Jerusalem!

By  Gill Katz

Jerusalem!

The news will depict the old city as a place of war. Conflict. Bloodshed.

A place where cultures clash, and old and new don’t tolerate one another.

A place of political turmoil. Of suicide bombers. Of death.

But there is another Jerusalem.

A city old and rich in culture, steeped in the golden light of God’s eye as He watches with a fierce love, and I know that His city will for all times be a very special place.

From Hillel Street and it’s quaint coffee bars to the Holy sites where Jew, Christian and Moslem seek and find their roots, to the Mount of Olives where one can stand and look out over the peach coloured Jerusalem stone buildings, the city is incomparable.

A trip to the Old City, and a delightful barter with Arab stall sellers, and the joy of walking back to ones residence carrying a basket of fragrant smelling fruit and succulent vegetables from the shuk.. ahh.

What can compare?

I bump shoulders with Haredi Jews, bearded Greek Orthodox Priests and bare bellied tattooed American teenage girls. There are old and young, firm and infirm – all on their own private mission.

The presence of soldiers is but a comfort to me.

I contemplate their absense.

I know in time they will be, but for now I see them as warriors of Biblical times, fierce in their desire to protect God’s chosen city.

It’s all good…

God chose well.

Jerusalem – City of Gold.








About the writer:

Gill Katz. Former children’s book author, journalist, member of Media Team (South Africa and International) and television scriptwriter, now retired in Florida USA.







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

Tea in Tel Aviv

Israel’s tea pots are filling up again

By David E. kaplan

It was not written in the tea leaves that indicated the future was changing, it was in the people drinking it – or more precisely, the number of people!

Where for the past year it has been “Tea for Two” my wife and I   recently sat down with a group of friends that until recently could have been described as an “illegal gathering”, a connotation repugnant to this former South African.

Tea for Two. The satisfied look of these two tea drinkers by Israeli artist Itzchak Tarkay’s “Nothing Left to Say” (2006).

So what could be read into this tea – proverbial as some referred coffee –  with friends was that all had been vaccinated against Covid and we were at last enjoying a taste of the “old normal”.

Instead of over the cell or ZOOM, we met face-to-face, shifted conversational gears opening with “So when did we ACTUALLY see you last?” to discussions on Israel’s unpredictable futurepolitical landscape following the predictable past election result to issues around Corona.

There were divergent views, voices were raised for this was again – real, animated social engagement – Israeli style.

It was REAL and a long time coming…..

Had the life we have been living this past year been the plot of an earlier book or movie , we would have scoffed at it being farfetched – the literary imaginings a of a Ray Bradbury, George Orwell or Aldous Huxley. This sudden ‘Brave New World’ was a reality and still is for most the world as it awaits a speedier rollout of the vaccines.

And here is the rub as the goal of “herd immunity” has to be global not parochial. Confronting a pandemic, we are all in this together. These thoughts were on our minds as we enjoyed our tea, thankful that our country of Israel is the world leader in getting shots in arms at a pace that is far ahead of any other nation. If in January only 10% of Israel’s population had been vaccinated,  by mid-March it was over 50%! Now in April, we look to the economy picking up as more and more businesses open up  as we recommence our lives of engagement.

Systematic Rollout. Israelis receive a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from medical professionals at a coronavirus vaccination center set up on a shopping mall parking lot in Givataim, Israel.

Since none of the vaccines were developed in Israel, an intriguing question is how did the country manage in record time to acquire so many vaccinations? It lies in the county’s DNA – its ingenuity, foresight, quick bold action – not without risk – by our political leadership, and our unique medical system that provides superlative cover to all its citizens. While some ignorant critics abroad might stupidly scream ‘”socialism”, Israel’s unique medical aid Kupat Holim –  is  our pride and saviour as has proved during this Corona crisis. I recall when interviewing the previous Coronavirus Tzar, Professor Ronnie Gamsu for Hilton Israel Magazine  in 2016,  he described Israel’s medical system as in keeping with the “fundamental egalitarian philosophy of our founding fathers.”

Arm Down, Thumb Up. Seen here as Israel kicks off mass coronavirus vaccine drive to stamp out COVID-19 pandemic, Ronni Gamzu, CEO of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and former virus czar receiving the Pfizer vaccine at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center (Ichilov) on December 20, 2020 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

To my question of what he meant by this, Prof. Gamsu replied:

 “Well, Israel can be truly proud of not only its superlative cutting edge medical services but of how we provide this quality service to all our citizens at affordable costs to the recipient. For this, we need to thank the founding fathers of the modern State of Israel. The Zionist Movement in pre-state Israel, which combined the traditional Jewish concern for all people with an emphasis on societal needs that regarded Public Health as a top social, political and economic priority.”

Emphasizing these priorities, Gamsu pointed out that by the time Israel declared its independence in 1948, “we already had a national health infrastructure in place. There was Tipat Halav (Mother-and-child care centers) administering vaccinations to new-born babies and counseling parents on proper care for their infants, and Kupot Holim (Health insurance funds) offering day-to-day consultations with doctors and specialists, and insured members for hospitalization.”

Israel’s Vaccine Rollout is Record-breaking, but is it a Surprise? This historic photograph captures Israelis in the early days of the state getting vaccinated.

Even as Israel transformed in the twilight decades of the twentieth century from a socialist to capitalist economy, Gamsu explained, “some of our most cherished values of concern for the collective remained entrenched – they are part of our ethos and are ingrained in our culture.”

As future needs arise, he cautioned, “we need to be on guard and adhere to our founding principles.”

Clearly, this philosophy has carried Israel through with aplomb through the global Corona crisis.

As a country used to living on the edge with little room for error or miscalculation, the Israeli mindset – although totally inept at  dealing with elections –  is more than adept at situations when lives are at stake and ready to confront monumental challenges.

Southern Comfort. Covid-19 rapidly on the decline in Israel as vaccinations kick-in. A testing place in the middle of Israel’s arid desert south of the Dead Sea..

Compare Israel’s situation with other countries or regions.

Never mind my native South Africa, where Corona is spreading at unclear but feared alarming rates and with little certainty as to when it will receive a vaccine, ‘mighty’ Europe is faring not much better.

As there are currently dire warnings by health experts of a “fourth wave”, one looks with bewilderment at Continental Europe and wonder, “What went wrong?” as France and Italy enter  ‘another’ full lockdown with a vaccine rollout in total chaos. Their systems, bureaucracy and political leadership has failed and people are suffering.

While Israel’s enemies are quick to point out its imperfections – Israelis do it far better themselves –  there is a growing shift of more and more countries and its people to look to Israel as to “how they do it?”

Opening Up. Young Tel Avivians at Cafe Zurik in Tel Aviv on the first day that restaurants were allowed to open after the coronavirus, May 27, 2020. (Simona Weinglass/Times of Israel)

Living up to its reputation as the ‘Start-Up Nation’, its handling of the most monumental health challenge in a century, Israel is showing a way forward.

It’s why I can enjoy a cup of tea in Tel Aviv with a group of friends. And now its back to the old concerns as my wife raises an eyebrow noticing me salivating over an inviting creamy chocolate eclair in inviting proximity and saying:

 “You don’t need it!” 

Stopped in my tracks from committing a gross culinary felony, Covid took a back seat to  the old health and more ‘weighty’ issues!



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)

Message from Megiddo – A Wrong Righted

Celebrating the centenary of Isaac Ochberg’s 1921 daring rescue of orphan children from war-torn Eastern Europe

By David E. Kaplan

Chairman of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee (Israel)

Motorists in the Megiddo region could once have been excused when driving past signs marked “EVEN YITZCHAK”, designating a picturesque plateau of rolling green hills in Israel’s Lower Galilee,  and wondering:

 “Which Yitzchak?”  

Is it the Isaac from the Bible or the late Prime Minister, war hero and pursuer of peace – Yitzchak Rabin? Apart from local residents, few would have known it honoured the South Africa businessman, philanthropist, saviour of Jewish children and Zionist visionary – Isaac Ochberg.

No more …..

Man with a Mission. Isaac Ochberg (1878-1937) Ukrainian-born South African businessman, Jewish community leader, saviour of Jewish orphans in Eastern Europe and passionate supporter of  a Jewish State in Palestine.

Finally, one of South Africa’s greatest Jews, Isaac Ochberg (1878-1937), received the recognition he deserves when an estimated 13,000 people across the world linked on through Zoom and YouTube on the 14 March 2021 to participate in  the South African Jewish Report webinar marking the centenary of his heroic rescue of Jewish orphan children from Eastern Europe in 1921.  

“Daddy Ochberg”. Isaac Ochberg  (centre) wearing a hat with the selected orphans before leaving Eastern Europe for the UK on route to Cape Town, South Africa in 1921.

It did not matter that it was 4.00am in Sydney, 2.00am in Perth, 5.00pm in the UK, 7.00 pm in South Africa and Israel or 12.00 pm noon in New York City, the descendants of those rescued children joined a global viewership, enthralled by the wonders of a man that to this day, impacts the lives of so many thus embodying the dictum from the Talmud:

He who has saved one life is as if he has saved the entire world

Ochberg Centenary. Ochberg orphan descendants and members of the South African community  in Israel join representatives from JNF-KKL, Knesset, Telfed, the Megiddo Regional Council and members of the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee at an Ochberg  centenary ceremony at the Ochberg Park, Megiddo on the March 2021.  Covered by the national Hebrew daily, Yedioth Ahranot, the writer together with Hertzel Katz  (front left) hold up a portrait of Isaac Ochberg. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)
 

With the Covid pandemic preventing a planned centenary celebration at the Ochberg Park – inaugurated at the 90th anniversary in 2011 with visitors attending from all over the world – the Centenary instead was brought into the homes of thousands across the world. Initiated and organized by the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee, the Megiddo Regional Council and supported by the JNF-KKL that had originally sponsored the creation of the Ochberg Park, the Centenary webinar was hosted by the SA Jewish Report with Howard Sackstein moderating a panel of speakers ranging from historians, members of the Ochberg family to descendants of the Ochberg orphans. This was followed by a ceremony from the Ochberg Park filmed by Dr. Les Glassman in Megiddo with addresses from the State President in Israel, Reuven Rivlin, the Chairman of the Jewish Agency, Isaac Herzog, Chairman of KKL, Avraham Duvdevani, the Mayor of the Megiddo Regional Council, Itzik Kholawsky, Megiddo Planning & Development, Ayal Rom, Member of the Knesset, Ruth Wasserman Lande, the Chair of Telfed, Batya Shmukler and the Chairman of the Isaac Ochberg Committee, David Kaplan. These  addresses were interspersed with singing from youth choirs from Megiddo and the event concluded with the national anthems of Israel and South Africa, signifying the bridge built by Ochberg between his two pursuits – helping South Africa and helping the creation and development of a future State of Israel.

