Monday, September 8, 2008

As Promised, Our Trip to Tel Aviv

Our trip to Tel Aviv began on Thursday afternoon when we packed up and made our way, via Egged bus, to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station - which is a madhouse on Thursday afternoons. After waiting on what seemed like an endless line, we finally got into the bus station, which is sort of part shopping mall and part bus station, bought tickets, and waited on line for our bus. We were pushed and shoved onto the bus in polite Israeli fashion, and sat down to enjoy the 45 minute ride, which went much faster than expected because of crazy Israeli driving.

We disembarked at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station. Which is CRAZY. The Tel Aviv Central Bus Station is supposedly one of the biggest in the world. It contains floors and floors of shops, office, buildings, etc. and an entire Shuk. There were more shoe stores in the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station than I think I've ever seen in my whole life. Wikipedia tells me that it has more than 1000 shops and restaurants. We had a lot of trouble finding our way out - the building is seven stories tall and our exit was on the fourth floor, but we couldn't find any signs to indicate that it was there. We had to ask a few times, and eventually we found ourselves on the Tel Aviv streets.

We walked, backpacks on our backs like regular hostel-hoppers, to our hostel, Sub kuk Malega, where we dropped off our belongings before going out into the city for the evening. The hostel is located in a sort of less-nice area of Tel Aviv, but not far from the nicer areas and quite close to Jaffa. On the bottom floor it is an Indian restaurant. The front room has a few tables, and a buffet, and in the back patrons recline on sheet-covered couches while they eat their lentils and rice. The second floor is a guest-house lounge - one computer with comlementary internet, live music every night, couches, a pool table. The third floor is the guest house, featuring two bathrooms, a refrigerator/sink area, two private rooms, and a dorm room (where we stayed) full of bunk beds. The shower, we were surprised to find, was no more than a shower head with a drain underneath, in the bathroom - no stall or tub - and there was a squeegee-like mop to use to push the water toward the drain when you have finished your shower. Not exactly the Ritz, but it was a place to sleep. On the fourth floor, the roof, rows of couches were set up facing a large screen where they projected movies, and you could order food and drinks from the bar on the roof as well. It was a pretty hip alternative kind of place, and we were quite excited about it, despite the showering conditions.
We dropped off our bags and headed for the city, not going anywhere in particular, but hoping to buy a map and then decide. It took us a while to find the map but in the meantime we browsed through a series of stores with colorful skirts, a few bookstores, etc. We walked through Nachalat Binyamin Market, and had dinner at a fabulous hummus restaurant there - we shared hummos and salad, and it was definately excellent. After walking around a bit more, we made our way back to the hostel, where we watched James and the Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas on the roof, and then went to bed.
The next morning we were up bright and early - too early for the free breakfast offered by the hostel. We bought breakfast from a bakery on Allenby and then caught a cab to the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora. The museum presents the history of Jews from the Destruction of the Second Temple until today, in a thematic (non-chronological) fashion). It begins with sort of the basics of Jewish life - family and community, and describes community organizations as they existed in various communities, as well as the celebration of holidays and the life cycle. Next, it moves on to the idea of faith, and contains 18 models of synagogues around the world - we spent a lot of time there, gazing at synagoges of all shapes, sizes and colors. We learned about Jewish art, architecture, and literature around the world, and we went to the 'return to Zion' area which included a model set of two family trees - one sephardic and one ashkenazic - that demonstrated how some of these extended family members might have ended up in Israel. There was a memorial area to all of the destructive events of Judaism's past, and we spent a lot of time reading the "Scroll of Fire" which had 365 pages in memorium to tragedies of Jewish history. We also walked through a bit of ancient history, where Daniel tried to decipher some ancient Greek (it was all Greek to me). We didn't get to see all of the museum because we had to get going to our next adventure, but we did get to see nearly all of it, and what we did see we of course saw in great detail.
Our next stop was to Habima, the national theater of Israel, to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolored Dreamcoat in Hebrew. We asked the taxi driver to take us to Habima, and he dropped us off by the Habima Quarter, where Habima used to be located, but, as we learned, is no longer found. We asked a number of different people including those inside the office of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, but they couldn't help us. We were getting pretty nervous about the whole thing when Daniel called Habima (he'd conveniently written down the phone number before we left, just in case) and the person who picked up directed us on somewhat of a long walk - off of the small maps given to us by the hostel - to a new building where Habima now performs. We arrived just in time to pick up the tickets and sit down before the show began.
