Street talk

'Tel Aviv Stories' showcases the city's underbelly, warts and all.

Ashley Rindsberg 521 (photo credit: courtesy)
Ashley Rindsberg 521
(photo credit: courtesy)
TEL AVIV STORIESBy Ashley RindsbergMidnight Oil Publishing107 pages; $10.90
Tel Aviv is known for many things. A burgeoning hot spot creeping its way up global top 10 lists, the White City is becoming as much a tourist draw as Jerusalem’s relics of old.
However, there is much more to the 21st century version of Israel’s “city that never sleeps” than meets the eye, and this collection of short stories by South African-born writer Ashley Rindsberg gives the reader an unexpected perspective.
The excitement of Tel Aviv’s nightlife, the energy of Shenkin’s colorful storefronts and the urgency of the bursa business district are all left to the side as the author offers a deeply personal and rather melancholy take on the city. Tel Aviv Stories showcases its underbelly, warts and all, and does so in a manner that leaves the reader wondering out loud.
Each of the first six stories is a result of Rindsberg’s own experiences wandering around Tel Aviv as a lonesome young man who moved to the Holy Land and settled in its busiest city in the mid-2000s. Rindsberg readily admits that he felt “quite alone” when he moved to Tel Aviv and began working in various minor jobs. Most evenings would be spent walking through the streets, and Tel Aviv Stories is, for the most part, the result of these walks, an exploration and fictionalization of the streets he got to know and the characters he met.
The majority of these characters were the poor and the homeless, those who live on the streets of Tel Aviv. In Rindsberg’s view they are just as representative of the city as any of its more famous residents, the politicians and poets, the artists and actors.
“Tel Aviv took on a mystical effect,” he says of his early weeks and months there. “I was always walking around as I had all this energy and didn’t know what to do with it. It was the energy of Tel Aviv. You look around and see broken buildings. It looks like everything’s magical.
It was the time at the end of the intifada, before the gentrification and influx of brands like AMPM.”
The first story sets the tone for the rest of the book. “Spinoza Street” is essentially a conversation between the narrator and an apparently homeless man. As with each of the stories, there is an unexpected twist to the tale – this man has lived a life that is far more nuanced than can be understood from just looking at him.
This theme of discovery, of peeling away the layers and learning to appreciate the realities of people’s experiences, is a central theme of the book. Rindsberg takes us on a journey through “White Hair Woman” toward the climax of the first half of the book – “Night of Grief.”
This story is the account of a night in the real Tel Aviv, with all manner of characters popping up, each with their own stories to tell.
The intelligence of Tel Aviv Stories is highlighted in its second half. After six relatively short stories of varying lengths, the final story unexpectedly takes up the entire remaining half of the book. Although there is a clear Tel Aviv connection, “Rivkah and Rebecca” is a classic tale of love and love lost which isn’t set in Tel Aviv. It is perhaps Rindsberg’s best story of the entire collection and provides a fitting ending.
While there are some chinks in his armor, on the whole Rindsberg’s writing is measured and inviting. It may be his first published work, but it displays a depth of feeling, which shows much promise for the future.
The soul of Tel Aviv Stories is composed of very Jewish elements – most of the characters may not be religious, but they are all very Jewish.
As Rindsberg observes: “The street people are all involved in something spiritual. They are homeless, but they are still Jewish. It is a uniquely Jewish phenomenon.”