Member of Knesset, Ruth Wasserman Lande addresses the gathering in front of the memorial to Isaac Ochberg  Megiddo at the centenary event. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Apart from the daring rescue of 187 Jewish orphans and bringing them safely to South Africa, and whose names are embedded on plaques on the ‘Hill of Names’ at Megiddo’s Ochberg Park,  what was largely forgotten was his substantial support for a Jewish state, in the days when it was still a farfetched dream. The bequest he left in 1937 through Keren Hayesod to KKL- JNF  – the largest to date ever made by an individual – was used to acquire the land that became two large kibbutzim in this area, Dalia and Gal’ed, both established before Israel’s independence and by Jewish youth movements, and both absorbed survivors from the Holocaust – precisely fulfilling Ochberg’s legacy of Jewish salvation.  If Ochberg personally saved lives of children in 1921, his legacy ensured that next generations of Jews were saved in the turbulent  years that followed. Is it little wonder as Megiddo Mayor Kholawsky  reminds us  why huge swathes of this region was called ‘Even Yitzchak’ – Hebrew for the ‘Stone of Isaac”. How appropriate that the Ochberg saga is solidly  embedded in the topography of Megiddo.

Past Preserved. Erin Kumin, points to the plaque of her great-grandmother, Janie Odes, one of the orphans saved by Isaac Ochberg in 1921 at centenary event at the Ochberg Park on the 12 March 2021. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

The Megiddo Regional Council and the Ochberg Committee are planning an expansion of the park  with a promenade and facilities to perpetuate the Ochberg legacy and attract tourism – a message that Ochberg himself conveyed way back in 1926. In an interview with South Africa’s The Zionist Record following his visit to Palestine with his beloved wife Polly that year, Ochberg urged all South Africans to spend their holidays in Eretz Yisrael, saying:

Even outside of political and national reasons it is well worth while. The glorious scenery, the fine climate, and its many historic places make a visit to this land a most enjoyable and certainly an unforgettable experience.”

Field of Dreams. Ochberg dreamt of a green fertile Israel such as this field with youngsters cycling at the Ochberg Park, Megiddo.(Courtesy Megiddo Regional Council)

What is quite fascinating is the entrepreneur and visionary characteristics of Ochberg’s personality being revealed in this same 1926 interview when he says:

I came away with a feeling of confidence that the Jewish problem can and will be solved ultimately in Eretz Yisrael and in Eretz Yisrael only.”

Alive Because of One Man. Descendants of Ochberg orphans from all over the world attend the inauguration of the Ochberg Park, Megiddo in 2011 are seen here at nearby Kibbutz Gal’ed, founded in 1945 by members of Habonim from Germany. The kibbutz was built on land purchased by the JNF-KKL from the Isaac Ochberg bequest.  (Photo D.E. Kaplan)
 

He then continues:

As a commercial man, I could not help but be genuinely impressed by the fine progress of industrial development in so young a country. There is every prospect of most important industrial development in Palestine as the country grows.”

For 1926, prophetic words indeed!

Always a man of action, Ochberg puts his words into action following his visit to Palestine, where he was deeply moved  by the new Hebrew University taking shape on Mount Scopus,  and set about financially supporting practical education in Palestine by sponsoring Chairs of Agriculture – which he felt was essential for an emerging Jewish state – at the new Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute.

Educating about Ochberg. Award winners of a 2019 Ochberg Essay Competition at Alon Shool, Ramat Hasharon Israel organized by Hertzel Katz and the Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee and judged by Steve Linde, editor of the Jerusalem Report. The Ochberg Saga was the cover story of the Jerusalem Report, copies of which the winners are holding up. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

Still on education, it was most revealing to note that in his will, the £10,000 bequest he left to the University of Cape Town for a trust in which the income was  to provide scholarships, there was a condition that “there be no differentiation between the students by reason of colour, creed or race”. Clearly reflecting his  character and his values, Ochberg specified that “should this policy ever be changed, the £10,000 would then devolve upon the Isaac Ochberg Palestine Fund.”

Forgotten Man Remembered

If my first article 20 years ago on Ochberg which was titled  ‘Righting a Wrong’, today I can safely title an article on the same subject – ‘A Wrong Righted’.

Set Out To Save. Poster to the 2005 documentary about Isaac Ochberg’s rescue of Jewish orphans by Oscar award-winning director, Jon Blair.

Books, articles, a documentary “Ochberg’s Orphans” submitted for an Oscar, essay competitions, addressing conferences, lecturing students at schools in South Africa and Israel and the opening of an Isaac Ochberg Park in Megiddo that emblazons in plaques along its ‘Hill of Names’ the names of all the children Ochberg saved, have all contributed to ensure that “The man from Africa” as he was called before he arrived to save them and “Daddy Ochberg” ever after, is known to future generations.

All in the Family.  Three generations of Ochberg Orphans at the Ochberg Park, Megiddo – Leon Segal, Benny Penzik , (both parents were Ochberg orphans), descendants of Archie Ruch and Cecil Migdal on the 12 March 2021. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)
 

The Isaac Ochberg Heritage Committee apart from the writer of Bennie Penzik, Hertzel Katz, Ian Rogow, Peter Bailey and Joel Klotnik (both on the advisory board to the Megiddo Regional Council), Leon Segal, Rob Hyde and Lauren Snitcher (Cape Town) and Lyanne Kopenhager (Johannesburg) are committed to preserving the legacy with the take away message that:

One good deed today can impact on the lives of many tomorrow

Celebrating Ochberg. Members of the Ochberg Committee, (l-r) Hertzel Katz, Ian Rogow and Bennie Penzik (whose both parents were Ochberg orphans)  together with family  descendants of Isaac Ochberg, Tessa Webber and Cynthia Zukas at the 90th reunion in 2011 at Kibbutz Dalia, which was build on land purchased by the JNF-KKL through funding from Isaac Ochberg.(Photo D.E.Kaplan)

You have only to ask the over 4000 descendants of the orphans Ochberg rescued in 1921 or heard what some of them said on the SA Jewish Report webinar. Many with tears in their eyes, like Lauren Snitcher, Paula Slier and Andi Saitowitz said:

If it weren’t for this one man, I would not be here today.”

Honouring Ochberg. Granddaughter of an Ochberg orphan, Lauren Snitcher (right) and daughter, Machala at the Ochberg memorial, Ochberg Park, Megiddo in 2011. (Photo D.E. Kaplan)

With his ‘family’ having expanded into the thousands,  with Palestine being a Jewish State of Israel absorbing Jews from all over the world, its universities in the vanguard for superlative education, and thriving kibbutzim in Megiddo due to his vision and generosity, Isaac Ochberg can look down from his celestial perch and smile.

His legacy will always be identified with:

He who has saved one life is as if he has saved the entire world







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)

Tel Aviv is Alive, Well and Pedaling

By Stephen Schulman

These times are troubled and turbulent with the Covid-19 Virus taking its toll, reaping illnesses and deaths and like the rest of the planet, Israel has not been immune. There have been and still are lockdowns with businesses closed, people losing their livelihoods, being confined to homes, and much attendant suffering.

Nevertheless, in spite of restrictions on movement and being limited to a certain radius from their homes, Israeli citizens have been allowed a respite; to leave their domiciles for sporting activities and exercise provided that it is not done in groups. Throughout the length and breadth of the country many people have taken advantage of this proviso and with gusto, have filled the paths and trails from Kiryat Shmona in the north down to southerly Eilat.

North to South. The writer participating in the Israel Road Cycling Challenge that crosses the Golan, connecting over 850 miles (1400km) of single track and dirt tracks from the snowy peak of Mt. Hermon in the north to the sun-soaked Red Sea city of Eilat.

Alongside their pedestrian paths, many cities and local councils with a growing awareness and appreciation of this sport have also paved parallel cycle lanes and Tel Aviv and its metropolis is no exception to the rule. Moreover, possessing a cosmopolitan ambience with a round the clock activity, with its flat topography, large parks, seaside promenade, multitude of cycling lanes and many hire bike stations, the city has become a Mecca for cyclists. In this difficult period, there has been a two wheeled renaissance as many Israelis have discovered and rediscovered the joys of cycling. Bicycle shops are bustling, the demand is great and many disappointed customers have found that cycles are in short supply.

Two-Wheel Fun in the Sun. Ideal weather for most the year, Israelis  have taken to cycling in a huge way. (Photo via Shutterstock)

Tel Aviv boasts a great cycling path that runs alongside the sea. It starts from the Old City of Jaffa, continues along the Herbert Samuel beach promenade to the Old Port of Tel Aviv, then turning north via Reading power station stretches until the Tel Baruch beach and then goes even further, ending at the marina in Herzlia. This picturesque route is daily thronged with cyclists of all ages and all sizes riding a wide variety of bikes ranging from folding models with small 20 inch wheels and laid back balloon tired boulevard cruisers to expensive top range mountain and road bikes. It has become so popular that on Friday and Saturday mornings there is something akin to a traffic jam!

Coasting Along. Taking in the breeze off the Mediterranean, cycling on Tel Aviv beach promenade.

Tel Aviv off-road pedallers wishing to be closer to nature and get away ‘far from the madding crowd‘ do not lack for choice. The Yarkon River that runs through Tel Aviv with its effluence at the Old Port has single tracks aplenty. In many places, the path winds through bamboo growing along its banks and it is an inimitable experience speeding down tunnels created by their leaves and stems growing together over your head.

