Stuck between a beach and a hard place

Tel Aviv Anglos find work more easily, but struggle for a sense of community.

By
December 28, 2006 12:39
secular metro feat 88 298

secular metro feat 88 29. (photo credit: )

It's Thursday night at Tel Aviv port, one of the more happening spots in Tel Aviv at the start of every weekend. Meimad Hahamishi, one of the veteran mini-clubs whose popularity has been dwarfed by the newer bars in the area, has been rented out by Merkaz Hamagshimim Hadassah, an absorption-community center for olim based in Jerusalem, for their annual Tel Aviv Hanukka party. Unlike last year's party, this one never kicks off - at least by Tel Aviv nightlife standards - and draws only about 80 people. The chartered bus from Jerusalem, originally scheduled to leave at 2:00 am, heads back ten minutes earlier. Moran Shtark, 27, who immigrated to Tel Aviv from Canada about seven years ago, decided to check out the party with two native Israeli friends because "I haven't been in an Anglo environment for I don't know how long. I miss it a little." But after an hour of satisfying his nostalgia, he leaves early to throw back a glass of Red Bull and vodka at the trendy 'Whiskey A Go Go' nearby, which is so packed that the selectors have to turn people away in true Tel Aviv style. Shtark's momentary straddling between two worlds - the Anglo and the Israeli - is representative of an experience common to single Tel Aviv olim: They are eager to assimilate into Israeli society, hang out with Israelis and party at Tel Aviv's stylish digs, while they miss a community of English speakers with whom they share a mother tongue, immigrant experiences and aspirations. Some look askance at Jerusalem as an Anglo 'bubble.' A week later, Merkaz Hamagshimim throws a Hanukka party in Jerusalem at the Layla Bar. The place packs in about 200 people, and both Anglos and Israelis get down on the dance floor until four in the morning. The party's success is standard for many of its Jerusalem-based events, which are a prime source of social networking for Jerusalem olim. This is one of the first events Merkaz Hamagshimim has held in Jerusalem outside its campus in the German Colony, which serves as a melting pot for olim aged 19-35. Hagit Sinai-Glazer, program coordinator for Merkaz Hamagshimim in Tel Aviv, has examined the social and educational frameworks available for olim in Tel Aviv, and noticed a difference in the profile and needs of Tel Avivian Anglos as opposed to their Jerusalemite counterparts. "Olim in Tel Aviv are less religious and they want to integrate faster - more events with sabras, more meetings and opportunities to hook up together," she observes. "As for their own Anglo community, it's not that they don't want it or throw it away, but it's less important for them and they don't look for it as much as olim look for it in Jerusalem, for example. This leads to a lack of a community feeling." Regarding he low turnout at the Hanukka party, she cites minimal advertising and choice of venue as possible causes. Other events they organized this past year, such as their Yom Ha'atzmaut barbecue at Park Hayarkon, drew around 170 people and a summer party held in a dance club in Jaffa drew 150. A Thanksgiving dinner organized by Merkaz Hamagshimim, together with Nefesh B'Nefesh, a non-profit organization that promotes and assists aliya, drew about 70 people - considered a respectable turnout for the Tel Aviv community. Just this past week, Nefesh B'Nefesh welcomed its 10,000th oleh. Among the immigrants who moved to Israel with Nefesh B'Nefesh since its inception, some 450 immigrants chose to live in Tel Aviv, compared to 2,000 who settled in Jerusalem. Most of the Tel Aviv olim were singles, while the Jerusalem contingency included families, young and old. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 8,130 immigrants arrived in Israel between January and June 2006. Of these, 470 came from the US (about 6 percent). The top cities for initial immigration include: Jerusalem (863 olim, 40% from the UK and about one-third from the US), Beersheba (554), Ashdod (493), Haifa (479, 65% from the former Soviet Union), Netanya (385, 52% from France), and Tel Aviv (352). The breakdown for Tel Aviv olim was unavailable, but Nefesh B'Nefesh notices a general trend. [Subject to change] "When someone moves to Tel Aviv, they're looking for a big city environment," notes Adina Bennett, a member of the social services staff at Nefesh B'Nefesh. She works specifically with Tel Aviv olim to assist their acclimation through social programs and workshops. "They're used to living in New York, Chicago, London - lots of people, running around. Tel Aviv is known to be a more metropolitan city." Job opportunities, particularly in the areas of hi-tech, finance and business, are usually more plentiful in Tel Aviv. Bachelor Ari Gottesman moved