Trumpeldor Cemetery - a romantic place to meet a soul mate?

One Friday in October, the Trumpeldor Cemetery was the primary destination of a guided tour - one of a series designed for 50+ singles seeking a soul mate.

cemetary 88 248 (photo credit: Daniella Ashkenazy)
cemetary 88 248
(photo credit: Daniella Ashkenazy)
Anglo singles pose with Menahem Shenkin, publicist and member of Tel Aviv's 'Mayflower' who led (unsuccessfully) the opposition to Tel Aviv's first kiosk (established in 1911) "undermining" the initial vision of Tel Aviv as "residential only." Trumpeldor Cemetery - a 10.6-dunam plot established in 1902 during a cholera epidemic in Jaffa before there was a Tel Aviv - is hugged by apartment buildings now. But can the stones in this quaint cemetery awaken romantic spirits? A young, unattached 35-year-old tour guide recently revealed that he likes to take first dates for a stroll in the cemetery, but he's not the only one. One Friday in October, the Trumpeldor Cemetery was the primary destination of a guided tour - one of a series designed for 50+ singles seeking a soul mate, organized by licensed English tour guide Pamela Levene as part of her countrywide itinerary entitled "In the Footsteps of the Rebels, Sages, Visionaries and Pioneers" (R.S.V.P. Tours). The "tombstone tour," which began with an overview of Bauhaus architecture, attracted more than a dozen unattached Anglos of both genders who munched gourmet chocolate, sipped wine and got better acquainted just inside the cemetery gate before setting off to meet some of its most piquant "residents." Many of Trumpeldor's 5,000 graves reflect the flavor of the times, as well as the vanities and insecurities of the protagonists - or at least of their surviving kin, who ordered the gravestones. The cultural icons buried here include Zionist thinkers like Ahad Ha'am - who died in January 1927 and whose tall, pink marble monument peeks over a massive block of white marble that marks national poet laureate Chaim Nachman Bialik's grave (see photo above) - down to 1948-vintage novelist Moshe Shamir. Ahad Ha'am's has no dates engraved, only his name - assuming his place in posterity is already "carved in stone." Likewise "new arrival" satirist Ephraim Kishon, who died in January 2005: Only his name appears on the top of the slab, in Hebrew and English. Mapai labor leader Moshe Sharett, on the other hand, far from resting in peace, seems still to be settling scores with David Ben-Gurion (who appointed Sharett prime minister in 1953, then unceremoniously ousted him when he decided to return to office in 1955). The black granite headstone is inscribed with a 250-word megilla composed like a resume, designed to have the last word about Sharett's place in Zionist history and emphasizing his stature as the nation's "first political moderate." Most of the gravestones are simple, almost austere, in keeping with Jewish tradition - although quite a few of the old ones bear worn photos of the deceased. A few, however, are whimsical, such as diva Shoshana Damari's white boulder tombstone studded with art deco Kalaniot (Anemone) flowers that seem to irreverently "wink in tribute" to the song that became the songstress's signature. One of the unadorned tombstones belongs to Avigdor Ben-Gurion, whose gravestone gives not only his date of birth (1857) and date of death (1942), but also cites the year he made aliya (1925) - an event that was such a defining moment, some of the pioneering generation included it on their tombstones. The only tip-off that the deceased - a lawyer and founder of Hovevei Zion - was David Ben-Gurion's father is that the gravestone states that Avigdor Ben-Gurion was born in Plonsk. The Trumpeldor Cemetery also harbors high drama and countless tragedies. Not far from the gate is the resting place of novelist Josef Haim Brenner - one of the first modernists in Hebrew literature - who was murdered and buried in a common grave with other victims of the 1921 anti-Jewish riots in Jaffa. In the next row lie the victims of 1929 attacks, followed by casualties of the 1936-39 Arab revolt. Elsewhere, at the foot of Meir Dizengoff's almost mausoleum-sized monument, resides Haim Arlosoroff - the head of the Political Department of the Zionist Movement, murdered by unknown assailants while strolling along the Tel Aviv beach in 1933. False accusations by Labor Zionist leaders of the Yishuv, who claimed that Arlosoroff had been assassinated by two Revisionists, split the Yishuv at the time; today it is believed he was killed by a hit squad sent by Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels, who couldn't live with the knowledge that his wife Magda, an ardent Nazi, had been Arlosoroff's lover during her youth (and had even toyed with converting to Judaism). Tombstones are also a cultural touchstone, including gender politics: One cannot but help notice how many pillars of the community, like Bialik or Arlosoroff, have massive gravestones, while their spouses buried beside them rate half the height. Tzina Dizengoff, the wife of Tel Aviv's first mayor, is an exception. And speaking of couples - by the time Levene's tour was over and the group dispersed, several participants had exchanged telephone numbers, and a number disappeared out of the gate in pairs.