Cycling Comrades. The writer Stephen Schulman (right) with his cycling companion Adrian Wolff.

To their credit, the mayor and the city council identify with and encourage sport. In addition to the annual marathon, there is the Tel Aviv Rondo – the largest cycling event in the country. Every September, (except for lockdown 2020!) on an early Friday morning, well over 10,000 pre-registered cyclists assemble at the Exhibition Grounds to complete a well organized, closed off 20 km loop in the city. Experienced riders are permitted 3 circuits and even the young are well catered for with an 8km route. Nothing can compare to the experience of riding down the freeway with the wind at your back and before you, a colorful phalanx of thousands of joyful pedallers stretching far into the distance!

Sea Breeze. A group cycling tour of the coast seen here at Herzliya marina.

There are many other organized cycling events throughout the country ranging from off-road charity rides to pelotons for serious ‘roadies’. Even hilly Jerusalem has its devoted riders and hosts both off and on road events. Possibly the biggest and most traditional is the annual Ride around the Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) where, on a November Saturday morning, with the sea on their right, thousands of cyclists, both young and old, from all over the country congregate to complete the more demanding 65 km circuit to then relax and picnic with family and friends on the large lawns beside the lake.

Peddling Pleasure. Seen here some years ago at the One-to-One Charity Ride Round the Sea of Galilee in aid of children who were victims of terror attacks, is the writer (left) together with former South Africans living in Israel.

Israel offers a great choice of well mapped and marked cycling routes, many of which have been planned and executed by the local and regional authorities together with a growing number of volunteer enthusiasts. A Trans-Israel cycling path is also under development.

 In the Holy Land, the range and variety of landscape is unparalleled. My cycling buddy and I have been on challenging descents on the Golan Heights, climbed single tracks in the verdant and wooded Galilee and bounced over rocks in the arid and dusty Negev Desert. But what gives us even greater pleasure is watching the growing number of keen cyclists. In our well over two decades of pedaling, we have been witnesses to how once limited to a relatively small number of groupies; the sport has mushroomed into a national pastime.

Tough at the Top. The writer participating in a grueling assent of the majestic Golan Heights.

Cycling has also become firmly ensconced within the national consciousness.  We now proudly possess a national cycling team – Israel Start-Up Nation – that has successfully competed in many prestigious international events including the Giro d’Italia  and the legendary and grueling Tour de France. About two years ago, the team, dressed in their blue and white jerseys – the color of the Israeli flag – rode in a peloton across Israel and was greeted by enthusiastic and cheering crowds along the way. How do I know? I was among them!

From Jerusalem to Rome. Elia Viviani of Italy wins the 2nd stage of the Giro d’Italia, in Tel Aviv on May 5, 2018. ( Roy Alima/FLASH90)

With the aid of mass vaccinations and some public cooperation, Israel is now slowly emerging from the lockdown and attempting to return to a normalcy.

Hopefully, the road to full recovery will not only lead upward but also be full of fellow cyclists!  

Hello from Israel. There has been a “cycling revolution” in Israel in recent years with Israel Start-Up Nation / Israel Cycling Academy competing in both the Giro d ’Italia and the Tour de France.
 



About the writer:

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Stephen-Schulman1.png

Stephen Schulman is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist youth movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. He was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.





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

A Brush with the Past

The brushstrokes of Nachum Gutman reflect and reveal Tel Aviv’s rich and colourful journey from sleepy city to the ‘city that never sleeps’.

By David E. Kaplan

The art of Nachum Gutman is a colourful and vibrant roadmap into the past. It offers a visual narrative of days gone; but also an understanding of where we are today. If we marvel at the creativity and unpredictability of Tel Aviv today, explore the art of this great artist to best understand this great city.

Window into the Past. A visual tapestry of early life in Tel Aviv at the Nahum Gutman Museum of Art in Neve Tzedek.

Located in Neve Tzedek – the first Jewish neighborhood built outside the walls of the ancient port of Jaffa – the location and setting of the Nachum Gutman Museum could not be more idyllic. Perched on the east end of the narrow cobbled Rokah Street, with its quaint old, restored homes and lined with trees, the area exudes the ambiance of an artist colony.

Blue and White. The colours of Israel emblaze the walls exhibiting life in the “First Modern Hebrew City” – Tel Aviv.

In this aesthetic locale, the Nachum Gutman Museum is at home. Comprised of two buildings, the main one houses Gutman’s permanent collection called Beit Hasofrim (Writer’s House). Built in 1887, “It was one of the first buildings in Neve Tzedek and is the oldest in the neighborhood,” says Monica Lavi, the Director and Chief Curator of the Nachum Gutman Museum, whom I met in the foyer of the site.

Bright and Beautiful. Interior of the Nahum Gutman Museum, Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv.

In the early years, Tel Aviv’s intellectuals favoured this new neighborhood,” says Lavi, “and Writers House acquired its name due to the impressive number of famous writers who lived here and gathered for literary meetings and discussions.” Such literary luminaries included the famed Jewish poet Hayim Bialik, S. Y. Agnon, who would later win the Nobel Prize for Literature, Joesph Aharonovitz, Dvora Baron, and Nachum Gutman’s father, a renowned Hebrew writer and educator who wrote under the pen name S. Ben Zion. The Gutmans too lived in this neighbourhood, “so Nachum grew up here, absorbing as a child the local lifestyle and intellectual culture of a young city on the move.”

Street Scene. Colourful life in Neve Tzedek where the artist grew up.

Between the years 1907 and 1914, the museum was home to the weekly newspaper, Hapoel Hatzair (The Young Worker), founded by A.D. GordonYosef Ahronowitz, and Yosef Sprinzak, that followed a Zionist socialist agenda and sought to establish a Jewish foothold in Palestine through personal labour in agriculture. “These pioneering idealists,” says Lavi, “were active from 1905 until 1930. So, as you can see, this building was an intellectual powerhouse, a natural home for the art and writings of Nachum Gutman whose art captured all the trends that were shaping the emerging nation.”

Visually Vibrant. A watercolor of ‘Figures in Neve Tzedek’ with the Mediterranean in the background.

We learn how intimate Gutman was to the historical sources from his contribution to the ‘Book of Tel Aviv’, which the Tel Aviv municipality commissioned his father, S. Ben-Zion, to write in honor of the city’s 25th anniversary. “Sometime after he began to work, S. Ben-Zion died,” says Lavi, “and the editing work was completed in 1936 by editor and translator A. Druyanov. Gutman produced eleven illustrations for the book, one of which was his father sitting and writing at night.”

As I reflect on Gutman’s father “sitting and writing at night”, I think of the lights of Tel Aviv’s commercial skyscrapers  – separated by a century – indicating the young and the ambitious, working well into the night.

After all, Tel Aviv is now known as the “City that never sleeps.”

‘Good Morning, Tel Aviv’. The artist capturing in this oil on canvas a new dawn in a young city.

Streetwise

The first work that greets the viewer is a large colourful painting of Tel Aviv. A juxtaposition of images, it captures its iconic architecture, its outdoors way of life and that it’s a coastal city. With the sea in the background and ships coming in to dock – this was still the age when the docks at Tel Aviv still operated – one can identify Allenby Street as it reaches the seashore. We see outdoor cafés with people sitting around tables on the sidewalks, chatting, reading and watching the passing show. This is quintessential Tel Aviv – a vibrant city with people on the move. In this sense, little has changed. Gutman captured the essence and spirit of a city that stands the test of time.

Tale about Transition. The pastoral and the urban mesh in an emerging Tel Aviv sprouting north of the ancient port of Jaffa  replete with ships at sea and ‘ships of the desert’ – camels.

I gravitated to a nearby computer screen where I waded through a most colourful compilation of Gutman’s paintings of Tel Aviv. All bright and expressive – the streets were bustling with honking cars, horse and donkey drawn carts, people standing around and talking in the middle of the streets ignoring the traffic. There were the residents of apartment blocks sitting sunbathing on rooftops reading newspapers, and in the distance in many of these paintings, one can see the port of Jaffa. The contrast from old and new Tel Aviv was startling. Relatively high-rise buildings in the foreground of a modern 1920s Tel Aviv with ancient minarets in old Jaffa in the far off background, convey the trajectory of a journey from the past to the future. Israel was changing and Gutman captured this transition in animation and vivid colours.

Family Man

Moving to a mock up of the artist’s studio with his original chair and upright easel, one’s eyes gravitate to a huge black and white photograph of the artist sitting on the same chair, hard at work painting on a large canvass on the same easel now on display. The alignment of props and photographs is such, that one ‘feel’s the artist’s physical presence as well as his close feelings towards his family: on the wall is a painting of his wife Dora, one of many on exhibit.

Room with a ‘Vision’. A recreation of the artist’s  studio  in the Nahum Gutman Museum of Art.

The writer then moved along a wall mostly taken up with oil paintings of Gutman’s only son Hemi sitting on his mother Dora’s lap. Preceding these is a self-portrait of the artist with Dora sitting on his lap as if a pleasing portend of what was to follow – son Hemi. In each painting, ‘baby Hemi’ is dressed in a different baby outfit as is his mother – the affection between mother and son is so emotively evident.

Cuddling Couple. Dora Gutman intimately seated on the lap of the artist.

Clearly, the artist was expressing himself as a loving family man. This sense was reinforced when curator Lavi explained some background to understating these paintings: “Nachum was twelve when his mother died and his father took another wife and left. Nachum was left with his grandparents who raised him so when he became a family man, he painted over and over again his wife and child, as if to show that he was the father that his own father was not.” The titles speak for themselves:

Dora, Hemi and a toy’, ‘Dora with Hemi on her lap’, ‘Sleeping baby (Hemi)’ and so on.

Mother and Child. The artist’s wife Dora and son Hemi.

He wanted to show through his art,” said Lavi that “he was a loving husband and father, and that the family was united.”

Looking Back

Ascending the stairwell between landings in the museum, I notice a large Gutman self-portrait standing before his easel but looking back over his shoulder, towards the viewer. It’s a powerful painting, all the more so when one understands that the artist was constantly in a retrospective mode. He was painting not so much what he was seeing in the present but what he remembered of the past.

‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’. A relaxed Nahum Gutman reclining in a chair.

It is easy to forget that Gutman was only 11 years old when Tel Aviv was founded,” says Lavi. “Apart from one immature drawing, we have no childhood sketches by Gutman depicting the city. Even in that single sketch we see the houses in a built up street and not virgin sands. The Ahuzat Bayit and Tel Aviv that we know from his paintings and stories are all from memory, from his knowledge and historical materials. They were painted when he was in his thirties, decades after the city was established.” For this reason, explains Lavi, “when we tried to organize his body of work chronologically, we discovered that it was hard to arrange along a timeline. What we had believed to be an early work was actually a later one. His own adventures, together with historical events were written many years later and were based on written sources, and what seems as if it might have been painted as an observer at the time of an event, was actually painted from memory.”

Dreaming on the Dunes. A city founded on sand dunes north of Jaffa in 1909, Nahum Gutman’s idealistic impression of a sun soaked Tel Aviv depicting icons of the Zionist enterprise.

Out of Africa

There were once few children in Israel unfamiliar with Nachum Gutman’s illustrated book ‘Lobengulu, King of the Zulu’. It was written during his visit to South Africa in 1934 when he was sent by the Municipality of Tel Aviv to paint a portrait of General Jan Smuts, who would later emerge as that country’s Prime Minister and a great supporter for a Jewish national homeland. The book in Hebrew was serialised in 1935-6 and became a children’s bestseller. Apart from the many prizes Gutman won for both art and literature – for over 30 years he was also the illustrator for the ‘Davar for Children’ newspaper – he was awarded in 1978 the country’s most prestigious civilian award, the Israel Prize for children’s literature.

Out of the Wild. The front cover of ‘In the Land of Lobengulu, King of Zulu’, Nahum Gutman’s popular book about his adventures in Africa (Courtesy Nahum Gutman).

In the museum there is a room dedicated to Lobengulu King of the Zulu, which is an adventure story, written in the first person, of the author and his friends searching for the treasure of the Zulu king. While they fail to discover treasure, the author does discover in his first of many books, something far more enriching – the ability to reach the minds and hearts of children; especially at a time when they needed an infusion of faraway fantasy.

Explains Lavi:

 “It was during the turbulent thirties. The Arab Revolt in British Mandate Palestine was in full swing, and Gutman provided with pen and brush a valuable service by taking the minds of young children away from disturbing events in their daily lives to a land far removed, where they could indulge their imagination in adventure and fantasy.”

The room is replete with colourful paintings of tribal and wild life in Africa, set in forests, mountains, open veld and rivers, crocodiles, elephants, monkeys and hippos engage the viewer. “The kids love this room,” says Lavi who is most proud of the museum’s commitment to children’s education in art.

Adventure in Africa. Artist, writer and illustrator, Nachum Gutman brings the mystique of Africa to the Jewish children of Palestine with his popular ‘In the Land of Lobengulu, King of Zulu’. (Courtesy)

The wondrous warm character of the artist is revealed here not by his brush but by his pen:

“Have you ever paid attention to how much the word tzayar (painter) is similar to the word tzayad (hunter)?
When I was a boy, I wanted to be a hunter,
And even now I’m a kind of hunter. I have the character of a hunter.
Not to kill the animal,
But to capture its soul on the canvas.”

Hello Hemi

Noting my interest in the many paintings of the artist’s wife and their child Hemi – all painted in the 1930s – Lavi asked: “Would you like to interview Hemi, he is a professor emeritus biophysics at Tel Aviv University?” I jumped at the opportunity, and Hemi was no less excited: “visitors are a museum’s oxygen,” he expressed at the beginning of the interview.

What was it like growing up in the Gutman household?” I asked the retired professor, who until then I only knew as a toddler on his mother’s lap.

It was like living with a legend. While on the one hand he was a normal father, I was constantly fascinated by what he was doing.” Smiling he adds, “I think I was a little jealous at times. I remember thinking that he was so busy writing, painting, and meeting important people that he was spending too little time with me.” He agreed that in a way he is destined to spend all eternity with his illustrious father being immortalized in so many of his paintings.

Age of Reflection. The artist in later life.

While Gutman immigrated with his parents to Eretz-Israel in 1905 at the age of seven, he was truly a product of his new environment “and as a student, he soon rebelled against the European style of painting at the Bezalel Art Academy,” said Hemi. “When my father attended Bezalel, all the teachers there were of European descent, and their entire treatment of subject matter was based on European landscapes and even on European lighting. Dad’s group rebelled; believing that the different landscapes in Israel, one in which summer days are often gray and filled with blinding light from dust, required a new and different treatment.”

In this way, Gutman was the leading ‘light’ – the operative word – in creating a uniquely Israeli style of art.

Before Gutman, “there was no such thing as Israeli art,” says curator Lavi. “Yes, you could say there was Jewish art and Judaica would fall into this category, but no Israeli art as such.  This would be left to Nachum Gutman – one of the first children to live in Tel Aviv and one of the first students at Bezalel. His contribution to Israel’s culture is immeasurable.”

1912 Overture

I concluded the visit by staring at a huge photograph taken of an art class of aspiring students at the Bezalel Academy of Art in Jerusalem. The year was 1912 and the students in the class, all fourteen of them, are painting while their teacher, Abel Pann appears in the front right corner, sketching. The large photograph appeared to me like an orchestra practicing with the teacher at the head looking like a conductor.

Artist on his Way. While many in this 1912 art class at Bezalel Academy of Art turn to face the photographer, Gutman, seated at the back, remains transfixed on his canvass.

Seated in the back of this ‘composition’ was the emerging ‘maestro’ Nachum Gutman immersed in his work. While many in the class turn to face the photographer, Gutman’s eyes remained transfixed on the canvass in front of him, too busy capturing others to be concerned with others capturing him.

With each brushstroke, the young student was on his way to become the founding figure of Israeli art.





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 (O&EO).

Beauty and the Beach

An architectural masterpiece  on Tel Aviv’s coastline canvas will enhance the city among the leading cultural capitals of the world

By David E. Kaplan

It is said that the 21st century is destined to be the century of cities rather than countries. This forecast is evident in the vocabulary of today’s tourists –  at least before Corona –  of visiting Paris, Barcelona, St. Petersburg or Shanghai rather than mentioning the countries in which they are situated – France, Spain, Russia or China!

Down by the Riverside. On the banks of the Yarkon River and a few steps from the sea, Tel Aviv’s future World’s Jewish Museum.

More than half the world’s population has already moved to cities and this is expected to rise to 80% by the middle of this century. With so many cities vying for center stage, Tel Aviv is now going beyond its branding of being the “Bauhaus Capital of the World” – reflecting early 20th century clean, utilitarian architecture – to an uncertain and exciting future of flirtations and fluctuations. This has given rise to one of the most poignant descriptions of Tel Aviv as a city “waking up each morning and deciding what it’s going to be.” The  new spectacular sculptures ascending to the heavens across the Tel Aviv landscape,  attest to this branding and in a few short years’ time, there will be a major addition that encapsulates the city’s essence and affirms its rising global status. That addition will be the new  World’s Jewish Museum designed by the legendary award-winning Canadian-born American architect – Frank Gehry, whose masterpieces have disrupted the very meaning of design within architecture. These “disruptions”  are powerfully projected in such monumental works as the La Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles and the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.

It was hoped before the Corona pandemic that this world-scale museum, cultural and entertainment center would have been completed before May 2023, in time for the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence. However, when completed, the World’s Jewish Museum on the 22-dunam (5.5-acre) site overlooking the Mediterranean along the bank of the Yarkon River at the northwestern edge of Hayarkon Park and steps from the Namal ( Port of Tel Aviv), will be the hub of cultural and recreational activity and the heart of the city’s vibrant waterfront.

Marvel on the Med. Adjacent to the Medetrrnean and the Hayarkon Park that attracts over 15 million visitors a year,  a model of Tel Aviv’s  World’s Jewish Museum.

While engendering great excitement, there are however, those that remind us that society cries out with so many pressing needs from education and health to socio-economic inequalities and criticize the need for such expansive and expensive adventures.

There is however a strong counter argument.

Look to Bilbao in Spain and what Gehry achieved for the status of that city and just as important – the benefit for Bilbao’s citizens!  

From Bilbao to Tel Aviv

Architects and city developers talk about the “Bilbao Effect” referring to the “WOW factor” that followed the opening in 1997 of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao in northern Spain. From being a lack-luster industrial city totally off the tourist’s map, Bilbao emerged virtually overnight as one of the most popular destinations in Europe. Frank Gehry’s stunning monumental structure hailed as “one of the most admired works of contemporary architecture” and which the late esteemed architect, Philip Johnson, called “the greatest building of our time”, rapidly reversed the city’s fortunes which had fallen victim to an industrialization that had either aged or moved elsewhere. Within the first year, the museum with its distinctive titanium curves and soaring glass atrium attracted over 1,300,000 visitors exceeding all expectations and infusing $160 million into the local economy. In its first five years, the Museum generated more than a billion US dollars for the Basque country, more than ten times the museum’s cost. Whatever the staggering costs of financing alluring cultural magnets, the returns far exceeded the outlay. Widely credited in putting Bilbao on the map, Gehry’s masterpiece has subsequently inspired other iconic structures around the world, which will soon be joined by the World’s Jewish Museum in Tel Aviv.

Maestra and Masterpiece. Famed architect Frank Gehry with a model of the future World’s Jewish Museum in his office.

Back to the Roots

It may at first seem strange that Gehry, who doesn’t identify as Jewish, took on a uniquely Jewish project in the Jewish homeland?

His explanation is a long journey – nearly as complex as his architectural designs, but it includes this admission:

 “There’s a curiosity built into the Jewish culture. I grew up under that. My grandfather read Talmud to me. That’s one of the Jewish things I hang on to probably— that philosophy from that religion. Which is separate from God. It’s more ephemeral. I was brought up with that curiosity. I call it a healthy curiosity. Maybe it is something that the religion has produced. I don’t know. It’s certainly a positive thing.”

What intrigues the architect  – who was born Frank Goldberg – is that “The Talmud starts with the word ‘WHY’.”

