skyline along the beach

Exploring Israel's Special City of Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv was the first Hebrew-speaking city in modern times. In this city, the state of Israel was born. Tel Aviv is modern and yet historic. And is home to Jews, Christians, and Muslims. It's vibrant and deserves its nickname as the Israeli city that never sleeps

Ben Gurion International Airport, a few miles southeast of Tel Aviv, is Israel's main airport. After a short drive we arrived at Tel Aviv.

Our first site was to visit ancient Jaffa. Modern Tel Aviv grew out of Jaffa. The ancient port city is now a mix of Jews, Christians and Muslims. We gazed out at scenic views of the harbor as the sun was setting over the Mediterranean Sea. The oceanfront promenade that connects Tel Aviv with Jaffa is quite beautiful.

Then we heard the Muslim call to prayer from tall and refined minaret of the El-Mahmoudiye Mosque. Close to the sea, the nineteenth century Grand Mosque is located along Jaffa's Clock Tower Square near Yefet and Mifratz Shlomo Streets. This is the first time that my wife Fern and I had ever heard the Muslim call to prayer.

Just down the street, we stopped in front of St. Peter's Monastery. In Kedumin Square, the century old Franciscan church is a tribute to St. Peter the Apostle's deeds in Jaffa, including raising from the dead a lady named Tabitha and his vision of the sheet let down from heaven containing all sorts of creatures. Today Roman Catholic masses are held in a variety of languages, including English, Polish, Spanish and Hebrew.

Just beyond the church, sits a Jaffa cast iron coastal cannon from the Ottoman Period which was used to protect the port from pirate raids.

Jaffa is also an important site for the Jews. Jaffa was mentioned in the Biblical story of Jonah and the whale as the site from which the prophet Jonah set out, was swallowed by the whale and was later thrown onto the shore by the whale. Also the Hebrew Bible says that the cedars used for the construction of the Holy Temple passed through Jaffa on their way to Jerusalem.

We also walked by Jaffa's landmark Clock Tower, completed in 1906, which features stained glass windows which depict events in Jaffa's history. Located in Yefet Street, the limestone tower also incorporates clocks. It is one of seven clock towers built in Israel during the Ottoman period.

At dinner, we celebrated our arrival in Israel with an exploration of its fabulous, varied food. Our enjoyment of Israeli cuisine began at Maganda, a kosher restaurant located in Tel Aviv's Yemenite Quarter at 26 Rabbi Meir Street, Kerem Hatemanim. The lavish meal began with shared platters of various salads, such as tahini, Israeli salad and eggplant, as well as soups. Our traditional Middle Eastern meal included skewers with rice, hummus and pita. The meal ended with several tasty desserts, including fabulous baklava. The wait staff was very friendly.

The changing architecture of Tel Aviv reveals the diversity of the city. The Bauhaus buildings from the 1930s gave Tel Aviv the nickname of the White City and recognition as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2003. We were told that Tel Aviv has the world's largest concentration of Bauhaus International style inspired buildings. The Bauhaus style includes features such as rounded corner balconies, rooftop gardens and staircases with windows. The design was transplanted by Jewish architects fleeing Europe. Bauhaus style is functional, with balconies serving as sources of shade, fresh air and places to interact with neighbors. Bauhaus was adapted to the Tel Aviv climate by features such as raising buildings on pillars, allowing the wind to blow under and cool apartments. Rothschild Boulevard is lined with beautiful buildings of Bauhaus architecture.

Tel Aviv also contains twenty-first century skyscrapers which reveal the innovation and energy of modern Israel. Israel's inventivness is making it a world leader in technology at the Center for Israeli Innovation. Established in 2016, the center highlights Israeli start up enterprises, focusing on the leading Israeli technology companies and innovations. A wall of apps shows the many phone applications developed in Israel, including Waze the app we use for navigation. Hands on exhibits with audio and visual displays allowed us to explore Israeli inventions in the fields of safety and security, health and medical management, transportation, science, agriculture and space. The center is co-located with the Tel Aviv stock exchange at Ahuzat Bait 2.

The newly opened Independence Trail includes ten sites that begins with the founding of Tel Aviv in 1909 and ends with the establishment of Israel in 1948. Across from 16 Rothschild Boulevard, one of the sites is the statue of former mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff who is depicted riding a horse. He was mayor of Tel Aviv for 25 non-consecutive years and is credited with laying the foundations for a modern nation of Israel.

The Tel Aviv Founders Monument at the corner of Rothschild Boulevard and Nahlat Binyamin was installed in 1949 and depicts the city's development. It names the 66 families from Jaffa that founded Tel Aviv in 1909 and depicts the various stages of the city's development, beginning with homes built on sand dunes and showcasing the earliest pioneer days of planting and building.

Although the museum is currently being renovated, we stopped at Independence Hall, located at 16 Rothschild Boulevard. On May 14, 1948, it was the site of the historic ceremony where the heads of the Jewish community gathered and David Ben Gurion declared Israeli independence, establishing the state of Israel. A map, site guide and other information about the full Independence Trail is available in a brochure and on-line.

The Nachalat Binyamin food and crafts fair is filled with several hundred artists along the pedestrian Nachalat Binyamim Street. The fair is open on Tuesdays and Fridays. The stalls are manned by the artists themselves who made the ceramics, pottery, jewelry art and home furnishings. The handicrafts fair can be accessed at the intersection of Allenby, Sheinkin and King George Streets.

The bustling Carmel Market is the largest market (shuk) in Tel Aviv and adjoins the fair. Opened in 1920, the northern half of the market contains clothing, electronics and housewares. The southern half is the food section with vendors loudly hawk their fruits, juices, vegetables, fish, meat, seafood, cheeses and dessert treats. Within the long narrow alleys, the crowds are somewhat intimidating, but we found a quiet place to eat lunch on one of the few benches within the market.

On the last afternoon of our trip, we walked along the Tel Aviv promenade and watched the sun dip into the Mediterranean Sea. The promenade consists of a series of seven sections of boardwalks and pathways. Sculptures are placed at several places on the promenade, along with work-out fitness stations. For a break, we then went across the street to Aroma. This Aroma express bar was one of the 140 branches of the Israeli coffee and expresso chain. The menu includes tea and food, as well.

Our final dinner in Israel was at the Suzana Cafe and Restaurant. Located at 9 Shabazi Street, we ate on a shaded porch within a century old building, watching pedestrians walk through the trendy Neve Tzedek neighborhood. This neighborhood in the southwestern part of Tel Aviv is where a small group of Jewish families from Jaffa laid the cornerstone for their new neighborhood, calling it the Oasis of Justice. Made up of a dozen tiny narrow streets, the neighborhood with its pastel-colored homes has been lovingly restored complete with trendy galleries and high-end boutiques, featuring impressive Israel artists. Quite a few photographers stopped by taking pictures of bridal parties using the neighborhood as a background.

Tel Aviv is a happening city with an historic past, a vibrant present and an optimistic future. A two to three day stay seems perfect to get the vibe of this city.

Saul Schwartz lives in Alexandria, Virginia, with his wife Fern. He loves to travel throughout the world and share his experiences through stories and pictures. Saul has published many articles, but most focus upon his passion to travel. Photos by Saul Schwartz.

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May 1, 2019

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