The hundred-year dash

Tel Aviv has come a long way since its founding, and the city plans to celebrate with statues, parades, festivals, art and restoration projects.

marathon 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
marathon 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Meir Dizengoff will ride again. The first mayor of Tel Aviv was apparently a striking figure in the 1930s, sitting atop his white horse while leading the city's annual Purim parade or launching the Maccabia games. In honor of the Centennial celebrations of Tel Aviv that are being launched next month, the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality has commissioned a statue of Dizengoff and his horse. The NIS 500,000 project designed by artist David Zondolovitz will be unveiled in front of the mayor's home on Rothschild Boulevard to coincide with a conference on April 23rd at the Cameri Theater on the descendants of the city's founding fathers. The statue and the conference are just two of the ambitious events for Tel Aviv's Centennial which are taking place over the next six months, Mayor Ron Huldai and Hila Oren, the director general of the Centennial celebrations, announced on Sunday at Beit Bialik, the home of Israel's national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik. Huldai referred to the day on April 11, 1909 when several dozen families gathered on the sand dunes outside Jaffa to choose plots for land for a new neighborhood called Ahuzat Bayit, later renamed Tel Aviv. Since they couldn't decide who would get which plot, they held a lottery by gathering 60 gray and 60 white seashells. Akiva Arieh Weiss, chairman of the lottery committee, wrote the names of the participants on the white shells and the plot numbers on the gray shells, and paired the names with the plots. "Every day it's a miracle. When I think about 100 years ago and those families standing on the sand dunes and picking up shells for the lottery, and then seeing this metropolis today, it's just a miracle," said Huldai. Today, Tel Aviv-Jaffa's population is almost 400,000, and greater Tel Aviv is home to over three million people. According to Oren, five babies were born in the city in 1909, including Amishalom Gilutz, who's celebrating his own centennial this year; he is the subject of a photo exhibit by photographer Danny Eshet called "People Around 100," which will be displayed beginning next month. "I was born in Ahuzat Bayit, the children of Menahem and Dvora Gilutz, who were among the founders of the city. I have a strong love and admiration for the people who came together and built Tel Aviv," Gilutz wrote in the Centennial booklet, adding some criticism for the changes in the city over the years. "I find it unfortunate that the city has changed so much. The founders of the city were devoted to education and work in a way that is hard to find today. However, there's still a lot of the original beauty left in Tel Aviv," Gilutz concluded. According to Oren, education and community are at the heart of the whole Centennial project, which is funding more than 400 programs, including a poster competition in schools and a special curriculum about the history of Tel Aviv which will be taught in all schools - from nursery school through high school. In addition, the city has embarked on 15 major renovation projects to mark the Centennial, including the restoration of the Jaffa Port, the Manshia train station at the edge of Jaffa, the restoration of the Trumpeldor Street cemetery where many of the city's founders are buried, and new wings for the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, the Museum of Art and Habimah Theater. THEN, WHEN you add to that the cultural highlights of the Centennial, including the opening celebrations at Kikar Rabin on April 4th, the Tel Aviv Marathon on April 24th, Little Tel Aviv's White Nights nostalgia festival on May 27th, the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade on June 12th, the Blue-Mediterranean Festival in Jaffa on June 16th, and the gala performance of Verdi's Requiem by La Scala at Ganei Yehoshua on July 16th, the end result is a huge party - and an even bigger budget. But, according to Huldai, everything is in its proper perspective. "We originally planned a budget of NIS 100 million. Then we cut it down to 80 and then to 50. In light of the recent economic crisis, we cut even further, and the overall final budget is NIS 43m. - NIS 25m. from 2008 and NIS 18m. from this year's budget. About 20 percent of the budget goes to the community projects, another 20% for the educational projects, the rest for the other events," said Huldai, who added that the big picture needed to be seen regarding the events and festivities. "We planned a long time in advance for the events this year to bear fruit, and I'm happy that there will continue to be fruit for many years to come. "When we planned the Dizengoff statue, we budgeted something like NIS 500,000. Someone could say that it's expensive when you're talking about one year, but it's really being divided into the next 100 years, when people will still enjoy it. Then it becomes much more reasonable. "In the same thought, a lot of the budget is earmarked for city properties that need to be renovated in any case. And when you're talking about educational projects, there's an education budget which is also going to that. The White Nights festival would take place in any case, as would the Tel Aviv Marathon. It's just that now they're under the auspices of the Centennial." Huldai also dismissed the claims that the Centennial festivities only focused on Tel Aviv residents and were for their benefit. "These aren't just the celebrations for Tel Aviv and Jaffa. They're for the Jewish people everywhere, and the people of Israel," he said, adding that he hoped the Arab residents of Jaffa and Tel Aviv would take full part in the festivities. "All the shows are free, and accessible, and it's an opportunity for everyone to participate," added Oren. And not just people in Israel. According to the Centennial's International Outreach coordinator, Eytan Schwartz (of The Ambassador fame), The Tel Aviv Centennial won't be confined to its city limits. "We're creating special Tel Aviv beach displays and events in four cities around the world - New York, Vienna, Copenhagen and Paris. The New York event will take place on June 21st in Central Park," said Schwartz, adding that the events - which will include musicians, DJs, chefs and beach games like matkot (paddleball) - would enable people outside of the country to get a taste of the Tel Aviv flavor. Joining up with the party, The Tourism Ministry will be using the Tel Aviv beach as its Face of Israel campaign for 2009 at tourism fairs around the world. "What could be a better selling point for Israel than the Tel Aviv beach?" asked Lydia Weitzman, the ministry's foreign press adviser. Meir Dizengoff would likely be the first one to get off his high horse and agree with that. For a complete listing of Tel Aviv-Jaffa centennial events, go to