Every time I tell someone I was born in Tel Aviv, my wife rolls her eyes. I guess she’s right in a way. The hospital I was born in was in fact in Tel Aviv, “Asuta” hospital, on Jabotinsky St. But my folks lived in Ra’anana at the time, 20 minutes away. So, basically that’s where I spent my first few years. Later on, I had a great childhood in the city on Mt. Carmel, Haifa.
Since I got out of the army, I’ve managed to live for about 10 years in Tel Aviv, on and off, switching apartments on an almost yearly basis. I often lived quite close to Asuta, and every once in a while as I passed by on my vespa, I couldn’t help but give a quick peek to acknowledge the place where I took my first breath. So, in some wierd way, I see myself as Tel Avivi as they come.
But why is that label so important to me? I guess it’s simply because I love this town so much. TLV turns 100 this year, and the city is gearing up for a big shindig. It should. It has everything. Except for parking, that is (the joke goes that Saddam’s Scuds never landed here because they couldn’t find a space). OK, and the weather during the summer can be intolerable, I know. Sometimes it seems like even the smallest effort, like lifting an espresso, can make you break into a sweat. And I know, I know, the rent is as high as the Upper West Side. I know… But more than anything, TLV is simply cool. Good ‘ole Fonzy cool. Even the NYTimes dubbed it the capital of Mediterranean cool.
When I lived in the adjacent suburb of Givatayim, I remember the feeling I had when crossing over the Ayalon freeway into Tel Aviv. It just has a different vibe to it. And you can barely see the difference between the two cities, all the buildings look exactly the same. But you can feel it. Kind of like how you feel when you enter Manhattan. I know, Tel Aviv ain’t no Manhattan. But it’s the closest thing we got. And it ain’t too shabby, if you don’t mind me saying…
Probably my favorite part is the beach. I don’t know many large cities around the world where the beach is practically walking distance from any part of town. And it’s a great beach. And you can go in the winter, too. Because there really isn’t a winter in Tel Aviv to begin with. The Med does the city well, kind of an offset to the ugly, boring architecture (except for a few Bauhaus gems here and there).
Actually, just about everyting in TLV is in walking distance. It’s only about 50 square km big, and only has a population of 400,000. But it’s the capital of a much larger metropolis surrounding it, of almost 3 miliion people. Some would say it’s the capital of the country, and I would agree. But that might anger a few (of my readers?). Because everyone outside of TLV says we live in a bubble, that we don’t know anything else about the rest of Israel, about the “world that’s out there”. That all we care about are our newspapers, our theaters, our cinemas, our rock shows, our cafes, restaurants, the amazing nightlife. All these are usually mentioned in one breath with the words “Shenkin St.” (the street that seems to epitomize Tel Aviv to outsiders), in the most derogatory tone you’ve ever heard. I swear, people can sound so venomous and snake-like when they say it: “Ohhhh, you Tel Avivis and your cafes on SSSSShhhhhenkin……”
I couldn’t care less about those people. Let them say what they want. If Tel Aviv is a bubble, than it’s a bubble of culture in a land that hasn’t much appreciation for it, a bubble of liberalism in a land where conservatives and religious fanatics seem to be multiplying like rabbits (see latest election results), a bubble of secularism in a land surrounded by people willing to die for mud and rocks, a bubble of sanity. Now that’s my kind of bubble. Please, don’t let it burst…