Charm behind the clutter

Once you get past the litter, neglect on Rehov Ha’aliya, you will find buildings that are astoundingly beautiful.

Rehov Haaliya 521 (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
Rehov Haaliya 521
(photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)
While looking for material about the Hanut (Store) Fringe Theater on Tel Aviv’s Rehov Ha’aliya, I came across an interesting quote. Asked how he felt about having set up shop on this particular street, actor/producer/writer Shahar Marom answered that at one time he “couldn’t stand” Rehov Ha’aliya – he wouldn’t even set foot on it!” Now, however, he finds that the street possesses an immense charm.
Truth to tell, you do need to get past the litter, boarded-up shops and run-down houses to take pleasure in Rehov Ha’aliya. Only then will you find buildings that are astoundingly beautiful, explore quaint stores that positively reek of nostalgia, and realize that the street is delightfully picturesque.
It was Paule Rakower, spellbinding guide from the Discover Tel Aviv Center, who introduced me to the magic of Rehov Ha’aliya. You too can discover the appeal of this exciting byway, on a stroll off the beaten tourist track that begins at Kikar Hamoshavot and ends at Rehov Schocken.
Kikar Hamoshavot is where Allenby Road ends and Rehov Ha’aliya begins. Two interesting byways run into the square. Rehov Hahashmal is named for the first power station in Tel Aviv. Derech Begin – still known to many by its old name (Derech Petah Tikva) – is part of a historic byway that once connected Jaffa with the 19thcentury settlement of Petah Tikva.
Allenby Road, on the other side of the square, is one of the oldest roads in the city, and one of the first to get a name. Originally called Sea Road, because it connected early Tel Aviv with the beach, it became Allenby Road when mayor Meir Dizengoff held a street-naming ceremony in 1918.
Standing at the intersection with Sderot Rothschild, the mayor gave a heartfelt speech thanking Field Marshal Edmund Allenby for liberating the Land of Israel from the Turks. Allenby then placed a beautiful tiled street sign on a pole and told the people who had gathered at the site that he would remember this moment forever.
COMMERCE DEVELOPED rapidly around Kikar Hamoshavot during the second and third decades of the 20th century. Tel Aviv’s first central bus station opened nearby in 1941, providing regular transportation to the early settlements (known as moshavot).
But before there were buses, there were wagons – and they parked right here on the square! Called “diligences,” they had two wooden benches for three passengers, and one seat next to the driver. If you read Hebrew, be sure and check out the signpost on the square, as it is covered with stories ab out early Tel Aviv.
To start your tour, face Derech Begin for a look at No. 6. You can tell it was built before the houses on either side, for those two were designed in the Bauhaus/International Style popular in the 1930s. No. 6, instead, dates back to the 1920s, when elegance was in fashion. Note the fancy grillwork on the balconies and windows, and the Star of David – a common decoration at the time.
Cross over to Rehov Ha’aliya and turn around. The clock on top of the building on the corner of Rehov Hahashmal is so old that as a child, my guide, a native Tel Avivian, used it to tell the time! This area was not included in the plan for Tel Aviv suggested by Scotsman Patrick Geddes (gardens, spacious buildings, space between the houses). And since block building was cheaper than constructing private villas, contractors in the 1930s on this street decided not to waste their money and space on flowers.
Some of the people who bought or rented houses on Rehov Ha’aliya arrived with the Fifth (German) Aliya in the 1930s. But unlike their wealthier landsmen, who settled on fancy new Rehov Ben-Yehuda, these immigrants had little money and were forced to move into small, crowded apartments on the less affluent Rehov Ha’aliya and surrounding byways.
As a result, while the rundown exteriors on this street are often exceptionally beautiful, lack of capital has left entrances, stairwells and interiors sadly neglected.
But why dwell on the negative, when there are so many exciting sights to see?
The first building on the left, No. 7 Rehov Ha’aliya, features a very old hat shop where the owner not only sells hats, he makes them! Ninety-five-yearold Gideon Schmerling opened the shop with a friend in 1942 and plans to continue working there until the day he dies. And when his time comes, he says, he hopes he will be standing in his store.
This area is famous for menswear, and Rakower said that you can get fashionable clothing here at a very reasonable price. As if to prove the truth of her statement, while she was talking, a long white limousine pulled up across the street and parked in front of a men’s store featuring the latest in fancy labels!
IMAGINE IF the city were to restore the fabulous creation at No. 18, with its incredible use of corner design. Dating back to the 1920s, it is located on the corner of a street named for Elhanan Leib Levinsky (1857-1910). Levinsky, a Russian Zionist who lived in Odessa, made his living by marketing wine produced in Rishon Lezion.
Rare, indeed, is a moneychanger open on Saturdays in a Jewish town. The moneychanger across the street, however, who also advertises his money-shipping services, keeps his business open as a service to the area’s large numbers of foreign workers.
