In the White City

One American immigrant is working hard to create a community of young Anglos in Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv view (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Tel Aviv view
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Just three years after moving to Israel, Eytan White hosted 300 friends for a Yom Ha’atzmaut barbecue. It’s not just that White’s spicy Buffalo wings are a sensation among expat New Yorkers in Tel Aviv. His large social circle is the result of working hard to create a community of young Anglo immigrants like himself.
White is co-chairman of White City Shabbat ( – which may sound like it’s named for him, but “White City” has become a Tel Aviv nickname due to the city’s many white Bauhaus- style buildings. This flourishing program is one of several under the ambitious umbrella of Tel Aviv Internationals, a community-building initiative started by fellow New York-area transplant Jay Shultz, whom White met at – where else? – a mutual friend’s Shabbat table two years ago.
Since White and Deborah Danan took responsibility for the project, monthly communal White City Shabbat dinners have been drawing hundreds of English- speaking participants to meals featuring VIP speakers such as Tel Aviv’s mayor and chief rabbi.
Having quickly outgrown the first host synagogue’s space, the dinners take place in the Goren Shul on Modigliani Street and regularly attract 200 registrants.
“We always have a massive waiting list of people begging to get in,” says White. “About 30 to 50 percent of the guests each time are new, and the rest are regulars.”
Israelis are starting to come as well, despite the English-speaking environment. Not everyone who comes is Shabbat-observant, and attendance at services before the meal is optional.
“Everyone is open and respectful. I find that nice and unique,” says White, who was raised in a modern Orthodox home in the New York suburb of New Rochelle.
“I’m a big fan of the pluralism here in Tel Aviv.
You have the spectrum of the whole world here – as close as you’ll get to Manhattan in Israel. One of the largest gay communities is here, and you also have haredim and atheists. They’ve all found a way to coexist and give each other space even if they don’t like each other.”
‘I WOULD DO IT AGAIN IN A MOMENT’ Though he was well-schooled in Zionism, White nevertheless did not initially plan on a gap year in Israel after high school. “But I was applying to colleges, while everyone I knew was coming to Israel, so I decided to give it a shot,” he says. He was in the first class at the Lev Hatorah Yeshiva in Ramat Beit Shemesh.
By October, he called his parents and said, “I’m going to be moving here, and I’ll do the army and then figure out aliya.”
His three younger brothers subsequently followed his lead, with their parents’ blessing. Two sisters remain at home in New York.
White first went back to the United States for college, but began the Mahal overseas volunteer army program a semester before graduating, because he had learned that after age 23 he would not qualify for a combat unit. He finished that final semester after his 18-month service in the infantry.
His military service began with two weeks in ulpan at Mihve Alon. His Hebrew was then deemed good enough to join a unit, but at first he felt rather lost.
“When we got orders, I’d look left and right and just follow what the other guys were doing because I didn’t understand a word,” he admits. “I was terrified. One thing that saved me was going in knowing that I knew nothing. A lot of American kids volunteering [for the Israeli army] picture a montage scene from a combat movie and think they know how to be a soldier. I knew I didn’t.”
It took him about four months to feel comfortable.
“Those were probably the longest four months of my life. But I would do it again in a moment.”
He quotes Chaim Herzog, the sixth president of Israel: “If one has a great cause, I believe nothing is so noble as the willingness to fight and sacrifice for it.”
IN BUSINESS FOR HIMSELF While back in New Rochelle completing a degree in business management, he also volunteered in the regional hevra kadisha (Jewish burial society) and did office work for Friends of the IDF.
When he came on aliya in March 2010, he stayed with his aunt and cousins in Sha’arei Tikva until he found an apartment in Givatayim. He worked at two unsatisfying jobs, moved to north-central Tel Aviv, and then determined to strike out on his own.
White and his brother Yaron (now studying at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology) began a company called KirKal (, selling a premium sheetrock “pressure wall” held in place without hardware. It’s targeted to tenants or landlords looking to subdivide a space easily and neatly.
It is too soon to tell whether the business will take off, but White has a Plan B just in case.
“Apparently I have become well known for my Buffalo wings, and people are willing to back me for opening up my own wings place in Tel Aviv,” he says.
A DOG NAMED DOOBIE If Tel Aviv seems a strange place for a guy with a kippa to call home, White is here to tell you otherwise.
“A lot more people are making aliya directly to Tel Aviv now, and I like to think it’s partly because we built a community here and a real strong presence.
Everything related to Judaism and Zionism I have seen strengthened tenfold, from synagogues to kosher restaurants, in the past two years,” he says over lunch at one such establishment.
The synagogue he attends on Shabbat rarely got a minyan on time when he first arrived in town, whereas now the services – and especially the kiddush afterward – attract a diverse crowd.
“I like the energy here,” he says.
The leaders of Tel Aviv Internationals are going through official channels to build what White says will be the biggest succa in the world, in Rabin Square.
“We’re already in contact with Guinness [Book of World Records],” he says. “It will be open to the entire city for meals and events. I think it will take our organization to a different level.”
Meanwhile, he recently moved to a new apartment with his dog, Doobie, adopted as a puppy.
“My former roommate found him living under a tractor on a farm in Kiryat Gat, scrounging off dead goats,” says White. “He brought him home to bring to a shelter, but I fell in love with him.”
Looking toward next Independence Day, White is thinking that 80 kilos of meat isn’t going to be enough for his open-invitation barbecue. “We’ll need to find a venue,” he says.
And with his connections, he’s sure to find a perfect spot.