'Secret Tel Aviv' in the time of stabbing attacks

As the stabbing attacks have become a daily fact of life, the forum has to some extent reflected the changing reality in Israel.

Scene of Tel Aviv terror attack (photo credit: HENRI AZAMI)
Scene of Tel Aviv terror attack
(photo credit: HENRI AZAMI)
Pepe is looking for a medieval suit of armor, Moonie wonders if traffic is backed up near the Azrieli Center since the knifing, and Saskia has some first-aid advice for how to treat stabbing victims.
Welcome to Secret Tel Aviv, a public discussion board in English opened six years ago on Facebook frequented by immigrants and foreigners. The messages posted last week during the first stabbing in Tel Aviv of the recent wave of attacks gives an inkling of how the forum – like so much else – has been effected by a wave of violence.
The page’s 84,000 or so users normally post about lodging rentals, buying or selling used furniture, and jobs. There’s also the other side of Secret Tel Aviv that reflects the city’s hip, hedonistic orientation among its young, English-speaking population which as grown considerably in the last decade.
On any given day there are posts looking for hook-ups, women asking where they can hire strippers for a bachelorette party and people blowing through town looking to party with no strings attached.
It’s not the forum your parents warned you about, but there’s a lot on there that probably ain’t kosher.
But as the spate of stabbings in Israel become a daily fact of life, much of the page’s traffic has shifted its focus from the mundane and the tantalizing to coping with the violence.
Users have taken to suggest what to do in the event of a stabbing, where to buy pepper spray, and how to sign up for self-defense courses. Some are sharing how-to-stop-a-knife-attack videos, and one post includes a video clip from the 2004 Napoleon Dynamite flick about a fictional martial arts gym where you can “defend yourself with the strength of a grizzly and the reflexes of a puma.”
A number of martial arts trainers have advertised their services. Oren Mallul, 27, said he’s had lots of demand for self-defense classes in the last few days and has added new classes with a special focus on how to deal with knife attacks.
“People are afraid for their lives and other peoples’ lives, their kids, others. They seem emotionally driven to see if there is something they can do,” Mallul says.
Other users are fund-raising to buy pepper spray for Israelis who can’t afford it. The initiative includes a Go Fund Me crowd-funding site - “Pepper Spray for Israeli Citizens” - which by Monday had reached $306 of a $10,000 goal.
Secret Tel Aviv founder, 34-year-old Manchester native Jonny Stark, said that anytime there’s a war, an IDF operation or spike in violence, the site’s 500 or so daily messages reflect a lot about what’s going on in Israel.
During last year’s war, “during the first week of [rocket] siren people were really scared and were asking questions about where to find bomb shelters or gas masks, and then after a week or so they started to joke more, like how ‘oh I met a really hot guy in the bomb shelter,’ stuff like that.
“People got more acclimated to it and it became more lighthearted which I think is good really, it helps to keep people positive,” Stark says.
Stark estimates about a third of the page’s users are foreigners and immigrants living in Tel Aviv, a third are native Israelis, and a third are tourists. About 40 percent of applicants are rejected, such as those who try to interject too much politics, but there’s still plenty of political discourse that seeps in.
The page has spawned like-minded discussion groups representing other Israeli cities on Facebook, such as Jerusalem, Ra’anana, and even Petah Tikva.
Each page reflects to some extent the vibe of the city, with one post this past week on the Jerusalem page showed a heter or rabbinical permission to carry pepper spray and cellphones on Shabbat because of the security situation and the need to save lives.
On Monday morning, while a Palestinian attacker was being shot by police after trying to stab a Border Police officer near the Lion’s Gate in Jerusalem, over on Secret Tel Aviv, it was business as usual – a user asks if anyone can help her move a refrigerator on Bograshov street, and another user from Florida writes a post about how he wishes there was a dog rental service in the city. All of it in the lull until the next stabbing.