Visiting Tel Aviv


Tel Aviv marina, small active sailing hobbyist playground, © 2009 Ami Vider
Tel Aviv marina, small active sailing hobbyist playground, © 2009 Ami Vider

This page started out with “The Believers” title. An attempt to reflect on the bitterness Israelis feel about the state’s negative reputation. From UN resolutions stating racism to mainstream media channels claiming war crimes (see al-Durrah incident and France 2 report). A few personal conversations and lots of reading changed my approach. Like many Israelis I still feel disturbed by our international image. Yet here in Israel we live with this reality. Accepting what people say, even when the press is negative, we stil live well. The controversy over the Israeli-Palestinian issue is not going to change if I write an article or two. It may not even change if millions of people come to visit Israel and see for themselves our country and the people. So my writing is going to tell the story of getting here. The story of visiting, working, studying, investing and living here is compelling.

When it is not advisable (by the US government) they come to visit. When everybody thinks Tel Avivians don’t care (about war or peace), you see them here. The “believers” keep on coming. Who are the Believers? They are the people around the world who believe in Israel. The people who come to Israel to visit are believers. They are Christian pilgrims, Jewish Zionist visitors and all kind of business, innovation and creative types. They simply believe in Israel. Some want to see religious sites, some want to see how the state leads in economic growth, technology innovation and civil life. They simply don’t buy the old AT&T commercial which said: “it’s just like being there”. Telling people to call their family and loved ones instead of visiting them. They know from others, that a visit to Israel is not at all like hearing news reports or watching videos. When it comes to understanding Tel Aviv, there is no “just like”. No matter how much Tel Avivians praise the city, it’s people and the government, it seems like foreigners don’t believe what they see the first time.

What To See in Tel Aviv

Tel Aviv is a nice modern city, it’s also still half snoozing with an image of a small Mediterranean coastal town from bygone era. The old northern suburbs, what is referred to as old Tel Aviv (or the old north) is made up of small four story apartment buildings, tree lined narrow streets and small commercial centers. Just north of Jabotinsky street all the way to Ha’yarkon park lies the upper middle class areas most sought after. They are living a modern day “Israeli dream” (not unlike the American dream). The newer Ramat Aviv neighborhoods (Ramat Aviv Alef (“A”), Beit (“B”), and Gimmel (“C”) reflect Tel Aviv’s steady growth from the 1970s up to today. Here are fourteen story to twenty four sotry buildings. Wider clean streets and small local commercial areas. Yet the old north is still a beautifully maintained quiet area preferred by many. (did you know that Ha’yarkon park is bigger than New York city’s Central park? (865 vs. 843 acres)

Before dismissing the scenery, imagine the landscape a hundred year ago: barren sand dunes, a few scrub brush areas and sparse farming communities. Up to the 1920s, most of the central part of Israel was sand and rocks with a few Arab villages and small farms. The same can be said of Los Angeles and Las Vegas, yet behind the Israeli building stood a dream and a few community organizations (no big investors or a real economy). Look back at the last century, compare Tel Aviv (and Israel as a whole) to any country, region or city. Look at the building, organization and most of all outcome. This is one reason so many people around the world come to visit and stay a while.

In contrast to the busy metropolis of rushing pedestrians, haute cusine restaurants and upscale boutiques, which try desperately to imitate Paris and London, there is a quiet side to the city. Places in the city resembling a quiet coastal Mediterranean town. This blend of modern and traditional works well for Tel Avivians. It’s a surprise to visitors. Business visitors who get a glimpse of the city at night want to explore more and come for vacation. Taglit-Birthright visitors after packed ten days of buzzing around Israel, make plans to come back. They are surprised by the energetic and cosmopolitan Israeli youth. More western and European acting than Arab or middle-eastern. In contrast to the brash and raw Israeli image of the 1970s, the average Israeli is less pushy and more helpful to visitors. With time, the average behavior is more sensitive and pleasant. I think it’s a reactions to the type of visitors. Once the young back packers of the 1960s and 1970s moved to countries in south east Asia and south America, Israel attracted a different kind of visitor. More mature, less adventure seeking, and for the most part, people who were either curious about Israel or know something and wanted to experience more of life here.

If you tour the city by car, bike or bus (see Dan Tours open bus tours), take a sweep of the city. From the tayelet (beach promenade) to the shook (open air market), from the museums and theaters, to the parks. Head to see historic sites like the Itzhak Rabin memorial and the Gen Gurion house. Although small, tell the story of leadership in Israel. Just south of the modern city lies Jaffa, an ancient city  now part of Tel Aviv’s municipal government. An historic revitalized as a new artistic and cultural center. From the 1980s onward, Israelis started living and working here.

What You Should Not Miss (Experiences to Enjoy)

For the news & electronic media junky, get a calibration on your sources. While there are stories and movies on how horrible Israelis behave, reality is a little different. Take a walk through the center of the city, from Dizengoff center along Dizengoff street. Turn off at any of the main streets and head east towards the commercial streets of Ibn-Gvirol or Rothschild boulevard.

High Tech & Business

If you are interested in the business life in Israel head to one of the business centers. Tel Aviv’s business centers are spread among a few parts of the city. Central Tel Aviv, the old sections, are still vital and some were reconstructed. South Tel Aviv and areas which were once more industrial, are revitalized and now have internet and mobile technology start-ups instead of garages and moped showrooms. Head down Menachem Begin street and see the mix of the old and new still bumping shoulders. Contrast a Harley-Davidson showroom on one side of the street with a new glass construction on the other. Here is where the real “start-up nation” is living and breathing new technology.

