The birth of Tel Aviv

Ahuzat Bayit (later Tel Aviv) was advertised by its proud founders as the New York of Eretz Israel.

Ahuzat Bayit (later Tel Aviv) was advertised by its proud founders as a Hebrew-speaking city with paved streets, electricity, running water and sanitation - the New York of Eretz Israel. TEL AVIV may be one of the only cities in the world which not only has a known date of birth, but also a known date of conception, three years earlier. On a hot summer day in 1909, Akiva Arye Weiss, a new immigrant from Lodz, Poland, landed at Jaffa Port with his wife Hava-Sara and their seven children. The youngest, Herzl, was only three months old. That evening, Weiss was invited to join his hosts at a meeting of the Jewish community at the Yeshurun Club. At the meeting he told them his dream: to build a Jewish city in Eretz Israel. Weiss, a successful jeweler and businessman, had become an ardent Zionist and admirer of Herzl after attending the Seventh Zionist Congress in Basel. He had visited Palestine in 1904, where he learned of Herzl's death, and travelled the country, meeting people everywhere. So impressed was he that when he returned to Poland, he informed his wife that this was where they were coming to live. For the next two years, while planning the move, Weiss was also thinking about how he could help build the land. He had seen the settlements around the country and met young pioneers. He realized that to build the country, it was necessary to bring in established families, not just young people. They would need a city, as well as far-flung agricultural settlements. When Weiss told those at the meeting about his dream, they laughed at first. But he must have been very persuasive, because by the end of the meeting, those present had decided to build a garden city outside Jaffa, the first Jewish city in 2,000 years. THE next day, using a typewriter belonging to the Anglo Palestine Company (the forerunner of Bank Leumi), a prospectus was typed asking for members to join the Ahuzat Bayit Association. It advised that the association's members were planning to build houses at a location close to Jaffa; that it would be a Hebrew-speaking city with paved streets, lit by electricity, with running water and sanitation just like in modern European cities. They even had the hutzpa to proclaim that just as New York was the gateway to America, so, in time, their new city would be the New York of Eretz Israel. It took another three years to get organized, find and buy land. They settled on a sandy area with dunes and valleys, which needed leveling before building could begin. The stated price was a startling 200,000 French francs. Weiss was horrified. He reasoned that the sellers had made a mistake in their calculations and added an extra zero. So he negotiated himself, and eventually brought the price down to 8,000 francs. BUILDING was not simple. There were no bulldozers, no trucks, no roads, only mules and camels. But even those were too expensive, so the builders used wheelbarrows. To stop them sinking in the sand, they put metal wheels on the wheelbarrows and ran them along wooden planks. And so the land was leveled, with the sand from the dunes poured into the valley which ran through the area. Since they couldn't build on this valley, it became the garden of the city - the Boulevard - later to be named Rothschild Boulevard. The prospectus had promised running water and Weiss had one well dug in the Boulevard. Water was found and the first public building built. The water tower, to which rooms were later added, became the first municipality building. The water tower and municipality building were destroyed in 1943, and on that same site, the Founders Monument was erected in 1949. THIS is the start of our walk - the corner of Rothschild Boulevard and Nachlat Binyamin Street. The fountain in front of the monument is a memorial to the running water of the Water Tower. Listed on one side of the monument are the names of the the Ahuzat Bayit Association's founding members. But in 1949 when the monument was built to commemorate the city's 40th anniversary, only the names of householders who had taken out loans to build their houses from the Anglo Palestine Bank (Bank Leumi today) were listed. There was an outcry, because others, who had built their houses without loans were not included. On the other side of the monument is a relief sculpture by the artist Aharon Priver showing the three stages of the city. The lowest level shows the sand dunes and the wheelbarrow workers. Reportedly, Aharon Priver's wife was angry with him for carving only male workers. Women also worked and helped build the city, as she had. If you look at the bending figure on the far left, you can see that he did add a woman. The middle level shows Little Tel Aviv with the water tower on the left, the proud Gymnasia Herzliya - the Hebrew-speaking high school - and on the right, the one- story house belonging to Tel Aviv's most famous mayor, Meir Dizengoff. The top level shows the growing city of the '40s. Dizengoff's house, now three stories tall, is on the left. You can also see the Bauhaus buildings surrounding Dizengoff Circle, named for Zina Dizengoff, before the circle itself was built and the National Theatre in the pillared Habima building, before it was glassed in. On the far right is the house of Haim Nachman Bialik. Above them, you can see the start of the high-rise buildings, as the city grows. THE name Ahuzat Bayit was changed to Tel Aviv on May 21,1910. The new name came from Sokolov's translation of Herzl's book Alteneuland, alte meaning old and tel referring to an old archeological site. Neu means new and aviv means spring; a time of renewal. So, Tel Aviv means, appropriately enough, old new land. In addition, the name appears in the Bible, in Ezekiel 3-15. On the monument's side is the shield, the coat of arms of Tel Aviv, designed by Nahum Guttmann in 1924. It depicts a lighthouse, symbol of entry to the country and also a light shining onto the nations, as well as seven stars symbolizing Herzl's seven hours of work each day in the golden land. Walk down Rothschild Blvd to number 16 to see a building with a very special place in history. This is the home of Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv's mayor from 1910 to his death in 1936. His wife Zina, who was very artistic, died in 1934. In her memory, Dizengoff donated the house to become the city art museum, while he moved into the top floor. The old house was rebuilt in the modern International style by architect Carl Rubin as an art museum, which is why there are only narrow, high windows to keep the light from the paintings. David Ben-Gurion climbed the nine steps into this building on May 14, 1949 to read the Declaration of Independence and established the State of Israel. The hall has been left untouched and you can hear the original recording of the Declaration, followed by a rendering of Hatikva sung for the first time in an independent State of Israel. Upstairs is the Bible Museum, and there are various changing art exhibitions and lectures in this building, now an art center. OPPOSITE, at 13 Rothschild Blvd, is a house in the Art Nouveau style. It remains exactly as it was when first built in the '20s by architect Yitzhak Kipnes. It was built to be rented, since many people built houses with several apartments. They lived in one and rented the others. The first tenant was Barclays Bank; the current tenant is Bank Mizrachi. At 12 Rothschild Blvd was Mr. Fogel's house, which is being rebuilt, and you can see the original style of the first house, built in 1910. Fogel was murdered, the killer never caught. The house was famous for its beautiful garden and, if you peek behind the house, you can see how the space was later used for additional rental housing. ROTHSCHILD 9 was the house of Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche, who build many of the houses of Ahuzat Bayit, as well as the Gymnasia Herzliya building (which stood where Migdal Shalom is today). Look at the plaster garland decorations on the wall on the Herzl Street side, and imagine how beautiful the house must have looked. A kiosk stood at the corner of Rothschild Boulevard and Herzl Street. Originally, the founders had dreamed of a garden city with no commerce or shops, but of course that was impractical. This was the first shop - a kiosk, where you could get a drink of gazoz - a sweet syrup with soda water. The municipality destroyed the building about seven years ago and it is now being rebuilt in the same style. Next to it stood the first street lamp, lit by kerosene until Tel Aviv was electrified in 1923. The original street lamp is now located in Migdal Shalom. You are now standing in the Time Squares or Piccadilly Circus of Ahuzat Bayit - the central square. Cross to the other side of Herzl Street, facing the way you came. The original Ahuzat Bayit was here on Herzl, with four streets crossing it - Ahad Ha'Am, Rothschild Boulevard , Lillienblum and Yehuda Halevi streets. If you look back up Rothschild Boulevard to the monument, then down to the end behind you, left to Migdal Shalom and along Herzl Street to the large building on the other side of the street with the yellow stripe, Bank Hapoalim - that was the whole extent of it. But it quickly grew. Continuing in that direction, 9 Herzl was the impressive home of Yehiel Yehieli, the headmaster of the Girls' School in Neve Zedek. Numbers 11 and 13 Herzl both look like fortresses - an illustration of the phrase 'a man's home is his castle'. But see how different Number 11 is. This is a building which gives an impression of charm and lightness of decoration. Helen Berman is an English speaking guide with Discover Tel Aviv, which organizes walking tours in Tel Aviv in English.