Our last day in Tel Aviv, we took a Bauhaus architectural walking tour. I’ve included a sampling of the large amount of graffiti as well that we found quite interesting. At the turn of the 20th century most Jews in Israel were living in Jerusalem but a growing number were living on the coast, in Jaffa alongside their Muslim neighbors. As things grew more crowded with increased immigration from Eastern Europe, the city expanded into what is now Tel Aviv with housing but all of the “city” services were still located in Jaffa. In the late 1920s there were riots during which a number of Jews were killed, so the Jewish population transferred enmasse to Tel Aviv and in the 1930s increased their population from around 1200 to 30,000. As you might imagine there was a housing boom.
In the 1920s a school called the Bauhaus School developed in Germany, under the leadership of Walter Gropius. Those of you in Art 1B will be learning about this later in the semester. The Bauhaus philosophy related to architecture as well as design was one of the most influential movements of the 20th century. In architecture Bauhaus made use of reinforced concrete and steel, materials that lent themselves to fast and relatively inexpensive building. This style of architecture shuns ornamentation, is asymmetrical, and is more concerns with space than mass. Vertical and horizontal elements are carefully integrated for functionality.
Tel Aviv has the largest number of Bauhaus buildings in the world, an irony given that the Nazis closed down the Bauhaus school in 1933 as degenerate and many of the teachers and students had to leave Germany, some of them coming to Israel and responsible for designing these buildings. We were disturbed to see how shabby and neglected most of these buildings are. One reason is likely, stucco close to the ocean is probably not a great match.
This was an interesting way to end our sojourn here in Israel. Look forward to seeing or being in touch with most of you soon.
The living standard for most Israelis is fairly high and the country withstood the global financial meltdown for the most part. In the 1990s the population increased by over 1 million due to immigration from the former Soviet Union that brought highly skilled (some might say overspilled) immigrants to the country. Many are underemployed and people struggle as prices are high and taxes are an issue as well. It’s a change to be in a country that encourages immigration rather than discourages it and right now the largest influx is from France. We had breakfast today in a small cafe run by a French couple who have been in Tel Aviv for 4 years.
Everything is taxed including food, household goods, etc. and as an outsider you might not even notice since the tax is already figured in to the price. Health care and education are free though many people supplement this to give their kids additional education and pay insurance to have more specialists available to them if they are ill. Some things such as cars, computers, and other imports are astronomically taxed and travel outside the country is taxed as well. People complain about the 18% Value Added Tax (basically sales tax on everything) even though they do get benefits not available to us. Of course, Americans want to have everything but don’t want to pay for it, and there are lots of Americans here so maybe it’s an attitude as well.
In spite of this people are well dressed, there are lots of cars, not much homelessness. Tel Aviv University has a student population of 30,000 and Israel just opened its 5th medical school (in Tzfat). In one of the galleries today there were red dots, the cafes are full, and people have shopping bags. It’s just when you chat with people that they talk about how burdened they feel financially. Ariel Sharon was buried today on his farm in the Negev. Already stories are leaking out in the press about how Sharon was planning to return to the “Road Map” of negotiations after the Gaza withdrawal, unfortunately 8 years ago just before his stroke that ended in his death a few days ago. Perhaps in death Sharon can be a force for moving the peace process forward.
As you can see Tel Aviv is a total opposite of where we’ve been up to now. It’s a city of 400,000 with a metropolitan area of over 3 million along the Mediterranean coast. It reminds one of New York or Miami. Just as Jerusalem is the heart of the religious communities in Israel, Tel Aviv is the heart of secular (sabra) Israel. The city was established on the sand just north of the ancient port of Jaffa in 1909. By 1950 they were one large city. Downtown Tel Aviv is lively though we haven’t seen many tourists this whole trip. It’s a very young city, lots of young people especially in the bars at night. The Tel Aviv port has been given over to restaurants and shops many of which are housed in buildings refurbished from international trade fairs in 1934 and 1936.
We visited Tel Aviv University at the northern end of the city where we saw the Beit Ha’Tefusot (Diaspora Museum). This is a museum that focuses on the worldwide Jewish communities and Jewish history outside of Israel. It is located on the campus of Tel Aviv University, the largest university in the country.
We saw the permanent collection which contains a number of models of synagogues around the world, some of which will surprise you. An interesting photography show featured elders born the year Israel got its independence with their grandchildren or other young children and how they relate to one another.