So little surprise that on the model of the museum sitting in Gehry’s offices, the word Lamah (“why” in Hebrew) is carved into one of the buildings, although the architect remains usure whether it will be included in the final construction.  

 Reframing the Jewish Narrative and Showcasing Achievement. Gail Asper holding a World’s Jewish Museum folder in the Frank Gehry-designed Galleria Italia at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto in March, 2018. (Photo by Etye Sarner).

Fellow Canadian Gail Asper of the Asper Foundation – the visionary behind the museum – explains that “The site will have the greatest story that’s never been told about the Jewish people. It will celebrate the joys not the oys. The museum is more about how Jewish values have transformed and improved the world.” 

For Asper, having Gehry bring her vision to fruition “is like hearing angels sing,” she says. “Frank immediately loved the vision. I know that beautiful architecture inspires the soul and Frank designs incredibly breathtaking, inspiring buildings. I love Bilbao. I love the Disney Concert Hall. I love what he does. And for all the countries in the world to not have some extraordinary breathtaking Frank Gehry building, Israel absolutely deserves that. And Israelis deserve that. They put up with an awful lot living in Israel. They pay high taxes. They’re dodging rockets, even in Tel Aviv.” 

Inside Story. An artist’s impression of the inside of the World’s Jewish Museum Tel Aviv.

The Museum will provide a cutting-edge, educational and inspirational experience that explores the contributions that Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel have made to civilization in numerous fields over the past 3,500 years, from the Bible to enterprise, science, education, culture and social justice. Says Gehry:

Most of the buildings until this point to represent Jewish causes and issues have included the Holocaust  because that was such a searing, burning, terrible issue in our lives. This museum will really be about celebrating the achievements of this culture over time, and some of it is extraordinary, and a lot of it has not been told as it will be in this museum.”

Shape of things to Come

Gehry is passionate about restoring art back into architecture. He laments that “a lot of the world no longer considers architects as artists. So I think what’s needed is architects who are artists.” Historically, he asserts, “architecture was considered an art”, but that changed following WWII when “it got mixed up with other issues like commercial developers.” In the aftermath, a debate has persisted over whether architecture is an art or just the creation of a solid structure for the benefit of society.  For Gehry it is both as we will one day see and be bedazzled by the allure of his first building in Israel, Tel Aviv’s World’s Jewish Museum. Israelis and tourists from abroad will visit the museum to see the building  as much as its exhibits within. The packaging will be no less fascinating than its contents. This was the case of Bilbao.

Taste of Tel Aviv to Be. Gail Asper with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, center, and Moe Levy, executive director of the Asper Foundation in Winnipeg. (Courtesy)

Alluring Architecture

Since the Bilbao success –  a deliberate choice in using contemporary high-profile architecture as a tourist draw card – the term, ‘Architourism’ has gained currency. There is no doubting the seductive value of these highly photogenic and iconic buildings  to lure visitors. Apart from Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, one has only to think of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum in New York, Danish architect, Jørn Utzon’s Opera House in Sydney, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and Cesar Pelli’s Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur that has featured in movies and TV productions, most notably the film Entrapment, where the building ‘starred’ alongside the late Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones.

The building was no less the star of the show!

There is no denying the power of man-made marvels capturing people’s imagination. From ionic structures in ancient times such as the Acropolis and Colosseum to the more  modern examples such as the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben or Empire State Building, all achieved celebrity status as powerful visual metaphors of their cities. Imaginative architecture brands a city to lure visitors and commerce.

Success of Structure. Hardly any other city has benefited from a museum as much as Bilbao. The Guggenheim Museum has made Bilbao so alluring that it attracts millions of tourists annually  from all over the world.

In a few years, adding to this illustrious list of iconic global edifices, will be Frank Gehry’s World’s Jewish Museum that will further lift Tel Aviv to new prominence in the world of contemporary design.

I marveled at this thought when last Friday morning, I stared at the vacant sight where construction has yet to begin and with the model of the museum in my mind, thought  of Tel Aviv’s exciting tomorrows.


World’s Jewish Museum architect and visionary Frank Gehry discusses his vision for the design of the building.






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

Tel Aviv on Track

Tracking history, City launches new railway park

By David E. Kaplan

While the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo (Jaffa) is never boring – known as “the city that never sleeps” – boring is exactly what is happening in Tel Aviv these days as the city works on constructing its underground railway.  They even roped in the spirit of Israel’s fourth Prime Minister, Golda Meir, for the formidable task by officially naming one of the Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM) – “GOLDA”. While the endearing characteristics of  the “strong-willed, straight-talking grey-bunned grandmother of the Jewish people” takes on all that stands in her subterranean way, on the surface, the city’s landscape is being enriched with a special park memorialising  its colourful railway legacy.

Railtrack to Footpath. Park Hamesila (“Train Track Park”) meanders through downtown Tel Aviv with Jaffa in the background.

Located in the southwestern part of the city between the trendy Neve Tzedek quarter and Eilat Street in the vicinity of the historic German Templer neighbourhood of Valhalla, stands the new Park Hamesila. In Hebrew, the “Train Track Park”, it is named for the first railway between Jaffa and Jerusalem, which was inaugurated in 1892.

Past and Present. A train powered by a steam locomotive on the railroad tracks in Tel Aviv in 1945 (left). Park Hamesila (the tracks park) in Tel Aviv, seen from the air in 2020.(Zoltan Kluger and Tomer Applebaum)

Due to the current Corona virus lockdown, the first stretch of the park has not been formally dedicated, although many members of the public have flocked there in recent weeks.

Taking a walk in this park is a stroll down memory lane as one recalls its fascinating history.

Off the Beaten track

Buried by urbanisation and long forgotten by modern day Tel Avivians, the past has now come alive on a revived track that once steam locomotives, transported merchants, tourists, pilgrims and visiting dignitaries and statesmen from the ancient port of Jaffa to the ancient city of Jerusalem. Today, this same stretch is abuzz with joggers, cyclists, parents pushing prams and the most common site of Tel Aviv, the dog and its beloved owner.

Early Days. Constructing the original railway line in Jaffa in the late nineteenth century.

In 1913, some 180,000 passengers passed on this stretch of track on route to Jerusalem. An illuminating thought is that of inflation. A beer or ice-cream today would cost more than a first-class ticket back then – that is, 50 grush (cents) for a special cabin and 30 grush for a second-class ticket.

Not all however, were impressed with the service!

Hemda Ben-Yehuda writing in the ‘HaZvi’ newspaper in 1907 was one unhappy traveler accusing the developers of “scrimping”:

The really terrible thing, is that the railway is lacking a number of truly necessary things. Where, for example, is the drinking water in the railcars… ashtrays for cigarette ash? And last but not least, where, I respectfully inquire, is the lavatory?”

A far more intellectually elevated assessment of the railway was that of another Ben-Yehuda – the esteemed  Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1922) – the celebrated reviver of Hebrew as a modern language.

During its initial construction, Ben-Yehuda, who saw the laying of the track as a symbol of the victory of enlightenment, and who coined the Hebrew word for train, “rakevet’, wrote in his newspaper Ha’or the following:

The roar of the engine is the roar of the victory of education over ignorance, work over sloth, wisdom over vanity, progress over backwardness, the mind over foolishness, a victory of the pure and health-giving spirit over the spirit of polarization and bitterness, a victory of the educated over the foolish. Let those who are enlightened rejoice, the educated of Jerusalem!”

Not too far from this new park, is HaTachana, the city’s first train station. Hidden from the public eye for well over half a century, HaTachana, was reopened in 2010 to the public. Situated between the fashionable Neve Tzedek neighbourhood and the alluring Mediterranean Sea, the historic train station complex is again bustling – a main junction no more for travelers but for revelers, out for a good time at HaTachana’s pubs, restaurants and boutique shops.

Trip Down Memory Lane. Nineteenth century Jaffa railway station and tracks restored.

The idea to lay railway tracks in Palestine was initially proposed by the Jewish British financier, banker and philanthropist, Sir Moses Montefiore back in 1839, after the first public railway was constructed in England. In order to develop modern industry, Montefiore was well aware that a major hurdle was the lack of suitable transport for machinery and raw materials – hence a modern railway was the obvious solution. However, negotiating with the Ottoman Turks for a license proved a bureaucratic nightmare and took a further 51 years for the first track to be laid on the 82-km long route from Jaffa to Jerusalem. Montefiore, for whom Israel is so indebted for his contribution to much of its development in the 19th century, would not live to see the fruits of his vision. The license to build was finally awarded in 1888 by the Turkish Sultan, Abel el-Hamid to Yossef Navon who was able to raise the necessary capital from Europe in order to lay the tracks and build the stations. It was close to a four-hour ride and when that first train rolled into Jerusalem to the welcoming applause of local residents, it heralded a new age of modern transportation.

Staying on Track. The path for pedestrians follows  the nineteenth century tracks  that  connected the ancient port of Jaffa with the ancient city of Jerusalem.

It operated continuously until 1948, and then started up again in 1952 under the ownership of Israel Railways, which inaugurated its first ride with a sack of cement, a bag of flour and a Torah scroll, symbolizing physical and spiritual sustenance as well as industry.

A Walk in the Park

An Appeal that Fell on Deaf Ears. Theodore Herzl meets Kaiser Willem II in Jerusalem.

Well, on the day I visited the new park, I felt that my fellow strollers, needed very much that “physical and spiritual sustenance” feeling the effects of the Covid-19 lockdown. It was invigorating being out and stretching the limbs.  It was no less invigorating letting the mind too “wander” and I wandered back to the late 19th century, reflecting on two particular passengers on the train on the very track I was now walking – the visionary of the State of the State of Israel, Theodor Hertzl and the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II. Within days of each they both travelled on the train in 1898 from Jaffa to Jerusalem.

Each had their own reasons to visit Jerusalem.

In the autumn of 1898, the Kaiser announced his intention to journey to the Holy Land. The declared reason for this grand state visit was to dedicate Jerusalem’s Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, scheduled to open on October 31, the German holiday of Reformation Day. Undeclared however, was the Kaiser’s desire to strengthen the German presence in the Holy Land, and forge closer ties with the Ottoman Empire against England, France and Russia.

