On our last day in Israel, we woke up early to the sound of a gunshot. Not to worry, it was not a terrorist attack but the signal to start Tel Aviv marathon. The start line was right outside our hotel. Our huge picture window provided a full panoramic view of the sea, the city, and the runners trotting along Ben Yehuda Street.
We went back to Neve Tzedek for breakfast and this morning tried another cafe, Cafe Nina (Dallal was better, imho). We were sitting outside gazing at fit and sweaty people milling around in their marathon garb.
Much of the city was blocked for vehicles for the marathon, and we walked on traffic-free streets to the Bauhaus Center on Disingoff Street to join a walking tour of Bauhaus architecture.
We were lucky to have a very informative guide, and she finally shed some light on what Bauhaus architecture was all about. Most of Tel Aviv city center is Bauhaus and most of it is in disrepair. The guide explained that in this humid climate, stucco facades need to be painted or repaired annually, and the residents can not afford to carry this financial burden. Most residents are either old or they are renters, and their landlords don’t care much about the aesthetics of their properties. It’s sad to see whole chunks of stucco missing from yellowed facades, and if it were not for the lavish gardens, which were part of the original Bauhaus architectural plan, these buildings would have the appearance of slums.
Sadly, most of central Tel Aviv does look like slums. The buildings are in decay, the stores are trashy, and the people are poor. In any other city this would look seedy and make visitors feel uneasy, but not here. People looked poor but not threatening, and you felt totally safe in the crowd.
When stores started closing for Shabbat, the area felt even more slum-like. The streets became deserted and there were no commotion nor colorful windows to deflect your eye from dilapidated facades.
I am not dissing Tel Aviv, it’s a vibrant and exuberant city. It was not built to be a capital of an empire but as a refuge for Jews from everywhere. People fled here from virtually every country in Europe and the Arab World. They came tired and poor, fleeing from the countries where they were not allowed to live free or simply live. They found refuge here and they built an incredible country. And they built it while constantly fighting off their militant neighbors in wars and defending their citizens from daily terrorist attempts on their lives. And one day, they will fix old Tel Aviv, and they will reclaim its Bauhaus and Ottoman buildings from the slums and make the city beautiful.
“Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”