How many different ways can you spell the name of a town? Obviously many ways, since this is a transliteration of a Hebrew word. You might thing there are many different Tzfat cheese factories but there is only one, though signs directing you there spell it many different ways. Tzfat is one of the four holiest cities in mystical Judaism. Tzfat represents air (high on the mountain), Tiberias represents water (Sea of Galilee), Jerusalem represents fire (the Temple), and Hebron represents earth (where the Patriarchs and Matriarchs of Judaism are buried). There are few references to Tzfat in ancient sources until one gets to ancient Rome, when Tzfat was a garrison in the Jewish War against Rome in the 1st century. It is mentioned in the Talmud as one of the hilltop fire beacons (the first attempt at sending an email blast) where letting people know what the date was for the new month or a holiday was communicated by lighting a bonfire on the tops of mountains strung from north to south through the country.
The Crusaders were here because of the strategic location but Tzfat really began to develop as a mystical site in the 15th and 16th centuries after the Jews were expelled from Spain and some of the most brilliant scholars of the time came here. Tzfat has suffered from plague and several earthquakes, the last in the late 1800s. Today Tzfat suffers from some of the same problems as Nazareth, dependent on tourism but the visitors only stay a few hours mostly. The current mayor is trying to do something about that and there is a huge Klezmer festival now in late August and a newly established medical school. Recently the regional hospital has been sending in volunteers clandestinely to bring casualties out of Syria (only 20 miles away) to give them medical attention they obviously can’t get in Syria.
Having Shabbat in Tzfat was a magical experience and we truly got a rest. Everything shuts down at 2 pm on Friday and the tour buses are gone, the shops selling art that makes Carmel, CA. look cutting edge are closed, and the streets turn to pedestrian malls. We wandered and ate and napped and prayed. It was great and now we are off to the opposite- the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv as we begin our reentry into our lives.
Elana and Yakov have joined us for three days and it’s great to have them back. We’ll be together over Shabbat in Tzfat which reminds all of us of a combination of our own little village of Mendocino and Berkeley. Pretty easy going and seems as though people, no matter what their persuasion are sympatico to others around them. I’m especially drawn to the little children and the under 3 boys as traditionally they don’t get their first haircut until they are three years old. You just want to cuddle with them unless they are having a tantrum on the street which also happens. We had our first day of “weather” with a bit of rain and it’s fairly cold here (at altitude) but I think those of you in California would be craving the moisture and those of you in the rest of the country would probably say we were wimps to be cold at 48 degrees.
Since it was Thursday, when we first reconnected both Elana and Yakov were busy making arrangements for people to have Shabbat dinner in Jerusalem. They are usually hosts themselves so they’ve had even more people to “place”. We are going to someone’s home for Shabbat dinner in Tzfat- will let you know more about that after Shabbat is over.
Something unique about the community they live in, is how much people help each other. Elana and Yakov just moved into a new apartment and of course one needs boxes for moving so they went to a moving box gemach to borrow boxes and then returned them when they were finished. A gemach is a service that one offers just because it’s something you have that you can share or a skill you have that you can share. There is no money exchanged. Some examples are the snake catcher (snakes get into people’s houses/apartments) who is an expert at catching them and you call him in when you have the problem, the chair gemach if you need extra chairs for a party or a dinner, the sea sickness gemach for a person who has expertise in that field.
When Elana and Yakov moved (the day before we arrived) a friend lent them their car, a few of Yakov’s study partners moved everything (for the price of some pizza) and the old neighbors sent their kids over to help when they got home from school. They only moved down the street a block or two.
When we were at Friday night services at the Kotel (Western Wall) there was an American man who lives in Jerusalem who makes sure everyone who wants has a place to go for dinner. Elana told us he finds dinners for 100 people every Friday night. They are one of the places people often go. He is wealthy enough that he also helps with scholarship money for people (like Elana) who want to come to study in Israel for short periods of time. There is a rabbi who is also a physician who advises people where to seek help from specialists he knows have the expertise or would suit the patient. He does this for no payment.
When we walked through the market in Tzfat we met a lovely young woman originally from Australia, working in one of the shops, wanted to be sure we had a place for Shabbat dinner and when she and Elana chatted they exchanged numbers in case Elana and Yakov want to come back to Tzfat or she wants to come to Jerusalem.
