Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Tel Aviv, Yom Kippur

Last month I spent Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, at my mother in law's flat in North Tel Aviv. I took a few pictures for the blog, but I'm only getting round to uploading them now, three weeks later. You know how it is, being as disorganised as I am.

Observant Jews fast and pray for the 24 hours of Yom Kippur. Non observant Jews leave their cars at home and haul out the bicycle.

The picture above is on Ben Yehuda, a busy thoroughfare that runs from the centre of Tel Aviv to the northern reaches of the city. Usually, it is pretty much impossible to cross, even at the traffic lights. In the background, you can see the stack of the old Reading Power Station. Apparently, bicycle sales shoot up by about 600% at this time of the year. You can see a few of them in the picture below.

This is on Dizengoff, the equivalent of, perhaps, Bond Street in London. It's a pretty surreal experience, with the coffee shops and boutiques shut, yet hordes of people on bicycles, rollerblades, skateboards and on foot, on the pavement, on the street...

It's a novel - and fascinating - way to see the city. You step off the curb and look up, and suddenly the city reveals itself in all its genteel charm. On a normal day, one never has the time - or the inclination, given the noise, the vehicles, the bustle - to stop and contemplate.

This is on Ibn Gvirol, next to Kikar Rabin, Rabin Square (just out of shot, to the left. It isn't actually terribly interesting to look at). The square was renamed after Yitzhak Rabin's assassination on the perimeter of the square, 13 years ago (following the secular calender) today. One way of telling how long a person has spent in the country is to ask what the square was called before Rabin's untimely death.

This I saw on a bus shelter next door to a particularly expensive boutique on Dizengoff. Tel Aviv is a consumer paradise - or consumerist hell, depending upon your instincts and inclinations.

This is Dizengoff Square, a concrete monstrosity adorned by a mobile sculptor created by the Israeli artiste Ya'akov Agam, renown worldwide for his 'optical and kinetic' art. It revolves, and the fountain at its centre shoots water into the air in a pre-programmed display every three or four hours. Classical music is piped from hidden speakers across the square. It's nice, but still doesn't stop the square as a whole from looking like a shithole. There's talk of demolishing it and replacing it with something perhaps a little more appropriate for the centre of Tel Aviv. Don't hold your breath...

There's a story, possibly apocryphal of how, after the sculpture was was installed in the the late 1970's - a donation from, I think, a city in Germany - the municipality of Tel Aviv allowed it to fall into disrepair. Agam, aghast, threatened to attend to the matter by personally disembowelling the installation himself. The municipality reluctantly attended to the matter. Here's another photograph of it below, albeit not from my camera

Tel Aviv itself is kinetic, a city of activity, of hustle, of movement, of noise. I quite like it like that. But Yom Kippur on the streets lends it another another perspective. People stop to chat on the street, greet old acquaintances. (Mrs Goy bumped into her old Chemistry teacher from High School, but was too shy to go and say hello. Shame.) You hear people talk, and you hear the languages too: Hebrew, English, German, French, Spanish, Tagalog. Even Arabic, although admittedly, not very much. It's easy to forget that it is people make up a city, each with their own interesting little story, and days like Yom Kippur allows one a small opportunity to eavesdrop, or just sit and watch, on a couple of these. I like Tel Aviv - I find it a charming, cosmopolitian place.

Elsewhere in the country, at approximately the same time as these photographs were taken, Jews and Arabs in the old city and crusader port of Acre (Akko, transliterated from Hebrew) were busy shouting, screaming and trying to harm each other, each claiming to have a better right to the land than the other. It is always easy to get a bit cynical about talk of co-existence - at least for this generation, those who grew up in the shadow of two intifadas, Yassar Arafat and Arik Sharon - but even so, I don't think it is too much to expect people to respect the other's point of view, and to find a way to get along with each other, if not actually love one another.

1 comment:

R. Kaplan said...

Good old Kikar Dizengoff. There's a line in a song from the 1984 Kaveret reunion "Meir and Alon" where they comment on what's new since they were in America. "When you get to the square, you go underneath..."

They need to make it street level again, though I do like the flea market on the side. The Agam sculpture used to shoot fire & water together. You're right though, it's ugly as sin. My Hebrew teacher in the IDF used to live nearby, we'd hang out in the square with her little sister...and and sometimes without her. ;)