By Joe Yudin
When guiding tours in English I always assume that my tourists know nothing of Israel or its history, both ancient and modern. Even if they are quite knowledgeable it never hurts to start from the beginning to put things into perspective. Most of them do vaguely remember some of the biblical stories, and maybe have read the Leon Uris book Exodus or even follow the foreign news media, however skewed. This isn’t a knock at our tourists after all, people get a private tour guide while touring Israel in order to be educated as to what is really going on, what has happened here and to connect with the people, the land and nation. For this reason I always start from the beginning while staring a tour of Israel. However there are two stories that are interwoven and therefore two beginnings: The story of the biblical Promised Land of Israel and the story of the modern State of Israel. When touring Tel Aviv, its best to start from the beginning of the modern state of Israel and of course this means one needs to understand the concept of Zionism.
The seeds of Nationalism were planted in Europe with the successes of the American and French Revolutions. The 19th century saw the beginnings of many nationalist movements as peoples who shared a common language, history, culture, heritage, religion and geographical area sought political independence from aristocrats and/or “foreign” powers. Some examples of these modern nation-states that arose in this era are Greece (1830), Italy (1870), Germany (1871) and Poland (1918). Enter Moses Hess, a Jew born into a religious family in the city of Bonn which was at the time ruled by the French. He studied philosophy at university and was quite intrigued with socialism befriending the likes of Marx and Engels. As a reporter and a writer he lived most of his adult life in Paris. During this period he became an ardent communist until experiencing avid anti-Semitism in Germany between 1860-63, leading to his book, Rome and Jerusalem, advocating a Jewish nationalist movement modeled after the successful Italian movement. He planted the seeds of the idea of Zionism which was picked up by the likes of Pinsker, Birnbaum and Theodore Herzl.
Theodore Herzl was the driving force behind the Jewish national movement called Zionism by Nathan Birnbaum. A Doctor of Law, Herzl was born in Budapest and grew up in Vienna. He was a proponent of the Jewish “Enlightenment” movement which called for assimilation into European societies which was thought by many to be the key to ending anti-Semitism. After witnessing the virulent anti-Semitism in Paris as a reporter during the Dreyfus Affair in the 1890’s, Herzl abandoned this notion and became the driving force behind Political Zionism, writing the paper “The Jewish State” in 1896.
Start your three mile walking tour on the corner of Ahad HaAm & Herzl St. This is the very first intersection where the Jaffa suburb of “Ahuzat Bayit” or “The House Estate” was built out of nothing but sand dunes. Its founders wanted to create a quiet garden centered town with tree lined boulevards of their own to come home to after a long day’s work in noisy and dirty Jaffa. This was not meant to be an extension of Jaffa as Neve Tzedek and Neve Shalom were, but an independent, all Jewish city. On April 11, 1909, Akiva Moshe Weiss went down to the beach and gathered black and white sea shells. Names were written on one color and lot numbers on the other. A child drew the lots and each of the original 60 families was assigned a piece of land to which they could build their homes. You are standing outside of Weiss’ house now a restaurant. Inside the restaurant are some pictures of what it first looked like. Make your way over to the intersection of Rothschild Boulevard & Herzl. Notice the cone shaped booth in the grassy area on Rothschild Boulevard, which is today an excellent café. This was Tel Aviv’s very first store built in 1910. Go into the garden area between the roads on Rothschild and walk east between the tree lined path until you get to a memorial site in front of a statue of a man riding a horse. In 1909 there was nothing here, not water, not farmland, nothing at all but sand. The memorial is to the first 66 families who founded Ahuzat Bayit. On May 21, 1910 the new town was renamed Tel Aviv which literally means “Ancient Hill of Spring” but is actually an ode to Theodore Herzl’s novel Old New Land. The man riding the horse is none other than Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. You are currently outside his house at #16 which at one time was city hall and later an art museum. It was here that the State of Israel was declared on May 14th, 1948. It is well worth a guided tour.
Walk east on Rothschild in the grassy area and you will soon start to experience Israel’s tent city which has sprung up recently to protest against what these people call a lack of “social justice” in Israel today. It all began with a Facebook page asking Israelis to boycott the high prices of cottage cheese. Take the time to read some of the signs and talk to some of the people. Continue walking east on Rothschild.
With rise of Nazism in the 1930’s many German Jews and Jews studying in Germany from other countries fled Germany to British ruled Palestine. With the large influx of immigrants and a mandate from the League of Nations to “create a Jewish national home in Palestine” the British, together with the Jewish Agency put many of the new, young architects to work designing housing. Many of them had studied or where influenced by the modern ‘International Style’ which was taught at the Bauhaus School of Art in Weimar, Germany. Today there are more ‘Bauhaus Style’ buildings in Tel Aviv than any other place in the world and because of this Tel Aviv has been declared a World Heritage Site by the United Nations. The Bauhaus Style can be identified by its lack of ornaments and a functional veneer with long, straight or rounded balconies giving it a modern feel for the 1930’s through 50’s. During this period the style of architecture changed from the eclectic to the modern and many buildings actually are a combination of these styles. Check out the many beautiful buildings along the way until you reach Bezalel St and turn left and continue until you get to a traffic circle called King Albert Square named after the Belgian king who visited Tel Aviv in 1933. Check out the amazing Pagoda House built in the eclectic style. This building was the first with an elevator in Tel Aviv.
Turn right on Nahmani Street and continue back to Rothschild then turn left. Continue your walk until you get to Sheinkin Street and turn left. The street used to be considered Tel Aviv’s “Greenwich Village” home to struggling artists and bohemian shops and artsy cafes’. Although the chains are moving in and gentrification in changing this funky neighborhood fast, it is still very cool and trendy and worth a walk. At the end of the road where Sheinkin meets Allenby & King George Street you will find one of the busiest intersections in the city. Cross the street and you will be at the entrance of both the Carmel Market which sells just about everything on the cheap as well as incredibly fresh produce and the Nahalat Benyamin Arts & Crafts Market open Tuesdays and Fridays. Both are definitely worth a visit.
Check out these markets before returning to this spot and heading north on Allenby before turning right on Bialik Street. The exquisite Ruben Museum of Art in Ruben Rubins old house and studio can be found at #14 where you can check out his incredible paintings of Tel Aviv from its beginnings through the span of his life. Continue to the end of the street where there is a large circle and beautiful houses of different styles including old city hall which is now the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Museum, a beautiful Bauhaus building at #21 which is the home to Ron Lauder’s Bauhaus Museum and of course the home of Israel’s national poet Hayim Nachman Bialik, all worth a visit. From here the shops on Bograshov & Dizengoff Streets are just a hop, skip and a jump through Meir Garden Park. Enjoy!
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