The big city dilemma

Tel Aviv has jobs and fast-track integration; J'lem has 'Jewishness' and a sense of community.

western wall 224.88 (photo credit: AP)
western wall 224.88
(photo credit: AP)
It's Thursday night at Tel Aviv port, one of the more happening spots in Tel Aviv at the start of every weekend. Meimad Hahamishi, one of the veteran mini-clubs whose popularity has been dwarfed by the newer bars in the area, has been rented out by Merkaz Hamagshimim Hadassah, an absorption-community center for olim based in Jerusalem, for their annual Tel Aviv Hanukka party. Unlike last year's party, this one never kicks off - at least by Tel Aviv nightlife standards - and draws only about 80 people. The chartered bus from Jerusalem, originally scheduled to leave at 2:00 am, heads back ten minutes earlier.
  • 10 reasons to live in Tel Aviv
  • 10 reasons to live in Jerusalem Moran Shtark, 27, who immigrated to Tel Aviv from Canada about seven years ago, decided to check out the party with two native Israeli friends because "I haven't been in an Anglo environment for I don't know how long. I miss it a little." But after an hour of satisfying his nostalgia, he leaves early to throw back a glass of Red Bull and vodka at the trendy 'Whiskey A Go Go' nearby, which is so packed that the selectors have to turn people away in true Tel Aviv style. Shtark's momentary straddling between two worlds - the Anglo and the Israeli - is representative of an experience common to single Tel Aviv olim: They are eager to assimilate into Israeli society, hang out with Israelis and party at Tel Aviv's stylish digs, while they miss a community of English speakers with whom they share a mother tongue, immigrant experiences and aspirations. Some look askance at Jerusalem as an Anglo 'bubble.' A week later, Merkaz Hamagshimim throws a Hanukka party in Jerusalem at the Layla Bar. The place packs in about 200 people, and both Anglos and Israelis get down on the dance floor until four in the morning. The party's success is standard for many of its Jerusalem-based events, which are a prime source of social networking for Jerusalem olim. This is one of the first events Merkaz Hamagshimim has held in Jerusalem outside its campus in the German Colony, which serves as a melting pot for olim aged 19-35. Hagit Sinai-Glazer, program coordinator for Merkaz Hamagshimim in Tel Aviv, has examined the social and educational frameworks available for olim in Tel Aviv, and noticed a difference in the profile and needs of Tel Avivian Anglos as opposed to their Jerusalemite counterparts. "Olim in Tel Aviv are less religious and they want to integrate faster - more events with sabras, more meetings and opportunities to hook up together," she observes. "As for their own Anglo community, it's not that they don't want it or throw it away, but it's less important for them and they don't look for it as much as olim look for it in Jerusalem, for example. This leads to a lack of a community feeling." Regarding he low turnout at the Hanukka party, she cites minimal advertising and choice of venue as possible causes. Other events they organized this past year, such as their Yom Ha'atzmaut barbecue at Park Hayarkon, drew around 170 people and a summer party held in a dance club in Jaffa drew 150. A Thanksgiving dinner organized by Merkaz Hamagshimim, together with Nefesh B'Nefesh, a non-profit organization that promotes and assists aliya, drew about 70 people - considered a respectable turnout for the Tel Aviv community. Just this past week, Nefesh B'Nefesh welcomed its 10,000th oleh. Among the immigrants who moved to Israel with Nefesh B'Nefesh since its inception, some 450 immigrants chose to live in Tel Aviv, compared to 2,000 who settled in Jerusalem. Most of the Tel Aviv olim were singles, while the Jerusalem contingency included families, young and old. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, 8,130 immigrants arrived in Israel between January and June 2006. Of these, 470 came from the US (about 6 percent). The top cities for initial immigration include: Jerusalem (863 olim, 40% from the UK and about one-third from the US), Beersheba (554), Ashdod (493), Haifa (479, 65% from the former Soviet Union), Netanya (385, 52% from France), and Tel Aviv (352). "When someone moves to Tel Aviv, they're looking for a big city environment," notes Adina Bennett, a member of the social services staff at Nefesh B'Nefesh. She works specifically with Tel Aviv olim to assist their acclimation through social programs and workshops. "They're used to living in New York, Chicago, London - lots of people, running around. Tel Aviv is known to be a more metropolitan city." Job opportunities, particularly in the areas of hi-tech, finance and business, are usually more plentiful in Tel Aviv. Bachelor Ari Gottesman moved to Tel Aviv from Jerusalem four years ago for the same reason that many other immigrants