to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem four years ago for the same reason that many other immigrants choose Israel's metropolis: employment. "Jerusalem was very limited and there was a lot more available in Tel Aviv in hi-tech," he says. Having lived in Jerusalem for eight years, Gottesmann left behind a tight social circle only to find he had to start from scratch in Tel Aviv. "In Jerusalem there was a very strong community. That's the big advantage of Jerusalem - it makes it easy to adapt, acclimate and get to know people. In Tel Aviv you're much more alone. You can meet people and individuals very easily, but it takes longer to get to know them." Gottesmann's sentiments are common among immigrant newcomers to Tel Aviv, both those who transfer from Jerusalem and those who move directly from English speaking communities abroad. Attracted by employment opportunities and a secular urban lifestyle, many sacrifice a soft landing in a close-knit Anglo community - such as that readily available in Jerusalem or Ra'anana - for more fast-paced, individualistic lives in the big city. While educational opportunities for English speakers in greater Tel Aviv include the Inter-Disciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya and Tel Aviv University's Sackler medical school, which usually provide an automatic student community, no organized absorption centers or ulpans combine on-campus housing, as do Ulpan Etzion, Merkaz Hamagshimim and Beit Canada in Jerusalem. Most Tel Aviv olim come into the city aware that it requires of them more independence and assimilation with Israelis. Software engineer Marc Fischman, 32, who made aliya from Dallas with Nefesh B'Nefesh three years ago, settled in Tel Aviv because he already had a base of friends in the city from his previous work in the US. "In Tel Aviv you get thrown into Israeli society when you move here. This really helped me integrate into Israel better," he says. Fischman actually commutes to his job in Jerusalem, and would happily consider moving to Jerusalem in the future. "I want to try it, see what it's like up there. Tel Aviv really is a fast paced city - it's the city that never sleeps. Jerusalem is more relaxed, and I think in the past few years I've relaxed a little. I'd like to get more involved in religion, and I think the community is better for it." Tal Zvi Nathanel, a sabra who studies at the IDC international program, founded an on-line social community and city guide called Eganu.com after noticing that his foreign classmates and roommates seemed lost navigating the Israeli system. "People who come straight to Tel Aviv find it harder in comparison [to Jerusalem], because the nature of Tel Aviv is much more individualistic - everyone minds their own business," he says. Ben Ninio, an oleh from Australia who serves as advisor to Eganu.com, thinks that efforts to bring English speakers together are most successful when they start at the grassroots level, rather than through formal institutions. "The organizations exist, but people don't use them. Since they are not used, other people aren't attracted to them. Eganu's big aim is not to be a structured framework," he explains. In conducting interviews for this article, it was much easier to find olim who moved from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv than vice versa. On a larger scale, the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies cited a negative turnover in migration in 2005, as 5,800 people moved from Jerusalem to other cities. In all, 10,400 settled in the capital, while 16,200 left. Bradley Fish, however, a musician and music producer who came on aliya with Nefesh B'Nefesh two years ago, went against the stream and moved to Jerusalem, in part for its communal benefits and Jewish learning opportunities. "I think socially it's nice for Anglos. There are so many here [in Jerusalem] that you get a little America. I wanted to do [Jewish] learning, but didn't have good enough Hebrew to study in Hebrew. There are a gazillion opportunities in Jerusalem, and almost none in Tel Aviv." Fish found more opportunities to jam with other musicians in Tel Aviv, the center of the music industry in Israel, but says that music opportunities can also be found and made in Jerusalem. "There's a certain point in your career where you want to be in the mix - constantly bouncing off people, jamming with everyone - that's where Tel Aviv is. Then there's a point in your career when you want to be more introspective, creative. There are definitely more players in Tel Aviv, and I'm still working with some of those people," he says. Sinai Glazer of Merkaz Hamaghsimim is optimistic that Tel Aviv English speakers will soon develop into a more cohesive community: "Jerusalem has been going on for a decade or so. That's the natural place to land when you make aliya. Tel Aviv is just now starting to kick off in this