Tel Aviv After the Centennial
The wide, wide beach of Tel Aviv. All photos by Ed Wetschler.
by Ed Wetschler
In 2009 Tel Aviv marked its 100th anniversary with a 12-month, over-the-top celebration. That might seem strange, considering that many places in Israel were settled several thousand years ago. For example, a Who’s Who of ancients fought over Jaffa (aka Yafo), right on the southern edge of Tel Aviv, and in later centuries Arabs, Crusaders, and the Ottomans continued the carnage. Now, they’ve got anniversaries.
Still, the odds that some Jews who planted orange trees north of Jaffa in 1909 would end up founding a large, wealthy, enduring city were slim — yet there it is. And there it was, in 2009, partying nonstop. So now what? It’s simple: The centennial is over, but in Tel Aviv, an essentially secular city with countless clubs, concerts, hipsters, surfers, and connoisseurs of non-Kosher pleasures, the partying never stops. And I’m not just referring to the Jazz Fest or Gay Pride parade or Metallica.
As this burg boogies through its 101st, here are a couple of great things to do by day. Might as well have fun in Tel Aviv until the nightlife kicks in.
Hit the Beach
Hugging the Mediterranean Coast north of Jaffa/Yafo, Tel Aviv has miles of sand lined with hotels, beach bars, and residents in swimsuits and other sportswear. The beach itself is impossibly wide — wider than Europe’s Mediterranean beaches, of course, but also deeper than Miami Beach and the playgrounds of Cancun and the Caribbean.
The locals hit the beach in Tel Aviv.
The locals love this beach, which is no surprise. Other things, though, might surprise the first-time visitor. For example, who knew there’d be so many surfers in Israel? Or parasail addicts? Or Labrador retrievers playing fetch in the surf? Some of the locals engage in volleyball matches; others walk, run, ride bikes, and skate on the walkway that parallels the shore. In Jerusalem you see lots of dark suits; here, you see Speedo.
I recently unwound at a beach bar – yet another popular sport here – near the Dan Hotel Tel Aviv. After ordering a beer, I dug my toes into sand that was so soft and fine that it would screw up an egg-timer, because its tiny grains would tumble through the hole too quickly. The temperature was only 65 degrees on this winter’s day, but even so, a few couples were cuddling on the beach. One was an Ethiopian with a Caucasian Israeli; nearby, two women snuggled and kissed. This is Tel Aviv.
Visit the Markets
Shopping at the Carmel Market (Shuk Ha’Carmel).
Tel Aviv boasts the largest bona fide Bauhaus neighborhood in the world, but if I had just two free hours, I’d spend them at the Carmel Market (Shuk Ha’Carmel), which borders the intersection of Allenby, King George, and Sheinkin streets in the working class heart of Tel Aviv. Terrific street food, brilliant street entertainers–including a kid who’s the Jewish Bo Jangles–and farm produce in vivid green, yellow and red.
Above all, what knocks me out are the ceramic mezuzahs –in a primarily secular city, no less – crafted by various artists in numerous styles. They are all so colorful and cheerful, in keeping with this town’s vibe, that even a professional doubter like me would hang one on his doorpost.
The Flea Market (Shuk Hapishpeshim) that lies between Jerusalem Boulevard and Yeffet Street in Jaffa has a different ambiance. Sure, there’s produce, but mostly you see shawls, carpets, copperware, chess sets, antiques, Arabic stuff, and Jewish stuff. Funky cafes with hanging plants and good coffee tempt you to lounge around for hours.
The owner of Palestine, wrestling with a repair.
Best day to go there? Friday. Best shop? Palestine, at 8 Oley Zion Street. A man sits on the sidewalk playing tunes like “Dueling Banjos” on a balalaika. Inside, the shop owner wrestles with Deco radios, lamps, and clocks, restoring life to expired beauties. Early 20th-century postcards evoke orange-blossom Jaffa, as do vintage ads and touching black-and-white photos. Well-preserved, antique 26 x 30-inch maps of Jerusalem and Israel cost less than $100. “My prices are the real prices,” the proprietor tells me. “I don’t like to bargain.”
One Friday morning I watched another North American buy some burnished copper pieces and framed photographs there. But how to get it all back home? She made one more purchase: a two-toned, antique leather suitcase.
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ED WETSCHLER, Associate editor of Everett Potter’s Travel Report, has written for The New York Times, Delta Sky, Caribbean Travel & Life, the Official Pennsylvania Guide, and other print and new media. He is president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editor-in-chief of Diversion magazine. In a previous life he played backup piano for bands like Jay and the Americans.