Tel Aviv beach.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
What’s the antidote when the daily reports of stabbings and rundown attacks begin to take their toll on your psyche? Escape to Tel Aviv!
Granted, the country’s center has seen its share of terror since the onslaught began in October, but there’s no denying that the beach-café-nightlight carefree lifestyle of Israel’s flagship city is a far cry from the grim reality of cement blocks at bus stops, police at every intersection and roadblocks along the line that in effect separates west and east Jerusalem.
So off my wife and I headed for a 24-hour getaway last week, that included a comfortable hotel stay, a lively dance/ acrobatic show at the Tel Aviv Performing Arts Center and a morning walking tour of the city’s venerable Allenby Street.
As our small group of mostly foreign tourists from Europe gathered at the corner of Allenby and Ben-Yehuda with our guide Nero, the avenue was bustling with people, the shops were full and there was no indication that the country was in the middle of one of the worst spates of terrorism since the second intifada a decade ago.
Nero, an engaging street artist with fashionable stubble, a nose ring and a wealth of knowledge about the history and architecture of the area, enthusiastically led us up Allenby, past the closed bars and strip clubs, old-time kiosks, bakeries and bookstores and cut-rate discount clothing stores.
It was clear as he talked about the places that had been and the people that built the city that he lived and breathed Tel Aviv, derived from a deep place of love and reverence for his country of birth.
He delighted in taking us to Pri-Or Photo House just off Allenby on Tchernichovsky Street where the photographs and postcards of legendary Rudi Weissenstein are on display – along with the red upholstered stool where everyone from Moshe Dayan to Golda Meir to Shimon Peres sat for portraits in the 1950s and ’60s.
Nero’s enthusiasm was contagious, as we too, were taken back to the times of a young country and a seemingly blackand- white less complicated time, when national unity was more than an option for a weak coalition and there was no doubt who the enemy was. But it only took a minute for the murkiness of today’s reality to shake us from that pie-in-the-sky and probably inaccurate slice of history.
In response to a question from a young German tourist in our group, Nero began to riff on the well-worn theme of Tel Aviv as a bubble, which often seems to operate independently of the rest of the country. But then he added that recently, there were signs that the police in the city were going to extremes with preventive actions to keep order and that Israeli Arabs were now afraid to walk around.
“The right-wing government in Israel has instilled a sense of fear in us, where we now look on everyone with suspicion,” he said. Nero’s loaded statement prompted response from others in the group, who provided a different outlook on the root of the mood in the streets today. But eventually, the talk returned to architecture, history and culture, and when we parted at the corner of Rothschild Street, Nero left each of us with a warm embrace.
Despite the brief interlude of “actualia,” as they call current events in Hebrew, we left Tel Aviv for the return ride home to the Jerusalem area invigorated and serene. The coastline and flat Gush Dan landscape quickly transformed into the hilly, lush incline to the capital.
As we approached the French Hill intersection that crosses over Route 1 on the way to Pisgat Ze’ev or Ma’aleh Adumim, we were startled by the sudden blare of sirens. A white police van and a police motorcycle zoomed by us on the right and veered onto Route 1 heading toward Ammunition Hill, a favorite spot for Palestinian terrorist attacks.
Within a minute, the news update beeps on both my wife’s and my cellphones blasted with reports that a Palestinian had stabbed a youth at the light rail at the train stop down the road.
“Welcome home,” we said to each other, as we drove straight, away from the mayhem ensuing a few hundred meters away.
It’s certainly debatable if, as Nero stated, our government is responsible for the sense of fear in Israel. But – at least outside of the Tel Aviv bubble, terrorists with knives are doing a pretty good job of it themselves.