Habima was one of the first Hebrew language theater groups, founded in 1918 under the Moscow Art Theater. It left the USSR in 1926 and came to Tel Aviv for good in 1928. Since 1958 Habima has officially been considered the national theater of Israel.
The show we saw was excellent. It was so much fun because we knew all of the words in English already so it wasn't a problem that we didn't understand all of the Hebrew. In the Elvis scene the actors made fun of Americans quite a bit, mispronouncing Hebrew in American accents, etc. The production was colorful and energetic, the dancing and singing were fabulous, and we had terrific seats right near the front. We were very pleased with the whole event, and were only disappointed that they weren't selling CD's.
After the show, we walked to Beit Daniel - the center for progressive Judaism in Tel Aviv. We got there quite early, so we went to a restaurant and had some dinner beforehand. Beit Daniel is very large and the congregation was quite full with people of all ages in attendance. The cantor was for sure American and had a lovely voice, and sang familiar (American) tunes. A guitarist accompanied her, and the rabbi had a melodic, sympathetic, deep alto voice. The service on a whole was really quite lovely.
We walked back from Beit Daniel to the hostel by way of the beach - meaning that we basically walked the entire length of the city. The beach at night was a bustling place full of big fancy hotels and folks out and about enjoying the cool(er) weather (Tel Aviv is very humid and felt much hotter than Jerusalem). We arrived at our hostel quite late, and went to bed.
In the morning we decided to wait for the hostel's breakfast, which was to be served at 9:00. We sat at the tables in the front, I did a little homework, and we read together from my book of Israeli short stories. 9:30, and still no breakfast. Apparently the cook hadn't arrived yet - it seems that most people who stay in the hostel don't wake up as early as we do. At 10:00 we were served a delicious breakfast of fresh Israeli salad, cream cheese, laffa, cheese, apples, honey, and granola. Full and happy, we went on a walk to Jaffa.
We passed many many many closed stores, it being Shabbat, and were a bit discouraged. When we finally arrived at Jaffa, we realized it was definately worth it, as the view of the Tel Aviv beach was absolutely astounding. Jaffa is an ancient port city, inhabited by 7500 BCE, and is mentioned a number of times in the Bible, for instance it is the site where Jonah took a ship to Tarshish because he was fleeing G-d's command to go to Nineveh and tell the wicked people there to change their ways. King David and King Solomon conquered Jaffa and used it to import cedars for the construction of the First Temple. The Maccabees captured Jaffa from the Selucids, and the Romans burned it during the Jewish Revolt, killing thousands of inhabitants. It was in Christian hands until it was conquered by Arabs in 636 CE and served as the port of Ramla. Jaffa was captured by the Christians during the Crusades, and there was a lot of fighting there during that time. In 1268 it was captured by the Egyptian Mamluks, and in the 14th century the city was completely destroyed for fear of new Crusades. In 1799 Napolean captured and ransacked Jaffa. In the 19th century Jaffa was an industrial area known for its soap factories, and was also the center of book printing in Palestine. Jaffa also became a center for citrus growing. In the late-1800's and early 1900's the population swelled considerably and suburbs were built that in 1909 were reorganized into the city of Tel Aviv. In the early 1900's there were many Jewish residents in Jaffa, but in 1920 and 1921 Arab anti-Jewish violence caused many to resettle in Tel Aviv. In 1936 the Arab leadership of Palestine declared a general strike which paralyzed the economy of Jaffa, and as the uprising continued many Arabs hid in the narrow hiding places of Jaffa. As a consequence the British Royal Engineers blew up homes and buildings in Jaffa. During the Israeli War of Independance, Israeli forces took over the largely Arab city. Today, Jaffa is home to a heterogeneous population and the old city area of Jaffa has become a tourist attraction full of souvenir shops and art galleries.
Daniel and I gazed at the terrific view of Tel Aviv from Jaffa, and then, like the tourists that we are, we walked through art galleries, and gardens, and took lots of pictures. We particularly liked the Art Nova Gallery, which is full of soft art paintings - pictures made out of colored fabrics and fibres.
It was hot, and we were tired, so we made our way back to the hotel around noon, grabbed our belongings, and took a shared taxi home. We arrived in time for me to take my take-home mid-term before bed.
I had trouble putting pictures in this post, so they are in the next one. Enjoy!

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