Petah Tikva, every day

Though not Israel’s most glamorous city, the people who live there really like it.

A monument commemorates the valuable assistance lent to the city in its early years by Baron Edmond de Rothschild (photo credit: PETAH TIKVA MUNICIPALITY)
A monument commemorates the valuable assistance lent to the city in its early years by Baron Edmond de Rothschild
Petah Tikva. A worthy, but dull, town; a name announced twice on the train when you’re traveling to somewhere else. But as a resident, I’ve found that Petah Tikva offers a good life for families, desirable space for businesses, and important national resources, such as major hospitals, many excellent schools, a bustling open-air market open six days a week, a hi-tech park boasting modern buildings set among green spaces and fine restaurants, and three industrial zones that keep Israel’s factories and garages ticking along. It is Israel’s sixth-largest city, with more and more families and important companies moving in.
Around buildings and in abandoned lots and house gardens grow old citrus trees, reminding the casual stroller that once Petah Tikva was a pioneer farming community. Its orange orchards were training grounds for European Jews in the first and second aliyot. Here and there, tall eucalyptus trees bear witness to the stubborn pioneer spirit of the town’s founders. With money provided by Baron Edmond de Rothschild, they planted the trees to soak up malarial moisture and make the ground fit for farming. The agricultural schools from those days are still active. Now they run programs that offer a combination of gardening and therapy to high-school kids at risk, as well as community farming for elderly Ethiopians who miss the old ways, and hands-on gardening experience to children from any school who wish to participate. It looks like the pioneers’ dreams are still bearing fruit.
Education Petah Tikva’s population stands at 225,400, and continues to grow. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the town experienced Israel’s greatest population spurt in 2014, with 3,100 new residents. That means plenty of kids – more than 43,000 of them – needing schools. The municipality dedicates a full third of its budget to meet educational needs. There are 300 schools for the town’s children, encompassing secular, religious Zionist and haredi streams. At least one new school and 30 kindergartens open each year.
For kids studying advanced music, the municipal conservatory has more than 550 students aged 7 to 18. About 11,000 kids belong to youth groups of different types. Community centers are active and well-maintained, with programs and courses for the whole family, all year long.
The Sportek sports center recently established a pre-army training program; Petah Tikva’s high-school graduates figure high in the army. Every September, the streets are full of 18-year-old boys and girls loaded down with backpacks heading for their first army and National Service experiences. For seekers of further education, Michlelet Petah Tikva is an open-university style college offering courses on computers, accounting, insurance and finance, office management and more.
Petah Tikva’s municipality runs courses for seniors, including arts, languages, and a Hebrew ulpan. There are 17 libraries around the town, not to mention the Book Shoppe, a well-stocked English second-hand book store on downtown Mohilever Street and a vital source of inexpensive reading matter for the Anglo community.
With nine yeshivot, including the elite Hesder yeshiva, there’s plenty of choice for those who dedicate their time to Torah studies.
Medical care As a Petah Tikva resident, I’ve had opportunities to visit all of the city’s hospitals at one time or another. The Rabin Medical Center, which comprises Beilinson Hospital on Jabotinsky Street and HaSharon Hospital in the center of town, is the region’s major medical complex.
Beilinson includes a maternity hospital. Next to the Beilinson campus is Schneider Children’s Medical Center for Israel, the Middle East’s only specialized children’s hospital. The Beit Rivka geriatric population, and Geha, also attached to Beilinson, houses psychiatric clinics. Every neighborhood has its private clinics and well-run health-fund clinics. It would be hard to find a town better served with medical attention.
Sports and culture The new Hamoshava soccer stadium seats 11,500 fans and is home to both the Hapoel Petah Tikva and Maccabi Petah Tikva teams. On a more everyday scale, neighborhood sports centers offer gymnastics, basketball, handball and swimming pools. Disabled people have opportunities to participate in sports, with training and competitions for the blind and the deaf, as well as wheelchair tennis. Fourteen walking trails meander through the city, and outdoor exercise spots are usually full of people earnestly pedaling the stationary bikes and working out for free in the cool mornings and evenings. Private teachers hold classes in yoga, belly-dancing and Feldenkreis.
Petah Tikva boasts the Center for the Performing Arts, a handsome cultural center with over 7,000 subscribers who regularly take advantage of theater, music and dance performances there. The center also runs courses in art appreciation, science, arts and crafts for all ages. The Yad Lebanim Museum and Memorial Center has a small but charming zoo with a lake, a reference library, and museums: the Petah Tikva Museum of Art and the Founders Museum for the History of Petah Tikva.
Beit Avraham Shapiro on Herzl Street offers jazz and chamber music and lectures, as well as allowing a women’s choir to rehearse there. The Hagana Membership Organization has a branch in Beit Avraham Shapiro, with an exhibition of illegal arms used by Hagana members in Petah Tikva. The house is the beautifully renovated home of one of the city’s founders, built in 1910.
Petah Tikva’s nightlife is more or less centered in the industrial zones, where clubs and bars are found. The Matalon industrial zone is proud of Jems, a rocking beer factory/restaurant that serves office workers and their bosses at lunch and a young, hip crowd in the evenings. Fine dining is found in the Ezorim hi-tech industrial park, which is ringed with restaurants.
Downtown you’ll find the new, ubiquitous Cofixes and copycat cheap food bars, but many still prefer good hummus, falafel and shwarma, and those are found everywhere. One falafel stand, just a modest shack on a street corner, has people lined up in front of it at lunchtime each day. They swear that it’s the best falafel in town, because it’s made from the original recipe that the Yemenite owners brought over before the founding of the state.
For shoppers, a large modern mall stands on Jabotinsky Road, opposite Beilinson Hospital. But the beating heart of Petah Tikva is the open-air market, the shuk near the central bus station. It isn’t famous, like Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda or Tel Aviv’s Shuk Hacarmel. It hasn’t been gentrified at all. The original funky flavor is there intact.
Every day except Shabbat finds it crowded with Israel’s best and freshest produce, and with customers schlepping their wheeled shopping carts between the stands. I love the colorful, noisy Friday morning rush at the shuk, and enjoy counting the number of languages I hear as I shop – usually at least six. Recently I’ve been hearing more French in the streets, but I can count on Hebrew, Amharic, Russian, Arabic, Malayalam, Spanish and Ladino, Portuguese and, occasionally, English.
Weather The town’s hot, humid climate may make for uncomfortable summers, but gardens and houseplants love it. Stately date palms and olive trees line street dividers. Lemon, pomegranate, fig and sycamore branches nod over sidewalks. Fences all over town support passionflower and grape vines.
Just a typical Israeli, not-very-exciting, family-oriented town in the center of the country – that’s what Petah Tikva looks like. But people who live here know better and feel fortunate.