Tel Aviv 311.
(photo credit: Deborah Danan)
After residing for more than a decade in the Holy City of Jerusalem, I arrived
at an uninvited juncture in my life that compelled me make the (terrifying) move
to Tel Aviv – otherwise known as Sin City.
As for the aforementioned
“juncture,” more about that later – possibly. For now, my aim is to record a
firsthand account of a hard-core and hardened Jerusalemite’s ongoing journey
into the warmer climes of Tel Aviv. But first, a very basic outline is necessary
by way of providing a backdrop.
I arrived in Israel in 2000, with the
freshness of every other fresh-faced teenager fresh out of high
Eager to prove to my parents that I could live out the Zionist
Dream and make it on my own in the land of my forefathers, like many new olim in
the capital city, I struggled fiscally and prospered spiritually – more or less
in equal measure.
Growing up, I had always identified more strongly with
Israelis than any of my compatriots. And indeed, Israel was not new to me. I was
born in Netanya and moved overseas at a young age, coming back only for visits
to my father’s family before returning permanently at the wonderfully delusional
age of 18.
Jerusalem, however, was new to me. Yet it didn’t take very
long to feel like I’d been there forever. Much like the city itself, I felt new
and old at the same time.
More than a decade later, Jerusalem now runs
through my blood, and for better and for worse, I can’t be rid of it. So that
when my new neighbors in Tel Aviv ask me where I’m from, it no longer occurs to
me to give the name of my hometown abroad, or to utter anything but the word
Yerushalayim. But over the years, my relationship with the capital often veered
into the “bad romance” category, bringing to fore the immortal words of the
great Gaga: “I want your drama/ I want your love/ And I want your revenge/ I
want your horror/ I want your design.” And when I finally made the decision that
I no longer wanted Jerusalem’s design or drama or sheer intenseness, along with
it came the decision to move to Tel Aviv.
Tel Aviv is ostensibly a far
less dramatic city, and with its laid-back, fancy-popping-down-the-beach-for-an-
hour-before-work attitude, it is also quite the opposite of intense. But one
thing I’m starting to learn in the month that I’ve been here is that the clichés
of “looks can be deceiving” and “never judge a book by its cover” certainly
apply when it comes to the coastal city.
Here’s just one example: I
always thought – rather facetiously – that Tel Aviv lacked soul. Whereas the
Eternal City’s soul oozed out of each and every crack in every single Jerusalem
stone, Tel Aviv had always seemed like an empty shell: a transit city that
accommodates the young and restless for brief periods of time until they settle
down and move onto more meaningful pastures elsewhere, like the
But with every day that passes, I learn just how misinformed I
Indeed, Tel Aviv will never share Jerusalem’s bountiful but rather
in-your-face soul, but that’s not to say it doesn’t have a unique soul of its
own – it’s simply of a subtler kind. Embedded beneath layers and layers of
external trappings, Tel Aviv’s soul requires one to peel off those layers in
order to gain a glimpse of it. Don’t get me wrong: the external trappings –
which, among other modern maladies, include healthy dollops of materialism – are
not to be dismissed. They are part of what makes life in Tel Aviv so darn
Israelis can often be heard taxing the maxim that Tel Aviv is ir
lelo hafsaka. Literally translated to mean “a city with no breaks,” this is to
say that Tel Aviv is a 24- hour city – like New York. But anyone who believes
the literal meaning of that maxim clearly hasn’t walked around central Tel Aviv
in the middle of the day. If they did, they would discover that in actual fact,
Tel Aviv is ir behafsaka – a city that is always on break.
why does it seem like 80 percent of Tel Avivians are whiling their time away in
restaurants and coffee shops all day, every day? Being that my job requires
nothing more than a laptop and some strong coffee, my presence in coffee shops
is somewhat justified.
But surely it can’t be that all of these coffee
addicts are either writers or unemployed – or more commonly, unemployed writers?
There are, of course, a few rational explanations that come to mind: They could
either be self-employed, night-workers or else rich enough not to have to work a
regular 9-to-5. Some of them no doubt hail from the ladies-who-lunch club,
comprised of bored housewives from Ramat Aviv Gimmel. Perhaps some of them are
actually at work, attending one of those critical
board-meeting-cum-extended-lunch-breaks that corporate Tel Aviv is renowned
Whichever it is, it’s very different from Jerusalem’s
daylight-dining scene. Outside of tourist season, downtown Jerusalem in the
middle of the day is pretty much a ghost town. You walk into the average
Jerusalem coffee shop any time before 5:30 p.m. and you’ll find that all the
tables are empty and the waiter is busy working the cash register, or, if he’s a
student, he might be reading a book. He’ll look at you as you enter with an
expression that reads, “Patrons.
What a nuisance. Why can’t you come back
in two hours like normal people?” While I do sorely miss the neighborhood dives
in Jerusalem – you know, the type of places where everybody knows your name and
where pretzels are still complimentary – I am beginning to understand the appeal
of lazing in a coffee shop on Ibn Gvirol Street for hours on end. While I might
not be able to strike up a conversation with someone else in the coffee shop –
at least not with the same ease as with a Jerusalemite stranger – there is
something distinctly serene about people-watching without actually interacting
with them. The feeling of being ever so slightly “distanced” is probably part of
what lends Tel Aviv its European-esque charm.
I sip my Americano and
watch a couple on bicycles ride by with their two small children strapped to
kiddie chairs. It makes me smile and I wonder if there is a single other city in
the entire Middle East where this scene is just as commonplace.
I pay my
bill and get up to leave the bustling coffee shop, my legs creaking
sat for so long.
The lack of hills, pleasant weather, and relatively
close proximity of everything makes riding a bus in Tel Aviv simply not
it, so I walk home at a leisurely pace.
I pass Rabin Square, the sunlight
bouncing off the still green surface of the lily pond. I walk up Chen
in between towering trees whose thick branches are wrapped around their
like boa constrictors, until I reach Habimah – the national
Cutting across the theater’s courtyard, I continue down
Rothschild Boulevard, where old couches and stray coffee tables – the
vestiges of what was once Tent City – line the boulevard.
It strikes me
that you can really find anything in this city – not just 24-hour
learning that, yes, there is sin, but there is also soul. And to go one
further, I’m learning that Tel Aviv is not only a soulful city, it is
dare I say it – a spiritual