (SPIHS) and its CEO, Omri Shalmon.
Like its predecessors, the fourth edition of Love and the Big City is supported by the Municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa, the Ministry of Culture and Support and the Prime Minister’s Office. It offers some fascinating insight into some of the pioneers and historically important sites in Tel Aviv and some landmark events that took place there.
The site roster includes many of the usual suspects, but there is far more to the program than just getting a glimpse of where it all happened. For example, we all know about Independence Hall on Rothschild Boulevard, formerly Dizengoff House, where the new State of Israel was declared on May 14, 1948. But how many of us consider how the event was documented for posterity? For example, Rudi Weissenstein, one of only a handful of photographers authorized to snap the goings-on inside Dizengoff House on the day, famously and cheekily took a picture of the dozens of his fellow professionals who had to hang around outside the building. Considering that the the Independence Hall slot is described as “Photographing and Signing Independence, an evening of stories and songs in the footsteps of the great photographers who captured the Declaration of Independence ceremony,” that anecdote will probably feature somewhere in the proceedings.
Truth be told, Zionist leaders and romantic leanings don’t appear to be the best of bedfellows. Then again, as Shalmon points out, behind every great man or woman is an ordinary everyday Joe or Moshe or Sarah.
“At the end of the day, you are left with the human being,” he states. “It’s true that Ben-Gurion and his ilk were part of ‘the generation of giants,’ but they had emotions just like the rest of us and everything else that we all have – dreams, love, hatred, anger, frustrations, great loves and pining. The inclination we have to turn people into gods is totally misguided.”
That goes for the man who dreamed up the whole Zionist idea in the first place as well.
“When you read up on Herzl, the thing that strikes you the most is the humanization of the man,” continues Shalmon. “He comes across as an amazing person who was far ahead of his time and went through an incredible turnaround within the space of eight or nine years. He believed that the Jews were a nation like any other, who deserved to have their own homeland. But his personal story was full of unrequited love, he had a troubled marriage and had a very complex relationship with his children. He was a giant figure, the kind that comes along every thousand years, but he had his very human side, too. That’s the kind of thing we want to convey on Tu Be’Av.”
All told, there are 16 sites around Tel Aviv-Jaffa on the Love and the Big City agenda, including 13 museums. One of the more intriguing stops along the “lovers’ way” – all of which appear on a special map produced for the occasion – is Joseph Bau House on Berdichevsky Street near the Habima Theater. Bau was quite a character and lived an incredible life. He met and married his wife in Auschwitz – their wedding is portrayed in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster film Schindler’s List. Bau became this country’s first animator and wrote and illustrated a string of darkly hilarious books. The amazing story of Rebecca and Joseph Bau’s romance, and his love of Hebrew, will be retold at the museum.
And there will be plenty of theatrical entertainment during the evening program, which kicks off at 6 p.m. Rokach House will host a performance of Sand Time, which tells stories of romance and fun from the early days of the Neveh Tzedek neighborhood, while over at the Rubin Museum, the Love of Bialik Street slot includes a visit to the Romanian-born painter’s house and a tour of the famous street based on the romantic experienced of the residents of yesteryear.
The Jabotinsky Museum’s Love and Marriage in the Underground will feature romantic stories related by the children of members of the Etzel and Lechi paramilitary groups, about their parents’ courtships; and Hosmasa House in Holon will host the And That’s How They Built Their Home in the Sand theatrical show, based on real-life characters who worked at the site which served as a training facility for members of the Hagana.
Other spots on the Love and the Big City trail include the Yitzhak Rabin Center in Ramat Aviv, the Nahum Guttman Museum in Jaffa, the visitors’ center at Mikveh Yisrael – the home of SPIHS – and a new addition to the Tu Be’Av circuit, the visitors’ center in the newly restored Sarona quarter.
“It is important to show the human side of our leaders,” notes Shalmon.
“In most cases, they had very happy marriages, and their families were the central focus of their lives. That naturally also impacted on their work as leaders. We should never forget that.”
This year there will be a 1+1 ticket offer for all Heritage Sites in and around Tel Aviv.
For more information about Love and the Big City: (03) 505-9197 and http://eng.shimur.org/