Serene Setting. Ottoman-era railway becomes Tel Aviv’s newest park.

Political manoeuvering was no less the intention of Herzl!

The father of modern political Zionism secretly left Vienna to travel to the Holy Land to meet with one man –  the Kaiser, who had taken the earlier train with his wife and entourage from Jaffa to Jerusalem.

The reason Herzl wanted to meet the German Kaiser was to request  if he would ask the sultan – with whom he was in good terms with –  to consider granting to the Jews a chartered company in Palestine under German protection. Herzl had a persuasive argument that would be of interests to all parties. Most important – it would have laid the ‘TRACK’ towards a future Jewish state.

History records the Kaiser made no such promises to Herzl!

A Golda Moment. The Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM), “Golda”, getting ready to go to work. (Photo: Motti Kimchi)

Maybe it would have been better for Germany if he had. Instead of  supporting Jewish statehood, the Kaiser tied his country’s destiny with that of the Ottoman empire that would lead to both their defeat in the Great War (1914 –1918) and the path to the British Mandate and eventual state of Israel in 1948.

History has interesting twists and turns as I followed the park’s no less twisting and turning track.

With no thoughts of the distant past, some very animated kids passed me on scooters careering happily into the future.

Under the Surface. At the ceremony marking the start of work on Tel Aviv’s Metro Red Line (Photo: Motti Kimchi)





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

A Walk In The Park

While man is frequently at war with the environment, not so for Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan whose work is harmoniously in sync with its surroundings

By David E. Kaplan

Back on welcome “grandparent” duty following our release on parole from lockdown,  meant a return to one of my favourite parks – the Edith Wolfson Park on the eastern edge of the city of Tel Aviv. If its Tuesday, “we, the grandparents”, are usually there with our grandson. Perched high, the park offers a magnificent view of the city from its most iconic vantage – a massive sculpture by famed Israeli artist Dani Karavan. Called “The White Square”, the monumental work overlooks “The White City” as Tel Aviv is famously known because of its white Bauhaus architecture and is a complex geometric work that is an ode to the city itself.

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An Ode To Tel Aviv. Dani Karavan’s ‘The White Square’ at Edith Wolfson Park in Tel Aviv.

If Tel Aviv is a city not so much to see but to experience then so to is Karavan’s sculpture where it is less viewed than it is walked, climbed, roller-skated and rollerbladed upon. I invariably join the “kids” in sliding down the sculpture’s colossal “sundial” on carboard as well as scampering up the large “pyramid”. The sculpture exudes physicality  – it is a metaphor for Tel Aviv of open-ended action befitting its reputation as “the city that never sleeps.” If you are generally “into art”, then visiting The White Square you literally, “get into” this art as you climb in, over, upon and through it!

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White Square Overlooking White City. The hill in the park with Karavan’s The White City is topographically the highest vantage view of Tel Aviv.

My first encounter with this monumental sculpture was of complete surprise. I came upon it with my first visit to the park in 2018 when my grandson, Yali, was only a few months old. I stared at the structure and thought, “Déjà vu – I have never been here before! Why is this massive sculpture so familiar?” And then I remembered that nearly a decade earlier, I co-wrote an interview with this sculpture’s creator – Dani Karavan, where he described this renowned work and I wrote about it including providing captions for photographs of what I now weekly ‘experience’.

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Structuring Dreams. Symbolizing fertility and peace, the olive tree in Karavan’s White Square at the Edith Wolfson Park in Tel Aviv.

Dominating the sculpture is a 65-foot cement tower that can be see from afar as well as providing from the top, a majestic vista of the city. The tower symbolizes both the steel siren that once stood there and its function – security – watching over the city. The “migdal” or watchtower, is an enduring image that so characterized early settlement life in Israel as a state-in-the-making, providing security to its people working in the fields.

Beside the tower, is a large geometric piece composed of east-west facing shapes representing the surrounding urban neighborhood, much of it built in the Bauhaus style of architecture that has recognised Tel Aviv as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Next to this is the pyramid-like structure symbolizing the tents lived in by those who built the city well over a century earlier, and then there is a dome-like structure with an olive tree at its center, depicting the orchards that surround Tel Aviv.

Lastly, there is the sun dial, possibly the most popular attraction as I can every Tuesday attest to, noting that it is used as much for skateboarding as it is for any other intended purpose.

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‘Time’ for Fun. Karavan’s Sun Dial (above) enjoyed most by skateboarders (below)

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Portrait Of An Artist

So who is this internationally acclaimed sculptor and Israel Prize recipient who lives in the same house in Tel Aviv, that “I  grew up in” and whose work can be seen across Israel, Europe, and Asia?

Karavan credits  being most influenced by his father when “I turned from painting to sculpture.” His father, Avraham Karavan, was the chief landscape designer for Tel Aviv from the 1940s through the 1960s.My father grew up in Manchester and I think he was very inspired by the English gardens. He always wanted to recreate nature – gardens as nature. I understand now that I am following in his footsteps: When I approach a site, I often develop the project in a similar way to his way of creating gardens.”

It is hard to escape his distinct style, which blends sculpture, architecture, and the landscape into unique and monumental pieces. Putting the question to Karavan that his work appears “as if you are sculpting the landscape”, he replied:

“That’s correct. This is what characterizes my work, which is rooted to a physical environment and not to an atelier [an artist’s workshop]. I was once privileged to meet the distinguished sculptor Henry Moore and observe him work in his environment – how he molded a model the size of a suitcase handle and enlarged it ninety-nine times its size. For me it is the opposite, because the large environment where I work emerges as part of my composition.”

One example the artist cites is the large sculptured wall of the Plenum Hall at the Knesset (Israel’s parliament). Called Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, the wall depicts an abstract Jerusalem landscape, the surrounding hills, and the Judean desert. It is one of the most recognised works of art in Israel as it appears almost daily on TV screens as a backdrop as the people’s elected representatives take to the podium to address the Knesset.

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Art To Inspire. Considered Israel’s most recognised sculpture, Dani Karavan’s Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem in the Knesset Plenum Hall. (Photo: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

Another example Karavan cites “was my first big piece as a sculptor,” the Negev Brigade Memorial. Although a  monument to commemorate those who fought in the Palmach Negev Brigade in 1948, the artist is quick to add:

 “I am not an artist who creates memorials. I create homages.”

The late Uzi Narkiss, a commander of the Negev Brigade’s Seventh Battalion, had suggested to Karavan to build a lookout so that visitors could climb up and physically experience the landscape. Observing the surrounding hills leading down to the valley, the views of the rolling landscape, the folds of the ground, the rocks and the bushes, all emerged as the material of the final work.

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Movement Ahead. A precursor to the land art movement, Karavan’s Negev Brigade Memorial that pays homage to members of the brigade who fell fighting during Israel’s War of Independence.

Explains Karavan:

“I had to integrate the landscape of the desert, its particularities, in order to tell the story of this brigade. My father helped me to plant acacia trees, indigenous to the Negev desert. As water was scarce, he knew which trees should be used. He always kept in mind the water. The line of water I created as part of the monument is not only a symbol of life, but also a tribute to the Palmach Brigade who had the mission of insuring the water supply to the kibbutzim in the desert.”

It was a groundbreaking project. “Up until then,” continued Karavan, “site-specific environmental sculpture did not exist. To some degree, it is similar to architecture, where the architect designs specifically for a particular environment.”

Further explaining, he adds:

 “I am not a sculptor that seeks a place, but rather the place seeks me. Michelangelo said that the statue already exists within the stone; I say that the sculpture already exists within the environment. I just unearth it. This is essentially my contribution to the evolution of sculpture. I wanted that sculpture be something people can climb and children play on – that it will be full of life and not pieces where people visit once a year to lay flowers.”

Looking at the children playing all over The White  Square, he has succeeded.

“My works could not exist without people. I want them to experience the work and feel like it is embracing them. At the same time, I never try to impose the way people should interact with my work. The work itself inspires people and leads them to explore the different forms and spaces. The fact that children engage with my works is not because I designed it for that purpose, but because my works give them a sense of freedom to use them in any way they would like to, without aggression, without violence—in a peaceful way.”

While Karavan can mold material to articulate his dreams and visions, he laments “an inability to influence better relations with our Arab neighbors. My father arrived in Israel in the 1920s. He came as an idealist and I inherited that idealism. What better vision to work for than the pursuit of regional peace and happiness? If you ask what I still want to do, yes, I need to finish my autobiography, but also to collaborate with a Palestinian artist on a project toward peace.”

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Man And His Work. Dani Karavan

From time immemorial, the olive tree is a symbol of peace and I thought of this quote of the artist again when I saw last Tuesday perched in the middle of The White Square the olive tree – the sole vertical living organism amongst the concrete.  It was the right milieu to reflect on the artist’s 2019 response to the question “What is his hope for humanity?” from famed landscape designer Lily S. Kwong:

Karavan replied: “I hope people will be more tolerant of others and to each other. I hope for more education all around the world. I hope that in most countries, art will have a key role in people’s daily lives.”

I felt assuredly of the artist’s hope of art playing “a key role in people’s daily lives,” when watching my grandchild with all the other children ‘explore, engage and encounter’ at the Edith Wolfson Park in Tel Aviv.

 

Some of Karavan’s most important works:

A Walk In The Park1Negev Brigade Memorial, Beersheva, Israel

 

 

 

A Walk In The Park7Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem – Knesset wall relief, Jerusalem, Israel

 

 

A Walk In The Park3Kikar Levana, Tel Aviv, Israel

 

 

A Walk In The Park4Culture Square, Tel Aviv, Israel

 

 

A walk in the park7The “Path of Peace” sculpture by artist Dani Caravan. An environmental sculpture which is one of the attractions of Nitzana

 

 

A Walk In The Park5UNESCO Square of Tolerance – Homage to Yitzhak Rabin, Paris, France

 

 

A Walk In The Park6The Axe Majeur, Cergy-Pontoise, France

Soaring Stuff

Susan’s House in Jerusalem inspires youth through art

By Stephen Schulman

Most of the buildings in the industrial zone of Jerusalem do not greatly differ from those in many other parts of the country. In their functionality, they tend to be rather uniformly drab and dreary. One building in particular with its wide external corridors lined with doors of many workshops is no different from the rest. Nevertheless, what makes it so special is that opening one of the doors leads you into a very special workplace – Susan’s House.

