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It's no cliche' that Neveh Zedek is an enclosure of tranquility. A few minutes' walk from the bustle of Tel Aviv, tucked behind unattractive multistory beachfront office blocks and hotels on the boundary between Tel Aviv and Jaffa, the neighborhood boasts a quality of life unmatched in the city.
With its narrow roads and alleyways, bumpy pavements and occasional crumbling wall alongside lavishly renovated homes, the neighborhood is well into the process of gentrification. Twenty-five years ago, with many of the buildings dilapidated and deemed dangerous, an ambitious project for preserving and rehabilitating the neighborhood was passed.
In plant-bedecked courtyards and lanes, yuppies, artists, dancers, designers, and potters rub shoulders with neighborhood old-timers and their offspring. Wooden shutters and support beams, ceramic nameplates and decorative wrought-iron balconies stand out against the pale blue, pink and yellow painted walls. Red-tiled roofs add further dashes of color to this quaint quarter.
Less than 100 meters separate Neveh Zedek from the Mediterranean shore, but local residents can hardly see the sea nowadays. The towering luxury hotels on the seashore block the sea view from this charming area, where the present overshadows a rich backyard of history.
Neveh Zedek's street names remind one of the city's founders and rabbis, intellectuals, writers and artists who shared visions that few lived long enough to see materialize. Now residents and visitors literally have art, dance and music wherever they go within this friendly neighborhood, be it at the Suzanne Dellal complex or the many open-house artisans at work one passes by while meandering through the area.
The Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater has become an essential part of Tel Aviv's cultural life. The center is formed around a trio of renovated buildings erected at the beginning of the 1900s to house the Alliance and Yechieli schools and the original Lewinsky Seminar. The large open spaces between the rehearsal rooms, theaters and dance studios become a stage for outdoor music recitals and an array of artistic happenings.
The main plaza features gnarled orange trees, majestic palms and narrow channels of gurgling water. An eye-catching mural helps link the personalities of Neveh Zedek's illustrious past with present-day Israeli art, theater and dance. One part of the mural, entitled "The Intellectuals," depicts Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak Hacohen Kook, S.Y. Agnon, David Shimoni, Alexander Ziskind Rabinowitz, Yosef Haim Brenner and Deborah Baron. Another part of the mural depicts the Hebrew School for Girls, the Chelouche Bridge and the Herzliya Gymnasium, while a third applauds founding fathers Chelouche, Rokach, Amzaleg and Barnet.
Zerah Barnet was one of the Hovevei Zion forerunners of modern Zionism, who arrived in Turkish-controlled Palestine in 1871 and was involved in the founding of the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim quarter in Jerusalem. He left for England only to return in l890 after buying a piece of land near Neveh Zedek (then called Neveh Shalom) but was ridiculed when talking about building a Jewish neighborhood on the sand.
No one ridicules neighborhood landowners nowadays. In fact, it is they who are laughing - all the way to the bank.