This morning, Rosa and I caught the bus to Tel Aviv, for a day in Israel's most secular, hip city--which is currently celebrating its one hundredth birthday. Its name is a Hebrew version of Theodor Herzl's book that launched the Zionist movement, Altneuland. A "tel" is an ancient archaeological site, and "aviv" is the Hebrew word for spring, thus providing a combination that evokes Herzl's "old-new land." And with its cosmopolitan cafes and culture, Tel Aviv is certainly more along the lines of what the very secular Herzl imagined than pious Jerusalem.
We arrived at the central bus station, which is a gigantic maze. When we finally made it out of the building, we found ourselves walking down a street populated by drunks and sex shops. No, we were definitely not in Jerusalem any more. After a few minutes of this, we caught a cab to the clocktower in old Jaffa and walked along the beach. We passed the burned out shell of the Dolphinarium, a disco that was bombed by terrorists when we were here in 2001. All that remains are graffiti-filled walls and a poignant monument listing the names of the victims in Hebrew, English, and Russian.
Tel Aviv is also known as the "White City," for its collection of over 4000 Bauhaus buildings. The modernist Bauhaus school of architecture was born in Germany, and flourished under the leadership of Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. During the 1930s, many German-Jewish Bauhaus architects fled to Israel and designed the buildings that still define Tel Aviv. And in 2003, noting these architectural landmarks, UNESCO declared the city a "World Cultural Heritage Site."
Unfortunately, the once-white city is now varying shades of dingy grey. Between the salt from the sea and the exhaust and other air pollution, the city has not aged well. Much of the urban center of Tel Aviv rivals the worst American tenements. And frankly, as I looked at these renowned but drab and boxy buildings, I remarked to Rosa, "Bauhaus must be the German word for 'butt ugly.'" I know, I know, form follows function, but would a little aesthetic frill here and there really hurt so much?
At any rate, once we made our peace with the decaying and unsightly architecture, we enjoyed the city. We strolled down Sheinken Street, the epicenter of Tel Aviv cool. This tree-lined lane is filled with stylish shops and cafes. It is brashly secular--not a hasid in sight, lots of attractive young people dressed in form-fitting shirts and short skirts and boots. Rosa and I enjoyed a great lunch and then went to the beach, where we read, relaxed, took photos, and played in the sand. It was a terrific way to spend the afternoon.
The last notable event of the day was our return trip. The back of the bus was filled with Israeli teens who, basically, conducted a riot the entire way home. They continuously screamed obscenities, poured water over one another's heads, and sprayed cheap cologne all over the bus. I expected some of the adults to intervene; I even thought the bus driver might pull over and throw them all off the bus. They certainly deserved it. But no one did anything, except sigh with relief when we pulled into Jerusalem's central bus station. I was thinking about going to the zoo tomorrow but now I won't bother, since it can't possibly match the zoo on the bus.