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I was fortunate enough to be part of a group that visited, toured, saw this magnificent project in action and learned of its history.

Started in 2002, Susan’s House is a living memorial to Susan Kaplansky, a gifted artist who had prematurely passed away at the age of 38 leaving her husband Eyal and four young children behind her. Susan, a gifted artist, fervently believing in the healing powers of art, had used her talents to work with disadvantaged children. After her death, Eyal started this workshop and artists’ studio to continue her work and perpetuate her memory.

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Inspirational Couple. Eyal and the late Susan Kaplansky in 1991.

The workshop produces and sells a wide range of arts and crafts ranging from special glassware, jewelry and ceramics to unique stationery and greeting cards made from recycled paper. All of these products have two things in common: they are carefully crafted, and they are made by a dedicated group of thirty youngsters whose ages range from fifteen to eighteen. Each of these young people comes from a difficult background both Jew and Arab. Most are school dropouts and currently unemployed, socially marginalized and at risk – a sad reminder of problems that exist in both communities.

 

At the beginning of the tour, we listened to an introductory talk by Avital Goel, the workshop supervisor who explained that Susan’s House gives them employment and a wage. He went on to explain that under the guidance of a team of social workers and volunteer artists, the teenagers are given vocational rehabilitation, guidance and real life work experience that enables them to become contributing members of society.

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Creative Hands. Learning skills that will empower these teens towards rewarding futures.

They gain self-esteem and the ability to respect others. They not only learn a trade but become part of a working community that is also a home where they learn social skills and in so doing, gain self empowerment. “They work together as a team learning how to manufacture and sell. They also learn the value of money, how to spend it correctly and be a wise consumer. All the youngsters not only eat a wholesome lunch together every day but are also, in turn, given the responsibility to buy the provisions and help prepare the meal.”

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Noble Art. Made from recycled material, exquisite arts and crafts for sale made by youngsters at risk.

The real highlight was a talk by two seventeen year olds – Aviva from a poor Jewish neighborhood and Ahmed, a Muslim Arab from East Jerusalem. Both of them, with complete self-assurance, spoke about themselves, their lives, backgrounds and their work at Susan’s House. Their honesty, openness and sincerity was palpable, their enthusiasm for their workplace was genuine and infectious and there was not one of us sitting and listening to them who was not moved!

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Youngsters Fine Art. for sale from jewelry, glassware and ceramics to greeting cards made from recycled paper. Fine Art. Youngsters at risk are discovering their talents and creating fine artworks

During our stay, production continued, and it was business as usual. We walked around, watched work in progress and then visited the aesthetically arranged shop, which was staffed entirely by the youngsters, to purchase items to take home both as presents and as memoirs of a most illuminating and rewarding visit.

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Young Craftsman. Finding their path through creative expression

Susan’s House is proud of the fact that its five hundred or more graduates have acquired life skills and gone on to become functioning and positive members of society with more than sixty percent serving in the army or doing national service. As a result of its success, another branch has opened in Eilat.

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Creating Fine Futures. The workshop supervisor Avital Goel (centre) with staff and talented teens in the workshop.

Coincidentally, Susan’s House is located on 31 Wings of Eagles Street (31 Canfei Nesharim –  31 כנפי נשרים). A most appropriate address for a noble institution that has been giving so many young people the means to soar!

 

*For more information: Phone: 02-6725069 or email: susanshouse.j@gmail.com

 

 

 

About the writer:

image001 (4).pngStephen Schulman, is a graduate of the South African Jewish socialist Youth Movement Habonim, who immigrated to Israel in 1969 and retired in 2012 after over 40 years of English teaching. Stephen, who has a master’s degree in Education, was for many years a senior examiner for the English matriculation and co-authored two English textbooks for the upper grades in high school. Now happily retired, he spends his time between his family, his hobbies and reading to try to catch up on his ignorance.

 

 

 

Heritage Hike

Stuck at home this Independence Day because of Corona? Take a virtual journey of Israel’s Independent Trail. From Hebrew city to Hebrew state, the trail begins with the founding of Tel Aviv in 1909 and ends with the Establishment of Israel in 1948.

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Embedded in the ground are 10 markers along the one-kilometer brass strip of Independence Trail.

 

By David. E. Kaplan

Walks these days are mostly to the supermarket or pharmacy. While hardly fun, adventurous or cerebrally challenging they are essential. However, no less “essential” is to ensure the mind remains active even if our legs are taking ‘a back seat’!

Prior to Corona, Lay Of The Land toured Independence Trail that was inaugurated in 2018 in honour of Israel’s 70th Independence Day. Only one kilometre (0.6 miles) long, it is rich in 40 years of intense nation-building history. Opting to use a guide rather than the free Municipality of Tel Aviv’s Independence Trail App, our guide began:

 “It was 40 years of wandering before the Biblical Hebrews entering the Promised Land of ancient Israel, today you will be exposed to those 40 tumultuous years of establishing modern Israel during the first half of the twentieth century.”

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Exploring History. A golden path takes these young visitors on an interactive walking route through the history of Tel Aviv along Independence Trail. (Photo by Ricky Rachman)

How better to begin this hike of 10 stops with a cup of coffee and where better to enjoy it than where the hike officially begins – The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv at the intersection of Rothschild Boulevard and Herzl Street, one of the most central spots in Israel.

Kickoff at the Kiosk

The aroma of coffee was irresistible and adhering to the adage “When in Rome”, we all ordered “café hafuch” – Israel’s famous “upside down coffee”.

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Frequently compared with a latte, it is creamier and is also made in reverse. If in a latte, the milk goes on top of the espresso, a café hafuch uses steamed milk on the bottom, and then a shot of espresso is carefully poured on top of the steamed milk and finally topped with milk froth as well as nutmeg or cocoa powder.  The most iconic aspect is the “reverse” – so typically Israeli of hitting the right button but ‘Israeli style”.

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“The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv”. The trail begins here at Tel Aviv’s first kiosk built on Rothschild Boulevard in 1910 the year after Tel Aviv was established on sand dunes in 1909.

“Today, as you can see,” said our guide, “Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard is lined with restaurants and cafés but when the street was first established in 1909, not all the residents were in favour of any commercial activity. While some were agreeable about setting up shops in the neighborhood, others were against, but a year later a small kiosk opened where we are today.”

Situated in the exact same spot where the original once stood and modeled after the eclectic architectural style of the time, the small kiosk is today called Espresso Bar.

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Bustling And Boisterous. Much of ‘Independence Trail’ is along Rothschild Boulevard the social nerve centre of downtown Tel Aviv.

Next, we walked on to the Nahum Gutman Fountain.

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Fountain of Knowledge

Gutman’s mosaic fountain reflects the simplicity of the early days of the “First Hebrew City” as it was once the fashion to call Tel Aviv.  Israel’s famed artist, who was also an accomplished illustrator, photographer, and writer “went to school here, played in these streets, absorbed its sights, sounds and smells and projected them in his colorful exuberant art,’ informed our guide. “He was awarded the prestigious Israel Prize in 1978 and as you can see, the mosaics around the fountain tell the history of Jaffa – the ancient port city from which Tel Aviv was born.”  In a kaleidoscope of color – the artist’s leitmotif – myths and stories from Jewish and Israeli history are emblazoned, from Jonah and the whale to Moses Montefiore and Theodore Herzl.

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Colourful Past. The Nahum Gutman Fountain depicts the history of Jaffa from ancient times until the creation of Tel Aviv. (Photo by Ricky Rachman)

Our next stop was the personal home built in 1909 by Akiva Aryeh Weiss, whose name is literally cemented to the beginning of Tel Aviv.

 Home Truths

Akiva Aryeh Weiss was one of the founders of the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood, which later evolved into Tel Aviv. As President of the then newly established Building Society, Weiss presided over the famous 1909 lottery in which 66 Jewish families drew numbers written on seashells to determine the allocation of lots in the about-to-be established city of Tel Aviv.

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Weiss, who immigrated from Russian Poland to Palestine in 1906 “was a jeweler and watchmaker, and founded the textile industry in Mandatory Palestine, building the earliest textile factory, the Lodzia House,” continued our guide.

“One of Weiss’ dreams, which became a reality was the establishment of a Jewish diamond industry in Palestine.”

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The House That Akiva Built. Built, planned and erected by Akiva Arieh Weiss himself, the cornerstone of the house, the first in the new area known as Ahuzat Bayit, was laid in the summer of 1909.

Now restored, the cornerstone of Weiss’ Tel Aviv house located at 2 Herzl Street was laid in 1909. Originally a single-story structure, the upper floor was added in the 1920s.

Towering Truths

Our third stop was the visitor’s center with its history of Tel Aviv in the Shalom Meir Tower in Herzl Street. Although once the tallest building in Tel Aviv  – and when built in

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Busy Builder. Several constructions built by Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche are today’s heritage sites all around Tel Aviv.

1965 was the tallest building in the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Oceania – far more historically significant is its prestigious predecessor – the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium. The country’s first Hebrew-speaking high school and originally known as HaGymnasia Ha’Ivrit (High School in Hebrew),  the cornerstone laying for the school took place on July 28, 1909, the same year as the city’s founding. Designed by Joseph Barsky and inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple, it was built by Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche, whose family founded Neve Tzedek (“Oasis of Justice”) in 1887 and were again among the founding settlers of Tel Aviv in 1909. These are the proud ancestors of Lay of the Land cofounder, Yair Chelouche who was too enjoying the tour and contributing to the history of the area.

“The school was a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when the site was razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower,” added Yair.

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Major Landmark. Designed by Joseph Barsky inspired by descriptions of Solomon’s Temple and built Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche, the Gymnasia Herzliya on Herzl Street was the country’s first Hebrew high school. It was a major Tel Aviv landmark until 1962 when the site was razed for the construction of the Shalom Meir Tower.