Fashion: Clothing, Shoes and Accessories

Tel Aviv is not yet a fashion center. Israel is a small place and the history of practical dress style runs deep. But this does not stop shops, boutiques and designers from imitating French and Italians. It certainly does not stop men and women from dressing well. Tel Aviv boutiques are spread among a few malls and sections of the city. The four large clothing shopping centers: Azrieli mall, Dizengoff center, Ramat Aviv mall and Gan Ha’yir, are homes to the mainstream shops. Both Israeli and international brands make up the better known shops. Local designers and specialty boutiques are located in south Tel Aviv, in North Dizengoff (around Yermiyahu street intersection), on Frishman from Dizengoff center up to Ben Yehuda, and spread around the city.

Finance and Management

Israel is a financial technology leader is just now emerging. For years American and European companies have relied on Israeli technologists to develop, operate and support financial technology products. Until now it was a well kept secret. An advantage some insiders knew about, but outsiders were in the dark. In the last few years, Israeli entrepreneurs completely changed this situation. Both entrepreneurs and established corporations (AIG, Citi Group) have developed one of the most active new financial technology hubs. First in consumer financial internet products (FOREX / binary options, reporting) and today with both white label platforms and niche technologies such as financial security, Israeli business and technology managers are contributing to global markets.. To see the beating heart of Israeli finance, head to the Bursa area in Ramat Gan. Or the Atidim industrial area in the north-east corner of Tel Aviv. On any workday the area is humming with workers out to lunch and a hot discussion of new technology opportunity. Notice the laptop toting entrepreneurs pitching to investors and early customers. As an outsider you may not be privy to internal deal, but you can see how real life in the fin-tech world looks like on a daily basis.

Agriculture and Open Markets (Fruits, Vegetables, Grains)

Israel’s modern day story would not be complete without a peek at agriculture. Recent developments in the genetic modification of plants and seeds is just the last link in a long chain. Israeli farmers, agronomists and biologists. Starting with the big immigration of 1880, farmers have been adapting plants from around the world to the Israeli climate. Early on, plants who came from Europe and Africa were planted in salty soil to take advantage of the open space, warm sunny weather and low amount of natural water. Israelis and Europeans have enjoyed the hard work in the markets. To see a large variety of produce, head to Tel Aviv Ha’carmel open air market. There are also medium size fruit and vegetable shops all around the city. In the larger supermarkets there are also good produce sections. In season certain fruits and vegetables are cheap and the quality is excellent. Around the year you will always find produce for salads and side dishes (tomatoes, onions, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, carrots, etc.) Except for a few months in the year, apples, bananas and oranges are also plentiful and excellent. If you want to see more exotic varieties head off to a specialty shops or one of the local farmer’s market. In the Tel Aviv Port (remnant of an old port in the northern sea coast) there is a farmer’s market on Fridays and Saturdays.

Night Life, Clubs and Entertainment

Tel Aviv’s nigh life attracts people from all over the state and some foreigners. The attraction comes from the buzz. The city is known for keeping up with trends and giving club goers a good deal (in terms of cost). Clubs of all kind, from middle eastern music to ones focused on gay and lesbian life are open all night (clubs state “until the last customer” as closing hour). Israeli club goers are a loyal bunch. Music and dancing draws a large part of the young goers. There are many traditional clubs where drinking and dining are the attraction. At least half of the nightly activity is still in restaurants and cafe-restaurants (similar to the French brasserie format, a mix of cafe with a light fare menu. And still plenty of dancing and live music are a big attraction in small hidden clubs. Most clubs are open to the public, but on busy nights you will have to pass the “selection”. Essentially the gate keeper will select the people they feel are attractive enough for the club. Every night it’s a different story. if you are looking to get into a club and are not sure if you will pass the “selectors” get some help. Also, dress appropriately and look at the people in line and who is getting in. This will be an indication of what the selectors are looking to let into the club.

Another attraction which does not make the news is sporting events. Tel Aviv’s Maccabi teams (basketball and football / soccer) are internationally ranked. Local teams, especially football, can be seen on most days. Most big games are sold out, some weeks in advance. But regular season games usually don’t sell out quickly. Get ticket availability at your hotel concierge or ticket agents. A good site covering many events is Eventim.

Architecture and City Landscape

Tel Aviv is proud of the 2003 UNESCO designation as a cultural site with the largest (and best) preserved Bauhaus buildings in the world. A small organization (the shop on Dizengoff is their most  still standing. While the German modernist movement left an impression all over the world, Tel Aviv was in the midst of a building spree in the 1920s to the 1940s. This is where the Bauhaus architecture made it’s imprint on the city. Since then, architects and builders have used the Bauhaus design concepts in modern design. Tel Aviv and the surrounding cities are great places to see interesting architecture and city design.

Well, I think this introduction is a good start. You get the idea. Israel is not just a place to see camels and orthodox Jews running around Jerusalem. Tel Aviv has more than exciting night clubs or a place to see a good Euro League basketball game. The good news about Israel’s cultural and economic success, the last century plus, is all the different aspects of elements you can see. If you come for a specific reason and have interest in something particular, by all means, go visit the places you planned to see. But make time to take a look at other things. You will enjoy the different aspects of the city (and country). Have fun!

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