Off the Beaten Track: A walk through an old-new land, Pt 4

Travel expert Joe Yudin introduces "the road less traveled" as well as some new discoveries at more well-known sites.

August 25, 2011 15:14
Tel Aviv

Building in Tel Aviv 311. (photo credit: Joe Yudin)


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Joe Yudin owns Touring Israel, a company that specializes in “Lifestyle” tours of Israel.

“If you will it, it is no dream.” – Theodore Herzl, from his book Old New Land published in 1902.

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When guiding tours in English I always assume that my tourists know nothing of Israel or its history, both ancient and modern. Even if they are quite knowledgeable it never hurts to start from the beginning to put things into perspective. However there are two stories that are interwoven and therefore two beginnings: The story of ancient Israel and the story of the modern state.

Theodore Herzl was the driving force behind the Jewish national movement called Zionism by Nathan Birnbaum. A Doctor of Law, Herzl was born in Budapest and grew up in Vienna. He was a proponent of the Jewish “Enlightenment” movement which called for assimilation into European societies which was thought by many to be the key to ending anti-Semitism. After witnessing the virulent anti-Semitism in Paris as a reporter during the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890’s, Herzl abandoned this notion and became the driving force behind Political Zionism, writing the paper “The Jewish State” in 1896. 

Start your 3 km walking tour on the corner of Ahad HaAm & Herzl Street. This is the very first intersection where the Jaffa suburb of “Ahuzat Bayit” was built out of nothing but sand dunes. Its founders wanted to create a quiet garden-centered town with tree lined boulevards, intersected at right angles to come home to after a long day’s work in noisy and dirty Jaffa. This was not meant to be an extension of Jaffa, but an independent, all Jewish city. On April 11, 1909, Akiva Moshe Weiss went down to the beach and gathered black and white sea shells. Names were written on one color and lot numbers on the other. A child drew the lots and each of the original 60 families was assigned a piece of land to which they could build their homes. You are standing outside of Weiss’ house now a restaurant. Inside are some pictures of what it first looked like.

Photo: Joe YudinMake your way over to the intersection of Rothschild Boulevard & Herzl. Notice the cone shaped booth in the grassy area on Rothschild Boulevard, which is today an excellent café. This was Tel Aviv’s very first store built in 1910. Go into the  garden area between the roads on Rothschild and walk east between the tree lined path until you get to a memorial site in front of a statue of a man riding a horse. In 1909 there was nothing here, not water, not farmland, nothing at all but sand. The memorial is to the first 66 families who founded Ahuzat Bayit. On May 21, 1910 the new town was renamed Tel Aviv which literally means “Ancient Hill of Spring” but is actually an ode to Theodore Herzl’s novel  Old New Land. The man riding the horse is none other than Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. You are currently outside his house, called Independence Hall,  which at one time served as city hall and later an art museum. It was here that the State of Israel was declared on May 14th, 1948. It is well worth a guided tour.

Walk east on Rothschild in the grassy area and you will soon start to experience Israel’s tent city which has sprung up recently to protest against what these people call a lack of “social justice” in Israel today. Take the time to read some of the signs and talk to some of the people. Continue walking east on Rothschild.

With the rise of Nazism in the 1930’s many German Jews fled Germany to British ruled Palestine. With the large influx of immigrants and a mandate from the League of Nations to “create a Jewish national home in Palestine” the British, together with the Jewish Agency, put many of the new, young architects to work designing housing. They had been influenced by the modern ‘International Style’ which was taught at the Bauhaus School of Art in Weimar. Today there are more ‘Bauhaus Style’ buildings in Tel Aviv than any other place in the world and because of this Tel Aviv has been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The Bauhaus Style can be identified by its lack of ornaments and a functional veneer with long, straight or rounded balconies giving it a modern feel. Check out the many beautiful buildings along the way until you reach Bezalel Steet. Turn left and continue until you get to a traffic circle called King Albert Square named after the Belgian king who visited Tel Aviv in 1933. Check out the amazing Pagoda House built in the eclectic style.

Turn right on Nahmani Street and continue back to Rothschild then turn left. Continue your walk until you get to Sheinkin Street and turn left. This street used to be considered Tel Aviv’s “Greenwich Village,” home to struggling artists and bohemian shops and artsy cafes’. Although gentrification is changing this funky neighborhood fast, it is still very cool and trendy and worth a walk. At the end of the road where Sheinkin meets Allenby & King George Street you will find one of the busiest intersections in the city. Cross Allenby Street and you will be at the entrance of both the Carmel Market open every day and the Nahalat Benyamin Arts & Crafts Market open Tuesdays and Fridays. Both are definitely worth a visit.

Photo: Joe YudinReturn to this spot and head north on Allenby before turning right on Bialik Street. The exquisite Ruben Museum of Art in Ruben's old house and studio can be found at number 14 where you can check out his incredible paintings of Tel Aviv from its beginnings through the span of his life.

Continue to the end of the street where there is a large circle and beautiful houses of different styles including old city hall which is now the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Museum, a beautiful Bauhaus building at number 21, which is the home to Ron Lauder’s Bauhaus Museum and of course the home of Israel’s national poet Hayim Nachman Bialik. From here the shops on Bograshov & Dizengoff Streets are just a hop, skip and a jump away through Meir Garden Park.

Joe Yudin 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.

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