We are looking forward to our Shabbat experience here in Tzfat and are staying in a lovely inn in a converted house estimated to be about 200 years old. The hosts are a couple from Montreal who moved here about a year ago with their two children. They remind us of some of our neighbors and we feel very at home here. They told us a bit about Tzfat and we’ll be taking a walking tour with them later this morning. We are planning on going to the Carlebach shul for services this evening.
Cemeteries and graves are interesting places to learn about history. Over the past few days we have managed to encounter a number of them in Nazareth, Tiberias (by the Sea of Galilee), and in the hills of Meron on the way to Tzfat where we will be spending Shabbat. The important things that make a community are schools and cemeteries. In Nazareth we were surprised to learn that people of all three faiths are buried in the same cemetery though usually they are buried in separate cemeteries. On the way to Tzfat we visited the hills of Meron, that look like the forests of the Sierra foothills. We saw a lot of damage from the snow they had a few weeks ago. Apparently Tzfat got 20 inches of snow. The tombs of Rabbis Hillel, Shammai, and Tarfon, among others can be found in the area. I was surprised to see that these rabbis were buried in such a beautiful natural environment. We will be in Tzfat for Shabbat so a short post tomorrow and then rest.
After a pleasant drive through the Lower Galilee we arrived in Nazareth with what we thought was plenty of time and proceeded to get extremely lost. We have an amazing GPS but the problem was that it was trying to take us to a place that one cannot drive to. So we went around in circles, up and down streets that make most of the streets in San Francisco look flat and along some pretty narrow alleys. We definitely got a good look at most of the old city of Nazareth before we gave in and called the hotel. We were told that we needed to park in a garage (we did pass one that had the name of our hotel on it) and they would send someone to fetch us. We eventually found our way to the garage and the attendant said he saw us drive by a couple of hours before and knew we were destined to the Fauzi Azar Inn. He exaggerated about how long ago he’d seen us but we didn’t waste time trying to correct him. A lovely young Taiwanese woman was waiting for us and ferried us and some of our stuff up the hill to the hotel. We stayed in the Fauzi Azar Inn, a story unto itself. It is both a hostel and a hotel and we were of course among the oldest people there. It was pretty basic but the building has an interesting history. The Azar family fled in the 1948 war that gave Israel its independence though a few family members stayed in part of the house. If a house was abandoned anyone could move in and claim squatters rights, so part of the building went to other people and after a fire the rest of the house was abandoned for many years. Along came Maoz, a Jewish Israeli who was looking for a building to rent to start a guest house in Nazareth because of its central location and the fact that most visitors to Nazareth only come for a few hours. Maoz was a backpacker and also saw the interest that could be generated by the “Jesus Trail”, a 65 mile trail that one could walk through the Galilee to visit all the spots where the historical Jesus lived or did something important. He negotiated with the family and the rest is history as they say (12 years ago). People from all over the world come to stay there and that included us.
Today we took a walking tour of the old city of Nazareth with a tour guide associated with the Inn. She was a combination chamber of commerce, kvetch, and a bit strident but we did get to see some things that aren’t on the usual tourist agenda such as churches and mosques in this town. A word about Nazareth- population 85,000 with 80% Muslim and 20% Christian. It’s economy is based on tourism and with people only spending a few hours at the most it’s been a depressed town for a long time. Those of you who are in the Art 1-A class will see at the end of the semester how towns that had major cathedrals that attracted pilgrims, were prosperous because those pilgrims needed a place to sleep, to eat, and of course to shop. Things in Nazareth seem to be changing with the advent of guest houses such as the one we stayed in. We visited a spice factory, a ruined house that looks like what the Fauzi Azar probably looked like when Maoz started with it, and other things you’ll see in the slides. This evening we visited with Laura (Silvia’s sister- those of you who know the exchange student who lived with us in 1993-94) and her family who live on a kibbutz about 6 kilometers from the bed and breakfast inn we will be staying in for two nights. I’ve stayed here before and it’s most comfortable. They have vineyards and we chatted a bit about wine. More adventures tomorrow and we reconnect with Elana and Yakov.
Sunday we headed north and drove through the heartland of Israel. We passed many Muslim (have mosques with minarets) and Jewish towns on the way.
