The day has dawned – Israel opens its borders to international tourists
By David E. Kaplan
For a city with a reputation as “THE CITY THAT NEVER SLEEPS”, it seems that is exactly what Tel Aviv residents have been catching up on for the last two years. Maybe, with its traditional frenetic hummus to hedonistic pace, a ‘time out’ was not such a bad idea even if the reason was a global pandemic. However, as Israelis say in such situations that have long passed their level of patience:
“ze maspik” – (“it’s enough”).
Now, with most of the country vaccinated with the booster; they are not only raring to revel but welcoming back tourists from abroad – provided of course they too are all ‘vaccinated’!
Unlike bears, hedgehogs, some snakes, bats and turtles, humans are not built to hibernate, particularly in Tel Aviv. With 300 days of guaranteed sunshine a year and some of the best beaches along the entire Mediterranean coast, Tel Avivians are social creatures feeling most at home when not at home.
Anyway, all this changed on the 1st of November when Israel opened to individual tourists for the first time since the start of the pandemic.
Only the day before, as a journalist, I received this Press Release from the office of the Mayor of Tel Aviv-Jafa. In poetic prose it read:
“The seabed has been cleaned, the cocktail served, the pastry warmed up and the cauliflower grilled – all reserved for our favorite customer…TOURISTS! For the first time since March 2020, individual international tourists are welcomed back into the city, just in time to swap the cold weather for a sunny winter in the city that never sleeps.”
Clearly they want local journalists to spread the word globally, as the Press Release continues:
“The pandemic has given us a minute (or more) to focus on our city and perfecting the little details to ensure an easy landing and seamless travel experience for all those coming to discover the cultural center of Israel.”
Known for its award winning beaches, beautiful promenades, historic sites, mouthwatering restaurants, pavement cafes and bustling nightlife, Tel Aviv cannot wait to welcome back its greatly missed travelers. Most inviting of all, are its incomparable beaches – 16 to chose from!
The Israeli coastline may not conjure the majestic swells found off the beaches of Hawaii, Australia or this writer’s native South Africa. Nevertheless when the wind is right and the swell up, the allure of the crested curve invites surfers of all ages. A common sight in Tel Aviv’s ever-increasing traffic, are surf-boards on the side of mopeds as riders nips through the city traffic to the beach.
To explore the newly opened city, the Municipality is offering free walking tours in English at some of the most iconic places. Whether one would want to discover the history of ancient but bustling Jaffa, the enriching culture of trendy Sarona in a 19th century Christian Templar setting, the world heritage sites of the architecturally unique “White City” or the quaint charm of Neve Tzedek where Tel Aviv began, “we have a tour to please everyone,” continues the Press Release. Coinciding with the opening of the skies to tourists, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art will open its Yayoi Kusama exhibition. There is a reason why the famed artist chose Tel Aviv as the next destination for the retrospective, and “we invite all to discover why!”
The exhibit is ranked as one of the biggest and most impressive art exhibitions opening in 2021 around the world, and will follow Kusama exhibits at Gropius Bau in Berlin and another retrospective of the artist’s work at the New York Botanical Gardens.
The Tel Aviv exhibit is a joint collaboration of Studio Kusama in Tokyo and the Gropius Bau in Berlin.
“Her entire oeuvre is mesmerizingly powerful, impressive and pleasurable at the same time,” said Suzanne Landau, curator of the exhibition and the museum’s former director. “The presentation of her retrospective at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art is definitely a unique event of historic magnitude.”
Now 92, Kusama is easily recognisable by her red wigs, witches’ hats and robes, and a proliferation of polka dots on her clothing and other surfaces. She would feel quite at home in Tel Aviv where “anything goes”.
With Kusama’s art having crossed into commercial cooperative ventures with luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton making her work more familiar to fans of all ages, she has emerged the most tagged artist on social media. With a public thirsting for exciting quality experiences, “particularly now, in the post-COVID-19 period with all its difficulties,” said Tania Coen-Uzzielli, director of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, “the presentation of this monumental exhibition in Israel, in collaboration with other museums around the world, will allow the Israeli public to enjoy a unique international cultural event.”
They will be hopefully joined by an increase in foreign tourists.
For this writer however, the best of Tel Aviv, is homegrown Tel Aviv, exploring and discovering its unique creative fruits. This occurred this week when with my nearly-4-year-old grandson Yali, we came upon this surprise art gallery in Neve Tzedek, ZYGO on quaint Shabazi Street. Yali was fascinated, running from one sculpture and painting to another, explaining to his clueless grandfather the meaning of each piece. Many of the pieces were variations of clothespins, which Yali easily identified and yet the runaway imaginings that evolved thereupon were expressed by:
Our reactions to the art brought out more than our lively loud discourse, it also bought out none other than the artist himself, who stepped out from his back studio into his gallery to see what the commotion was all about. Going under the name of “Zygo Artist”, he found us and launched into explaining his work and his vision. “The clothespin represents love, the coming together in embrace of two halved souls – the man and the woman.” He points to the raised leg at the knee of the woman, in dance mode with her partner. The colour and the vitality of the art so represents the exuberance of Tel Aviv but I was intrigued where the name Zygo came from.
In the spirit of innovative Tel Aviv, the artist who coined the term “Zygotism” is set on pioneering a new art movement. The term he explains, he adopted from the realm of biology, which expresses the first stage in the creation of a new organism – the moment when two genomes combine to create a completely new genome and start cell division. A “zygote” is a fertilized eukaryotic cell.
The two become one on a third and other plateau:
“similar to a divine love which compel two individuals to separate from their former life, home, habits and views in order to devote themselves to one another and to create a new eternal whole, which is their joined loving bond.”
Not sure how much a nearly 4-year-old understood all this but most certainly was entertained by the art and sensed there was “a lot of love going around”.
It is that same love that the newly opened city of Tel Aviv- Jaffa is ready to welcome all with open arms, and hearts!
While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves. LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).