sense. It will take a while. You need patience, faith, and I believe eventually we will succeed to give olim in Tel Aviv what they need." Not only for the secular Observant olim may have a harder time cracking a city better known for its bars than synagogues. Avi Griss, who works in sales and marketing at a hi-tech firm, chose Tel Aviv for its heterogeneity, buts admits to experiencing difficulty in developing some sort of community, particularly as an observant Jew. "I found myself jumping from Beit Knesset to Beit Knesset, which isn't great for building a community. You're kind-of like a nomad." Eventually, he discovered a religious-Zionist yeshiva near Ichilov Hospital, Yeshivat Ma'ale Eliyahu , where he often prays and studies. After experiencing similar difficulties in adapting an observant lifestyle to Israel's secular mecca, South African native Rafi Zauer and several of his observant friends decided to form their own synagogue-based community, the kind with which they had grown-up with in their former Diaspora communities. "We never found something that we felt we belonged to and accepted," Zauer explains of his early shul-hunting. In 2000, he and his friends started Minyan Ichud Olam as an informal minyan for religious Tel Avivians seeking modern-Orthodox style Shabbat prayers in a synagogue atmosphere, followed by Shabbat home hospitality. They were given use of a hall in Ihud Shivat Zion synagogue on Rehov Ben Yehuda, and the congregation has grown from its initial 40 participants to 150 members today. About half the members are native-born Israelis. The minyan's December 17 Hanukka party, held at Layla on Rehov Ben Yehuda, drew close to 200 people. The synagogue caters to a definite niche within Tel Aviv, i.e. modern Orthodox olim, which may be one source for its relative growth. "After a while, people started moving to Tel Aviv specifically because we existed," says Zauer. For some observant olim, like Kevin Lev, 27, who made aliyah from Los Angeles a few months ago, Tel Aviv still doesn't answer a desire for a rich religious life. While he had considered Jerusalem, he didn't want to suffer the commute to his job outside Netanya. He chose to settle in Givat Shmuel, a neighborhood located near Bar Ilan University in a Tel Aviv suburb. "Tel Aviv doesn't have a whole lot from a religious standpoint, but Givat Shmuel does. It's a very vibrant, happening community," he says. With its concentration of religious singles and young couples, many of them drawn from the Bar Ilan student body, Lev doesn't feel lacking for a synagogue-based community and Shabbat hospitality. "If the Givat Shmuel community had not existed, I probably would have ended up in Jerusalem," he concludes. Why chose Tel Aviv over Jerusalem, and vice-versa As an olah of seven years who has lived back-to-back in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and then Jerusalem again, I can attest that there are pros and cons to living in each city. Sometimes, the experiences are like two sides of the same coin, and if you're schizophrenic like me - respectful of Jewish tradition but admiring secular style, intellectually liberal but politically conservative, seeking excitement and glamor but appreciating depth and quiet - you might never feel truly at home in either city. OA. Ten Reasons to Live in Tel Aviv: 10. You can always find an excuse to get dressed-up and keep up on fashion trends 9. You learn Hebrew quickly, since you're not surrounded by Anglos 8. Shops, pubs, restaurants are open on Shabbat 7. You look up and see skyscrapers, reveling in the modernity and creativity of Israel 6. On any given Friday night, you can venture into a bar or club looking good and end up leaving with free love 5. You can wear tank tops and tight shorts in the middle of the street and no one looks at you funny 4. There are enough New York-style restaurants and bars where you go to escape and forget that you live in Israel 3. You can make a decent living so you don't have to rely on favors 2. The relative warmth in the winter as opposed to Jerusalem's chill 1. The beach Ten Reasons to Live in Jerusalem: 10. You can walk to the supermarket in your pajamas without feeling out of style 9. You don't forget how to speak proper English 8. The Shabbat siren and the ensuing silence 7. You look up and see the golden Jerusalem stone, reveling in the ancient roots of Israel 6. On any given Friday night, you can venture into a synagogue looking good and end up leaving with a free Shabbat meal 5. You can tie an orange ribbon on your rearview mirror and no one looks at you funny 4. People actually understand why you decided to move to Israel 3. If your car battery dies, you can stand by the side of the road and someone will stop to help you 2. The relative dryness in the summer as opposed to Tel Aviv's humidity 1. The kotel


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