Israel is a very small country, about the size of New Jersey and one can drive from the furthest point north to the furthest point south in about 5 hours. Haifa is a working port city with a population of about a half million people in the metropolitan area. It sits on a bay of the Mediterranean with a mountain (Mount Carmel) dropping down to the sea so most of it is quite hilly. We had a little driving adventure in the evening when we went out of Haifa to the east to visit some relatives of Terri’s who live in Karmiel, supposedly a half hour from Haifa that turned into a two hour trek. We have a GPS with the car we rented and it did not recognize the spelling of the street they lived on so we made a lot of circuitous tours of Karmiel. The computer voice on the GPS also has the most hilarious pronunciation of Hebrew words so it’s some extra entertainment along the way.
On Monday morning we visited the Bahai Temple which sits in a beautiful garden in the center of Haifa. The Bahai faith is a monotheistic one with a belief in the unity of all humankind. The tenets of this faith are meditation, prayer, and service to others. One can see how a garden and temple such as this could foster that. In the afternoon we drove north to Acre, probably one of the most interesting, and under visited places in Israel or anywhere. It seems everyone from the Egyptians, Crusaders, Alexander the Great, Medieval Italians, Richard the Lion Heart, the Ottomans, and even Napoleon either ruled here or tried to. El-Jazzar, an Albanian soldier of fortune who had taken over the entire Galilee as an independent fiefdom until he was assassinated. Most significantly, with the aid of a British fleet he successfully defended the city of Acre from Napoleon’s troops in 1799. Napoleon was moving north from Egypt in order to open a route to India that would have changed history. In the afternoon we drove to Nazareth and again what should have been about a 40 minute drive ended up taking 2 hours but we arrived safe and sound. More on that next posting.
The Shabbat starts at sundown Friday and lasts until sundown Saturday. In all of Israel public transportation stops and in certain neighborhoods cars are not allowed and most stores are closed (it’s like Christmas Day in the US though it happens every week). So by 4 pm Friday the busy street our hotel is on, suddenly went silent. We hustled around after we returned from the Dead Sea trip to get food for Saturday as all the stores/restaurants would be closed. Everyone else was bustling around too and one thing I’ve always loved about Shabbat in Israel is that many people have flower bouquets they are taking home for Friday night dinner. We walked to the Western Wall along with a sea of other people and then to Elana and Yakov’s home for dinner (our daughter and son-in-law) who also invited two young women, both Russian, who are studying here. It was lovely to talk with them. It’s traditional to have guests Friday night and there is a man at the Western Wall who has made it his business to help anyone who needs a home to go to for dinner find one. He has a list of people who will take any stranger and he sets people up.
All the images on this posting came from the internet as it is not permitted to photograph on the Sabbath (for Jewish people). We had a lovely restful time and we really needed it. Saturday during the day we went to the Bible Lands Museum, the Shrine of the Book, and the Israel Museum all of which were open. We prepared ourselves for many of the sites we will be visiting in coming days. One thing I’ve learned teaching art history, is how wonderful it is when works of art stay in their home country so that one can really get an understanding of the context for it all.
Friday morning we left Jerusalem at 4 am to travel south the Masada. Of course it was dark the whole way there, and the reason we wanted to do that was to have sunrise at Masada. I had an injury in October and am not completely steady on the feet so I opted not to climb the mountain but have been there many times before so I stayed with the bus, chatted with the driver (an 8th generation Jerusalemite) and did some sunrise drawings. A bit about Masada: In 72-3 CE, almost 1000 Jewish rebels sought refuge atop Masada, a mountain in the desert south of Jerusalem that Herod had developed for himself complete with two palaces, baths, etc. The Temple had been destroyed in 70 CE and this was a kind of last stand against Rome. The rebels were besieged by the Romans though they were able to hold out for two years while the Romans built a giant ramp to access the top (on the west side). When the rebels realized they were going to be defeated, the chose mass suicide rather than submit to Roman death or enslavement. Terri provided the photographs of the ruins on top of the mountain.
After she came back down (cable car down and a 45 minute hike up) we traveled to the Dead Sea for a dip and to Ein Gedi, an oasis nearby that has a National Park preserve alongside the Kibbutz which grows dates. Ein Gedi is a spring fed oasis with gorges and waterfalls, ibex, and interesting plants and trees including Acacias and something called the Sodom Apple (poisonous if eaten). This would have been a complete enough day as is but we returned to Jerusalem to prepare for Shabbat which will give us a much needed rest. After Shabbat we will be leaving Jerusalem for the coast and the north for more adventures.