Exploring Tel Aviv's social scene 521.
(photo credit:Deborah Danan)
I’ve just passed the half-year mark since moving from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv.
It’s been an interesting and fun ride so far, and my horizons just keep
expanding. I often get asked if Tel Aviv has changed me at all, though what I’m
to infer from such a question isn’t always clear to me. Has living in Sin City
desensitized me on any level? I don’t think so. Have I changed physically? You
bet. A healthy bronze hue now shrouds the alabaster skin of my Jerusalem
I think it’s fair to say that I’ve assimilated into Tel Aviv life
Yet while I’ve embraced many of the staples that
shape the character of this city, I’ve rejected others. I love whizzing around
town on my bike; I love discovering new cultural enclaves; I love the beach at
sunset. But I haven’t embraced the “bubble” life that some Tel Avivians
The old adage of “you can take the girl out of” – Jerusalem, in
this case – definitely applies to me. I’ll still chat to random strangers even
though they look at me as if I have three eyes. I also haven’t quite embraced
the cost of things here. On an ordinary day I’m likely to spend in excess of NIS
150 with nothing to show for it besides a moldy pizza crust and an expanded
One of the reasons I used to love visiting Tel Aviv was the
feeling of anonymity that enveloped me as soon as I’d step off the bus. It was
While Jerusalem hums along to the Cheers melody,
“Where everybody knows your name,” it was songs like Elmore James’s “Stranger
Blues” that provided the soundtrack for those frequent trips to Tel
But since moving here, that feeling of anonymity is rapidly
diminishing. I still don’t know the shopkeeper’s name in my local corner shop,
but by this point he recognizes me at least enough to greet me with something
akin to a smile when I purchase a liter of milk.
however, is the phenomenon of recognition within “the scene” that has been
getting stronger with each week that passes. I’m starting to recognize people
and they are in turn recognizing me.
I’ve made a concerted effort to tap
into “the scene” in Tel Aviv and I encounter a lot of the same faces on the
events circuit – which is both comforting and unsettling at the same time. Even
if the smiles and “how-are-yous?” sometimes seem disingenuous, it’s still nice
to be acknowledged. But it’s unsettling because it makes you realize that
despite Tel Aviv’s burning ambition to be a multifaceted megalopolis, with only
so many people belonging to any particular social group, the city suddenly seems
rather provincial. To my mind, the worst thing that can happen to an urban area
is for it to become a “bitza.”
Translated literally, bitza means quagmire
or swamp, but in modern colloquial Hebrew the term is used to refer to an area
populated by people of roughly the same age group who share similar
socioeconomic status. Givat Shmuel and the Katamon neighborhood of Jerusalem are
classic examples of religious bitzot, and they are quite possibly my least
favorite places in Israel – after Dimona. Everyone attends the same synagogue
and has had at least one date with every single member of the opposite sex
within the bitza’s community.
It’s probably worth expounding on “the
scene” I refer to, since Tel Aviv has so many. This particular one is an
amalgamation of different events that cater to Tel Aviv’s young professional
community. The Tel Aviv International Salon – a staple of this scene – hosts a
“Great Debate” series in which bigwigs from the world of politics or culture
address a crowd of young international professionals.
Its status as being
“off the record” makes it more intimate than other debating forums and also
contributes to its success in attracting high-profile speakers. There aren’t too
many places left in which an oleh can rub shoulders and drink complimentary
cabernet with Tzipi Livni or Natan Sharansky.
My ongoing exploration of
“the scene” has found me at more gallery openings and more cocktail soirees than
I care to admit – for fear of being perceived as a precocious high-brow
wanna-be. But despite the whiff of elitism that sometimes sweeps the atmosphere
at these affairs, there are always a couple of sledgehammer moments in which I
am reminded that I am, after all, still in Israel.
Take the recent
pre-Passover reception that was held under the auspices of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron
Huldai in Beit Ha’ir on Bialik Square. The mayor gave an impressive speech in
which he listed the White City’s achievements over the past year, including the
success of Tel- O-Fun – the green bicycle service. After the speech, the crowd
made its way to the roof of the building which boasts a rare view of the
I found myself chatting to Ron about this and that, taking
occasional sips of my champagne in an attempt to look casual while secretly
praying that my skirt wouldn’t fly up in the sea breeze or that my stomach
Did I mention I was starving? I resisted the urge to ask
Ron if he could arrange a refund for my subscription to the Tel-O-Fun bikes and
instead stuck to neutral subjects like the issue of refugees in south Tel Aviv.
But all the while I couldn’t stop thinking about how hungry I was. It didn’t
help that the waitresses kept approaching us with platters laden with
Why is it that the posher the party, the smaller the food?
Amazingly, I managed to conquer my heathen impulse to wolf down half the platter
of teaser-food and opted instead for one miserable scallion-and-goat-cheese
canapé – which only made me salivate more.
But the sledgehammer moment
came when another man joined the circle to chat to the mayor. Something about
him reeked of “oligarchy-ness” and his attire indicated that he was a man well
versed in the social graces. At least, that was what I thought until he caught
sight of a waitress behind me and practically shoved me aside to get to her as
he yelled, “Wait a sec there, sweetheart!” A minute later he returned armed with
no fewer than six canapés, and this time I did not resist my impulse to
“What to do? They’re just so tiny,” he smiled unabashedly, his
teeth adorned with flecks of smoked salmon and pesto.
exactly,” I said, swallowing the last of my champers before setting off downtown
in search of a felafel joint.
The events of “the scene” can be fun or
interesting or even both, but sometimes they’re just plain boring. On these
occasions, my mind starts to wander as I draw up mental surveys of the crowd.
How many people here regard these events as a less sleazy alternative to a
pick-up bar? Just watching people’s eyes sweep the crowd in anticipation lets me
know that a large number have come for no other reason than to scout for
And then there are those that come only to have their
own voices heard.
You know the type, those show-stealing wanna-bes who
always interrupt speeches with inane comments, blissfully unaware of the people
around them squirming uncomfortably in their seats.
One such occasion in
which I again broke social decorum by guffawing out loud happened during the
Q&A session with British Ambassador Matthew Gould. A man with an Australian
accent raised his hand and was called upon by the emcee to ask his
The Aussie then launched into the most nonsensical,
pseudo-political diatribe that lasted a full two minutes and had no point
All the while the emcee kept muttering under his breath, “I
don’t hear a question, give us a question, I don’t hear a
Through the microphone, the emcees mutterings were heard by
everyone – everyone, it seemed, except for the question-poser. Unfettered by the
ripple of snickering that was slowly filling the room, the man rambled on and on
until I could no longer contain myself and I ran from my seat and into the back
room, choking with laughter.