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Arts and Culture in Tel Aviv

Posted on 07/23/2010 @ 07:10 PM

PDI Israel

By Steven Baker, Mountain Region Program Director

The day started with a lively walking tour of the "beginnings of Tel Aviv." Our guide, Abraham Silver (originally from Brooklyn which was nice to hear a familiar accent!), started us off right where the first settlers did in 1909. Over the hills from Jafa, the founders sought to create the "New York City of the Middle East." Their optimism has certainly come and stayed true to its original hopes as Tel Aviv has emerged as a conglomeration of cultures, beliefs, lifestyles and religions of history and modernism.

Through perseverance that is still an Israeli mindset today, Tel Aviv quickly began to emerge as a cultural and artistic hub. Our walk took us through vibrant colored streets with locals sipping cafe under umbrellas to a well known dance center that still stands and is in use today. As we stopped to discuss the meaning behind our location, we heard Hebrew choreography being applied to modern American music - a true statement of the multiculturalism of Tel Aviv.

Further along our walk we came upon the mansion of the first "mayor" of Tel Aviv. While currently being restored, the spot still sparks a sense of power and artistic justice as it is entwined with stories of love, anger, art and nobel prize winning poetry.

Our tour concluded with a discussion of the purpose of the architectural design of the city as it relates to the intentionality of the founders of the first Hebrew city. Two interesting facts include:

Tel Aviv is the largest remaining site of Bauhaus architecture. Bauhaus is a famous artist from Europe and when the Nazi's were busy conquering and destroying as much history as they could, this included art and architecture that would keep "the old" alive. As such, when Tel Aviv kept growing after it became an independent state, Bauhaus style was made sure to be present.

Even down to the streets, instead of a grid, which closely represents a cross, were designed in the shape of a menorah to portray that this is a Jewish and Hebrew city.

Next, we enjoyed time at the entertaining (and expensive!) Nahalat Benyamin, which in Tuesday and Friday holds an artists shuk. Dozens of different artists selling everything from Judaica to childrens toys to belts to jewelry line the streets alongside another shuk solely focused on fresh breads and fruits that people buy for Shabbat. What was nice about both shuks is that they were not only tourist destinations as hundreds of locals were intermingling and bargaining right alongside us!

As if all of this stimulation was not enough, we ventured back to our hotel where we broke up into two groups, lead by Ian Kandel and Emily Frank where we shared our thoughts on how we can be applying what we are doing and learning about to enhance Israel education with our BBYO programs back home. The discussion brought out good points to ponder including the intentionality and focus of our teachings and how to bring everyone onto the same level at the beginning as everyone has different backgrounds when it comes to Jewish and Israel history and knowledge.

For Kabbalat Shabbat, we had several different options of types of services to attend, including a traditional "Israeli" Orthodox service and a more secular/spiritual service on the beach. I, along with most of my colleagues and Matt Grossman, BBYO's Executive Director, strolled through the heat on the beach until we came upon several hundred Jews on the boardwalk overlooking a breathtaking sunset. The service was an incredible mix of people, and in my opinion, the epitome of Israeli society. There were people paying very close attention and praying intently, there were children running around, dogs all over, cigarettes being smoked, many different languages being overheard loudly and people paying attention only to the important parts. It was the first time I have ever celebrated Shabbat like this and on the beach and I am grateful for the new and meaningful Jewish experience. Make sure to check out the videos of this experience below:

After services, we all gathered back at the hotel for Shabbat dinner. Each ritual was lead by a different person with an introduction about their own traditions for that ritual back home. It was relaxing and a great way to start Shabbat in Eretz Yisrael!

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