Be sure to look up during your stroll, for adjacent to the humongous edifice at No. 18 (and at other locations along the street as well) are houses with extremely creative second and third stories. Wander into a few of the narrow alleys, if you like, for they are actually entrances to people’s homes: Since there are contiguous stores facing the sidewalk, this is the only way for many residents to get into their houses.
Enjoy the vast variety of shops along this street, from fruit and vegetable markets to bakeries, and open air spice stores. The store at No. 17 sells duty-free wares to foreign workers (and the rare tourist on a jaunt down Rehov Ha’aliya).
About now, you will begin sniffing the fragrant aroma wafting from the doorway of Puni’s Bakery at No. 24. Known to veteran Tel Avivians simply as Puni, the bakery opened 90 years ago in Jaffa and originally sold only bread.
Following the Arab riots of 1921, Puni relocated in Rehov Ha’aliya and soon became the first establishment of its kind to sell cakes for a living. Even if you aren’t there to buy, don’t hesitate to enter. Inside, the far wall boasts a wonderful photo collage of Rehov Ha’aliya and the adjacent byways with pictures from 1922.
Liquor stores abound on this street, like the attractive Beit Hayayin at No. 28. And there are two marvelous places to purchase the kind of china Grandma used for guests. Find them at Nos. 30 and 34.
On the other side of the street, you will see evidence of an absolute sacrilege: the derelict remains of what was once Tel Aviv’s most exciting marketplace: Shuk Ha’aliya, the first organized market in Tel Aviv.
True, new immigrants were permitted to sell from stands outside their homes in some areas, but the conditions were really awful. And the outdoor shops on Rehov Nahalat Binyamin really didn’t offer much of a market.
SO IN 1938, city architect Ya’acov Ben-Sira designed an architectural gem on land that had earlier belonged to WIZO, turning it into a light and airy indoor market. Retail shops faced the street, while wholesalers dealt with their customers further inside. Unfortunately, chickens slaughtered in the market became such a nuisance that complaints from the residents got the market shut down.
Note the round roofing in part of the market; the second story held offices. If you walk around the side of the building, you will see where there are a few stands still selling fruit and vegetables. From here, you can look past the nonexistent walls of the empty building to see just how enormous it was.
Rakower has heard rumors that workers from India play cricket there on Saturdays. On the bright side, although plans are afoot to construct a huge apartment complex on the site, the entire façade is to be restored.
The building on the corner of Wolfson and Ha’aliya is ablaze with orange and yellow – probably not its original colors! Nearby, the wonderfully preserved buildings at No. 31 and No. 33 are a pleasure to view.
The ground floor at No. 31 was once the place to buy your parquet, or wooden floor; today it is the Hanut fringe theater, where a 30-member audience revels in adult plays full of mystery and suspense. Indeed, this is a neighborhood full of offbeat culture – just the venue for aspiring musicians, who can be heard rehearsing in the cellars.
Speaking of cellars, you can visit one filled with wine if you step into the shop at No. 36. And if your Singer sewing machine needs repair, you can get it fixed at No. 44. Further down the street, No. 48 is a stunning example of what restoration can accomplish.
By now you have reached a school (No. 49) that was once merely a hut for new immigrants. They were Jews from Bukhara, Uzbekistan and Poland, who had recently arrived and were living together in an immigrant hostel in Jaffa when Arab riots broke out in May 1921. After Arabs forced entry to the hostel and murdered some of the residents, the hostel closed down and reopened here.
Wouldn’t the building at No. 60 be lovely if it was restored? So would the houses at Nos. 66, 68 and 70! But perhaps not the way No. 62 has turned out: It has become a colossal apartment building eight stories high and filled with 167 apartments.
One of the street’s most interesting edifices is located at No. 53. Featuring a Star of David on the lintel, this house was transformed into a police station during the British Mandate. It was a very strategic spot, for the next cross street, originally called Salome or Shalma and now Derech Shlomo, was a neighborhood peopled by Egyptian farmers who arrived after 1830.
Past Salome there were only fields and orchards – perfect hiding places for thieves, and especially problematical during times of tension between Jews and Arabs.
Past Salome, Rehov Ha’aliya turns into Rehov Schocken – named for the owner of the Haaretz newspaper.
Zalman Schocken was a wealthy German businessman who owned a chain of department stores, was passionate about Jewish culture, and eventually became the sole publisher of works by Nobel Prizewinning author S.Y. Agnon. In 1937, three years after leaving Germany and moving to the Land of Israel, he bought the newspaper. His son, Gershom Schocken, became the chief editor in 1939 and held that position until his death in 1990.
If you continue walking, you will find that Rehov Schocken is much newer and of far less interest than the wildly diverse and much maligned Ha’aliya. Littered, old, and weathered it may be, but Rehov Ha’aliya, as you will have found out for yourself, is great fun to visit.