Toy story

Many of Shoshana's customers are serious collectors rummaging for additions to their own toys-of-yesteryear collections.

toys 88 (photo credit: )
toys 88
(photo credit: )
Among some of my most treasured possessions is a large brown rubber duck. 'Duck' is supposed to squeak when squeezed, but the squeak seems to have been squeezed out of him over the last 60 years. Then again, few of us baby-boomers have retained much of our squeak either, so I'm not holding the silence against Duck, whom I first met in an English bathtub. I was four years old at the time and staying with relatives in England after my mother had died in Wales during the polio epidemic of l950. I doubt either Duck or myself were contemplating aliya during the year that we took our communal baths together. Anyway, I'm not sure how happy Duck would have been about making aliya to a shower-only kibbutz abode with little hope of a bourgeoisie luxury the likes of a bath. Duck stayed in the Birmingham bathroom until the late l960s. The same year I made aliya, Duck moved to Malta - in the packing cases of my aunt and uncle who left Britain for sunnier and less taxing shores. When my uncle died a few years after my aunt, Duck came home with me. No bathtub, but a place of honor among a few other items from days long gone that mean everything to me - and nothing to my five offspring and spouses, other than a source of humorous ribbing. Last week in Tel Aviv's Rehov Sheinkin, I discovered a whole new world of old toys that I'm sure Duck and my battered pre-aliya Teddy Bear would love to visit. Tza'atzuim Shel Pa'am (Toys of Yesteryear) at No. 58 is an eye-popping, tear-jerking emotional experience for those with sentimental attachment to toys and games, mostly from the sixties, heaped in orderly fashion from floor to ceiling. Sitting among the thousands of items crammed in to the veritable Aladdin's Cave of long-gone but not forgotten toys is shop-owner Shoshana "no family name necessary," a walking, talking but very modest almanac on toys manufactured many moons and childhoods ago. Shoshana sits in her chair, placed strategically between the small shop front and larger store area piled with more merchandise, watching as I gingerly pick up toys forcloser inspection. Some of the items are not old at all, rather recently manufactured 'antiques' - notably a collection of cute wind-up colorful fairground Merry-Go-Rounds in various sizes. Although no two seem to be the same, all the horses bop up and down as they chase the one in front around the pole, again and again and again. They don't seem to become dizzy, but an onlooker might well do so. Apparently, such newly-old items are in demand and apart from the circular waltzing horses there are other bits and pieces that tickle the memory box. There are some small cars, but not of the coveted Matchbox or Dinky series. My cousin still mutters under his breath these days about my aunt giving away all his Dinkies before heading off for Malta. Apart from the sentimental attachment, those small die-cast cars, trucks, buses etc. would be worth a small fortune these days - unlike Duck whom I doubt would attract any monetary offers. Anyway, he's not for sale. I cast my eyes over one of the metal shelves where clowns sit or stand side-by-side with soldiers, sailors and pop-up music makers; a bright green plastic miniature rocking horse; a six-inch-high figurine in slinky dress and long synthetic hair resembling material for scrubbing pots; wooden blocks and some wee folk from Playmobile. On a stand just inside the doorway and protected by plastic coverings, a display of New Year greeting cards of a type that I have never seen anywhere else except in Israel - and then only in the sixties and seventies. The cards are small, glitzy and over-the-top kitschy. When I commented to Shoshana that I had not seen such cards in decades, she was quick to point out that those particular cards are not exactly old, either. Actually they are handmade and hot off yesterday's press, the work of Israeli artist Galia Koren Parsil. Many of Shoshana's customers are serious collectors rummaging for additions to their own toys-of-yesteryear collections. Others are simply passers-by who, like me, are intrigued by the collection of golden oldies from the world of toys seen in the display window. I didn't end up buying anything, yet somehow had the impression that I did Shoshana a favor as she appeared loath to part with her metal, wood and plastic charges carefully arranged on the shelves in her very special shop. Rehov Sheinkin (more commonly called just "Sheinkin") definitely does have a very special atmosphere that people either seem to love or hate. Being an out-of-towner, I rarely get to spend leisure time poking around the Tel Aviv scene and finding characters like Shoshana and her playful treasures. If I need to shop for clothes or shoes, then Sheinkin certainly is not the street for me - although old seems to be the new fad in many of the smaller stores selling "trendy" items some of us remember as being hot long before most of Sheinkin's current mover, shaker and poser customers were born. The street is named after Russian-born ardent Zionist Menachem Sheinkin, a member of the Hovevei Zion association who made aliya from Belarus in 1906 when in his late twenties. One of his first ventures was to set up an information center to advise Jewish newcomers entering the country by way of Jaffa port, and it was he who suggested the name for the Jewish neighborhood being built on the nearby sand dunes: Tel Aviv. Sheinkin was among the first to build a home in what was initially called Ahuzat Bayit, and initiated many projects including the construction of the Gymnasia Herzliya School named after Theodore Herzl. While visiting the US, the visionary Zionist was tragically killed in a traffic accident in Chicago. In his honor, the city he named named a road after him, and while it is doubtful that many of the Rehov Sheinkin strollers and shoppers know much about the man himself, "Sheinkin" is one of the most popular and eclectic places in the modern-day city he helped create.