choose Israel's metropolis: employment. "Jerusalem was very limited and there was a lot more available in Tel Aviv in hi-tech," he says. Having lived in Jerusalem for eight years, Gottesmann left behind a tight social circle only to find he had to start from scratch in Tel Aviv. "In Jerusalem there was a very strong community. That's the big advantage of Jerusalem - it makes it easy to adapt, acclimate and get to know people. In Tel Aviv you're much more alone. You can meet people and individuals very easily, but it takes longer to get to know them." Gottesmann's sentiments are common among immigrant newcomers to Tel Aviv, both those who transfer from Jerusalem and those who move directly from English speaking communities abroad. Attracted by employment opportunities and a secular urban lifestyle, many sacrifice a soft landing in a close-knit Anglo community - such as that readily available in Jerusalem or Ra'anana - for more fast-paced, individualistic lives in the big city. While educational opportunities for English speakers in greater Tel Aviv include the Inter-Disciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya and Tel Aviv University's Sackler medical school, which usually provide an automatic student community, no organized absorption centers or ulpans combine on-campus housing, as do Ulpan Etzion, Merkaz Hamagshimim and Beit Canada in Jerusalem. Most Tel Aviv olim come into the city aware that it requires of them more independence and assimilation with Israelis. Software engineer Marc Fischman, 32, who made aliya from Dallas with Nefesh B'Nefesh three years ago, settled in Tel Aviv because he already had a base of friends in the city from his previous work in the US. "In Tel Aviv you get thrown into Israeli society when you move here. This really helped me integrate into Israel better," he says. Fischman actually commutes to his job in Jerusalem, and would happily consider moving to Jerusalem in the future. "I want to try it, see what it's like up there. Tel Aviv really is a fast paced city - it's the city that never sleeps. Jerusalem is more relaxed, and I think in the past few years I've relaxed a little. I'd like to get more involved in religion, and I think the community is better for it." Tal Zvi Nathanel, a sabra who studies at the IDC international program, founded an on-line social community and city guide called after noticing that his foreign classmates and roommates seemed lost navigating the Israeli system. "People who come straight to Tel Aviv find it harder in comparison [to Jerusalem], because the nature of Tel Aviv is much more individualistic - everyone minds their own business," he says. Ben Ninio, an oleh from Australia who serves as advisor to, thinks that efforts to bring English speakers together are most successful when they start at the grassroots level, rather than through formal institutions. "The organizations exist, but people don't use them. Since they are not used, other people aren't attracted to them. Eganu's big aim is not to be a structured framework," he explains. In conducting interviews for this article, it was much easier to find olim who moved from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv than vice versa. On a larger scale, the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies cited a negative turnover in migration in 2005, as 5,800 people moved from Jerusalem to other cities. In all, 10,400 settled in the capital, while 16,200 left. Bradley Fish, however, a musician and music producer who came on aliya with Nefesh B'Nefesh two years ago, went against the stream and moved to Jerusalem, in part for its communal benefits and Jewish learning opportunities. "I think socially it's nice for Anglos. There are so many here [in Jerusalem] that you get a little America. I wanted to do [Jewish] learning, but didn't have good enough Hebrew to study in Hebrew. There are a gazillion opportunities in Jerusalem, and almost none in Tel Aviv." Fish found more opportunities to jam with other musicians in Tel Aviv, the center of the music industry in Israel, but says that music opportunities can also be found and made in Jerusalem. "There's a certain point in your career where you want to be in the mix - constantly bouncing off people, jamming with everyone - that's where Tel Aviv is. Then there's a point in your career when you want to be more introspective, creative. There are definitely more players in Tel Aviv, and I'm still working with some of those people," he says. Sinai Glazer of Merkaz Hamaghsimim is optimistic that Tel Aviv English speakers will soon develop into a more cohesive community: "Jerusalem has been going on for a decade or so. That's the natural place to land when you make aliya. Tel Aviv is just now starting to kick off in this sense. It will take a while. You need patience, faith, and I believe eventually we will succeed to give olim in Tel Aviv what they need."