Real Israel: Tel Aviv-Jerusalem

It’s Venus and Mars; Yin and Yang; pray and play: It’s Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

July 12, 2012 16:02
View of Tel Aviv

View of Tel Aviv 390. (photo credit: Yoni Cohen)

It’s Venus and Mars; Yin and Yang; pray and play: It’s Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

This week in the Holy City, you could feel how Orthodox Jews mark the Three Weeks leading up to Tisha Be’av, the commemoration of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. In Tel Aviv, it was business as usual. One country, two cities, different worlds.

Tel Aviv is the city that you either love or – like me – love to hate. Nonetheless, it’s a must for every tourist who wants to appreciate the complexity of the country and see the side least portrayed in the foreign media, and it should be on the itinerary of every Israeli who wants to see the Hebrew definition of trendy.

It is usually work rather than pleasure that takes me to the City that Never Sleeps. Unknown to most Tel Avivians, those of us who live near the capital’s Emek Refaim Street lack neither nightlife nor cafes. Recently, however, I traveled to Tel Aviv on a Friday morning to watch a wonderful performance by the visiting Taiwanese Cloud Gate dance theater at the city’s small but stylish Opera House.

The trip reconfirmed all my stereotypes concerning the differences between the country’s official and eternal capital and its center of commerce and pleasure.

That’s what made it so much fun.

As I have admitted before, there’s something about Tel Aviv’s attitude to life that makes me feel provincial.

I might have grown up in London at a time when Carnaby Street was still swinging, but I find Tel Aviv towering and intimidating. Like the proverbial Englishman in New York, I speak the language but don’t get the mind-set.

The heat, beat and humidity of the Big Orange make me feel as though I am being squeezed. Jerusalem, where the weight of history ensures you keep your feet on the ground, is where I feel most at home.

My latest visit took place at the height of the public debate over the illegal migrants living in TA’s parks. Still, I was not prepared for what I saw a few minutes after I got off the bus outside the Central Railway Station.

As my son and I crossed the grass of the facing park, we witnessed a brutal attack by an alien on a local: OK, so it was an Indian mynah bird tackling (and beating) a big, black Tel Aviv crow, but it was not an auspicious start to the trip.

Such unpleasantness was soon forgotten, however.

Tel Aviv is about having a good time, after all. Life in “The Bubble” has the illusion of being protected from the less colorful outside world, even if the walls are fragile.

Arriving early, we continued our stroll through the park and headed for the Opera House on Shaul Hamelech Boulevard. The scenes along the way were pure Tel Aviv from the Tel-O-Fun rental bikes pedaled by young beau monde to the old couples walking hand in hand, although whether out of affection, habit or to stop each other from falling down is hard to say.

On our short walk, less than 10 minutes, we passed the iconic Azrieli buildings, whose circular, square and triangular towers are a Tel Aviv landmark. The observatory at the top of the circular building offers a panoramic bird’s eye view of the city, which, of course shows the history of its development. (In Jerusalem, the Tower of David Museum offers a similar yet strikingly different experience from a citadel that is about 1,000 years older).

Across from the Opera House is an entrance to the Kirya – IDF headquarters and home to the Israeli equivalent of the Pentagon. Watching soldiers and citizens alike winding down ahead of Shabbat (yes, even in Tel Aviv there’s a change of pace) is an only-in-Israel experience.

With time on our hands, we took the opportunity for some Tel Aviv-style people-watching from a coffee shop and then sought the shade of a nearby park.

Here, secular families with young kids (and pet dogs) were picnicking under the trees; an ultra- Orthodox couple was helping their children negotiate the playground equipment; and an elderly, elegantly dressed lady and gentleman shared the weekend paper in silent companionship.

I found myself humming the song: “Yesh li simpatia le’omanut konseptualit b’Tel Aviv” – I feel something for conceptual art in Tel Aviv. Life in the White City is an art form in its own right.

Behind the plaza of the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center (which houses the Opera, Cameri Theater and Tel Aviv Museum of Art), young actors were wandering around in costume. (At least I assume it was costume; when Jerusalemites dress up they don’t go for a mix of feathers and bikinis.) We thought we might even have spotted a celeb (an Israeli celebrity) whose main claim to fame is a role in a well-received movie and a slot on a dire reality show. In Jerusalem, we’re more likely to bump into politicians and journalists than stars of stage and screen: Again, more gravity than glamour, but more my milieu.

While we sat back and enjoyed the dance performance, fellow Jerusalemites relaxed on the beach.

By chance (or fate), we sat near the same passengers on the bus to and from Tel Aviv. By the time we arrived back in Jerusalem, ready for a mad dash to prepare for Shabbat, we had exchanged comments and complaints on real estate, education, politics and the weather, and that staple of Jerusalemite travelers wherever they might have been – the troubles of the Light Rail.

As I lit Friday night candles a few hours later, at that special hour when the city takes on a pink, purple and golden hue, I added a silent prayer of gratitude for the privilege of living in Yerushalayim; but I am willing to admit, as poet Natan Alterman wrote about the White City: “Tel Aviv has no prophets, not even a little finger’s worth of history, nothing serious and no weight; it’s very true, sir, madam, she has nothing at all but...Nonetheless there is something about her...”

“Bechol zot yesh la mashehu.”

Jerusalem symbolizes Jewish survival against the odds; Tel Aviv encapsulates the Israeli spirit of freedom.

It’s the same story, but each city tells it in its own style.

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