Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.
Only now is the world really starting to discover
Tel Aviv, an absolute jewel of a city that lies on the shores of the eastern
Mediterranean. This city does not actually have a great reputation as a tourist
destination. I remember the days as a backpacker in the late eighties and early
nineties; the city seemed be falling apart at the seams. It was a grungy,
bohemian, dilapidated city.
There were no good places to eat except for the
local Middle Eastern fare which was, and still is, delicious. I remember that
Rothschild Boulevard was a heap of sand and dog crap surrounded by Tel Aviv’s
very first houses all either condemned or falling apart. Dizengoff Street once
famous for its 1930’s & 40’s cafes and clothing stores in beautiful Bauhaus
style buildings, had become wall to wall falafel stands and kiosks as the
edifices were crumbling around them. However derelict the city felt, there was
still a magical vibe.
It’s tough to explain, but it was a city that was outright
urban but with a neighborhood feel, kind of gritty, like a pre-Giuliani
Greenwich Village but on the beach. It was cheap and American culture had yet to
invade. Post army kids in their twenties would bunk up and work their way
through college giving the city a young feel that you can only get in Boston,
but without the frigid weather. In 1993 when the Hard Rock Café finally opened
in Dizengoff Center it soon closed because no one could afford to eat a burger
there. It was better to sip coffee at a café or eat a falafel anywhere before
heading to the beach for sunset and then to the pub anyway. We absolutely loved
that Tel Aviv and the people there felt like they were a part of the world’s
best kept secret. Well, the secret is out.
Tel Aviv has in the last decade
been rejuvenated through gentrification. This isn’t always for the best as many
of todays ‘Social Justice” tent dwelling protesters on Rothschild Boulevard will
point out, but as Tel Aviv grows into its own, the city has lost its innocence
but now stands out as arguably one of the hippest, youngest and culturally
abundant cities in the world.
Stop laughing, I’m serious. Here are world class
restaurants, museums, bike paths, theaters, concerts, hotels, beaches, bars,
clubs, attractions all within a city where you can walk around any neighborhood
without a care in the world doing it all in shorts, t-shirts and a pair of
flip-flops. One of the best places to begin a journey through Tel Aviv is the
ancient city of Jaffa which is now incorporated within the city limits. Walk
along the beach promenade all the way to Jaffa and make your way up the stairs
to the top of the hill (actually, it’s a tel) for a spectacular view of the
“Jaffa is said to have existed before the flood” wrote the Roman historian
Pliny the Elder in the first century C.E. This ancient city was apparently named
after Noah’s son Japheth (Yafet) meaning “beautiful”. The view from the top of
this hill in Abrasha Park is truly breathtaking and the best place to begin a
walking tour of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Check out the sculpture which looks like an
ancient gate. It tells the story of the ancient Israelites coming into the Land
of Israel: The Binding of Isaac, the Conquest by Joshua and Jacob’s Dream.
Looking through the gate you can see Herzel’s dream: Tel Aviv.
center of this ancient city. Don’t miss the Egyptian ruins just below the hill
built by Pharaoh Ramses II during the time of the Exodus. Continue over the
wishing bridge and down to the Kedumim Square. Underneath the square are ruins
from the 1st century B.C.E and C.E. and on the opposite side of the square on
the western side there is an overlook where you may look down on Andromeda’s
Rock and the Old Port. Greek mythology marks this as the spot where Perseus
saved the beautiful princess Andromeda from a monster using Medusa’s head to
turn it into stone. Below at the port is where, according to the Bible Jonah
boarded a ship to Egypt against God’s wishes leading to his ingestion by a “big
fish”. Explore the alleyways, including the cobblestone street leading to the
house of Simon the Tanner where according to the New Testament Peter was told by
an angel that he could eat non-kosher food. It is here where the new religion of
Christianity breaks away from Judaism. Follow the alleyways back up behind the
church of St. Peter and you will see some of the canon’s used by Ottoman forces
to defend the city against Napoleon’s army in 1799. Napoleon won the battle but
lost the war eventually leaving the Holy Land forever. From here walk along the
beach promenade with a stop at the wonderfully restored clock tower. You may
want to have a bite to eat at the famous Abulafia Bakery, and then head to the
Etzel Museum on the beach, stop in if you wish, and from there cross the main
street to the recently refurbished “HaTachanah” or “The Station”.
Station epitomizes what is happening to Tel Aviv these days. The very first
train station in the Land of Israel built in 1892, had turned into a rundown
eyesore over the years, but recently has been refashioned into gallery’s,
markets, pubs, restaurants and retail stores all in the 19th century buildings
and rail-cars. It’s abuzz with life and is a wonderful place to start your
exploration of Tel Aviv. Next week I’ll take you on a stroll through south Tel
Aviv starting right here at the Station.
became a licensed tour guide in 1999. He completed his Master’s degree
at the University of Haifa in the Land of Israel Studies and is
currently studying toward a PhD.