Some of the schools celebrated alumni include Prime Minister Moshe Sharett, the poet Nathan Alterman, the artist Nachum Gutman, the physicist Yuval Neeman, the present mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai and the journalist and chairman of the Yesh Atid party in the Knesset, Yair Lapid.

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Did Alterman write poetry about Tel Aviv?” asked a member of our group.

Sure,’ replied our guide. “An immigrant from Warsaw, Alterman viewed Tel Aviv as the successor to the cities he had known in Europe. In contrast to the Hebrew poets who preceded him, who felt more connected to religion and biblical landscapes, Alterman was an urban poet who shaped an abstract theatrical world of music boxes, horse-drawn carriages and streetlights in Hebrew poetry.”

Looking up at the tall Shalom Tower, the guide told us a popular joke in Tel Aviv of the 1960s after the tower went up that encapsulates the trajectory of modern Israel.

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Tel Aviv On A High. Housing the Visitors Center with the history of Tel Aviv, the Shalom Meir Tower commonly known as Migdal Shalom was Israel’s first skyscraper

“A Tel Aviv taxi picked up a New York tourist who was boasting about his city, how skyscrapers appear suddenly like wild mushrooms when suddenly the taxi turned into Hertzl street and the tourist, who was looking up at the tall Shalom Tower, bellowed:

“WOW! What building is that?”

To which the taxi driver replied:

“I don’t know; it wasn’t there yesterday!”

The imagery of Alterman’s Tel Aviv was a far cry from the city of today, but that vibrancy portrayed by the poet’s pen was all too evident as we proceeded along bustling Rothschild Boulevard to our next stop – the Great Synagogue.

Spiritual Centre

The Great Synagogue on 110 Allenby Street, served as Tel Aviv’s spiritual and religious center long before Israel’s independence.

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These Walls Have Ears. Completed in 1926, the Great Synagogue of Tel Aviv on 110 Allenby Street is rich in history some of which is revealed in memorial slates recording historical events that occurred here during the British Mandate period.

“People who attended services here included Tel Aviv’s first mayor Meir Dizengoff, prime ministers David Ben-Gurion, Moshe Sharett and Menachem Begin. It also hosted the inaugurations of Israel’s chief rabbis and the funerals of national icons such as the pioneer of modern Hebrew poetry Haim Nahman Bialik and the Zionist leader Haim Arlosorov, assassinated in 1933 while walking on the beach in Tel Aviv.”

 

We marveled at the building’s features, notably a huge dome, elaborate lighting fixtures, and magnificent stained-glass windows – replicas of synagogue windows that were destroyed in Europe during the Holocaust.

“Not widely known,” revealed our guide, “The Declaration of Independence was meant to be declared here on the 14 May 1948.”

“So why was it not?” I asked.

Ben Gurion knew that the moment he made the announcement Israel would be under aerial attack and if the new State’s leadership were altogether under one so identifiable a roof as the Great Synagogue, it would make for an easy target for low-flying enemy planes. Instead, the Declaration took place around the corner at a much smaller building, which will be our last stop on the tour.”

Ben Gurion’s concern was “not unreasonable,” continued our guide. “Arab planes bombed Tel Aviv three times and one Egyptian pilot was taken prisoner when his plane was forced down nearby.”

Also “nearby” was our next stop: the Haganah Museum.

Freedom Fighters

Located on Rothschild Boulevard, the Haganah Museum was once the home of Eliyahu Golomb the founder and first commander of the Haganah. A paramilitary organization, the Haganah was the forerunner of today’s Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and from1930 to 1945, this house was the Haganah’s secret headquarters.

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Initially protecting the pioneers on kibbutzim (cooperative farming communities) from an attack in the 1920s and 1930s, the Haganah went on to facilitate the illegal entry of more than 100,000 Jews into Palestine after the British government’s 1939 ‘White Paper’ restricting immigration. “In this way,” explained the guide, “the Haganah paved the way in providing the essential manpower that proved so critical in the War of Independence.”

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Elijah Golomb Defense Museum. This four-story museum display is one of the most advanced and sophisticated of its kind. Designed with huge video screens, models, backdrops and stories from the organization’s history from its inception to being an IDF, the historical story is told through the personal story of a young Palmach member and a Holocaust survivor who takes part in prominent events during the struggle, such as ‘The Night of the Bridges’.

So tranquil is Golomb’s residential room and office on the ground floor today, it is hard to conceive that this was the nerve center of a war for the survival of the Jewish People in Palestine.

“It’s one thing to fight but without finance little can be achieved,” said the guide as he led us to our next stop – the historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank.

Money Matters

The Bank of Israel Visitor’s Center showcases the history of the Jewish State’s financial system. The historical headquarters of Israel’s national bank, the Centre’s exhibits reveal the country’s historical development of money with exhibits from ancient coins to banknotes, and coins issued from pre-State days to the present.

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Particularly entertaining were the interactive activity stations that explain, by means of computer games, the functions of the Bank of Israel, the history of money, and the contribution of the central bank to the economy. No less fascinating were the short films on the essential role of the Bank of Israel in maintaining price stability, supporting economic growth, employment, and reducing social gaps in Israeli society. It is sure going to have “one job on its hand” in the immediate post-Corona era!

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In Safe Hands. The Bank of Israel Visitor’s Center on Lilienblum Street presents the historical development of money in Israel.

Back then, our next stop was the Tel Aviv Founders Monument.

The ‘Plot’ Thickens

The Founder’s Monument and Fountain is dedicated to the men and women who established Tel Aviv in the first half of the 19th century. Nestled into a green space on Rothschild Boulevard, it is a serene spot, dotted with benches, centered around a small pool and fountain, and located opposite the home of the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff, on 16 Rothschild Boulevard.

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Founder’s Monument And Fountain. Located opposite the home of the first mayor of Tel Aviv, Meir Dizengoff on 16 Rothschild Boulevard, it was here that the historic lottery for the distribution of plots held on April 11, 1909, took place.

The historic lottery for the distribution of plots was held on April 11, 1909. As the families could not decide how to allocate the land, they held a lottery to ensure a fair division. Sixty-six grey seashells and sixty-six white seashells were gathered with the names of the participants written on the white shells and the plot numbers on the grey shells. A white and grey shell formed a pair, assigning each family a plot.

It was on this very site that the founders’ monument was planned 40 years later and established in 1951, on Dizengoff’s birthday.

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Designed by Aaron Priver, on one side is a sculpture divided into three sections. The bottom shows sand dunes and wild animals that roamed the area before the establishment of Tel Aviv. The middle section depicts the first homes, mostly one-story, and the top represents the Tel Aviv of 1949, with specific landmarks, and the Tel Aviv of the future as envisioned at the time.

On the other side of the monument is the list of the sixty-six founding families of the city of which includes the Chelouche family that founded the quaint neighboring district of Neve Tzedek over twenty years earlier.  Pointing out his family’s name on the monument, Lay of the Land co-founder Yair Chelouche related how his great-great-grandfather Aharon Chelouche acquired the plot of land that became part of Chelouche family folklore.  “There were no land surveyors. The seller and the buyer would meet on the land to agree on the size of the land and the price. To measure the plot from one end to the other, the buyer took a stone and threw it, and where it landed was the end of the plot.” Smiling, Yair continued, “Aharon must have had a very strong arm because the family ended up with a huge chunk of land.”

Two decades later, representatives of the Chelouche family would join other family members in 1909, this time not throwing stones but picking up shells with their plot numbers on it.

The genesis of Tel Aviv was brought “home” to us when passing 9 Rothschild Boulevard.  “Stop,” bellowed Yair, and then revealed, “here was the house of my great-grandparents, the first house that my great-grandfather, Yosef Eliyahu Chelouche built for them when they left Neve Tzedek for the “new” city of Tel Aviv.”

And so began the saga of “the city that never sleeps” – Tel Aviv.

Horsing Around

Our second last stop was at a statue. While most cities in Europe and the Americas are replete with leaders and warriors perched defiantly on horses, such artistic depictions are rare in Israel. So, it is with some curiosity that we looked upon the bronze statue opposite the Founders Monument of a man riding a tired-looking horse. The rider is not a general but a civil servant – Tel Aviv’s first mayor, Meir Dizengoff. He may not have made his mark on a battlefield, but he left a far more enduring legacy.

For miles and miles in every direction from this small statue, the rich urban development that is Tel Aviv today, can be traced to the superlative efforts of Tel Aviv’s first mayor who encouraged its rapid expansion and conducted daily inspections, paying attention to details. How did this indefatigable mayor travel each day to inspect the progress of the projects throughout his growing city?

By horse of course!

No wonder both rider and horse look exhausted.

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Giddyup. The statute of Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv’s first mayor riding his horse from his home to City Hall, then located on Bialik Street. With cars on the side, the image conveys how commuting has transformed over the century.

Created by the artist David Zondolovitz, the statue was unveiled in front of the mayor’s historic residence, our final and tenth stop and the most important of all.

What was the end of our trail, was the beginning of the modern State of Israel!

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Independence Hall

On May 14, 1948, the house on 16 Rothchild Boulevard – then serving as the Tel Aviv Museum of Art – hosted the historic ceremony of the Declaration of Independence.

Our guide related the events and atmosphere of that day.

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Crowds began to swell in the afternoon at cafés and balconies along the boulevard. People were waving little flags and singing and then at three o’clock, journalists from around the world started filing into the Tel Aviv Art Museum. They were joined by dignitaries to the rapturous applause of the crowd.

At exactly four o’clock, David Ben-Gurion started the ceremony by banging the gavel.

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Israel On Day 1. Seventy-three years ago, David Ben-Gurion declaring independence in 1948.

Outside and around the country, people were listening to the ceremony in the first broadcast of Israel Radio.

Ben-Gurion read the declaration, which opened with a historic prologue on the Jewish connection to the land and then it went on to assert that:

 “We hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, named the State of Israel.”

He was followed by Rabbi Yehuda Leib Maimon who with a cracked voice, read the ancient prayer:

 “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.”

The crowd shouted “Amen!”

Ben-Gurion signed the declaration, then the members of the People’s Council were invited one by one to come up to the stage and sign the declaration alphabetically. The ceremony ended with the singing of “Hatikva,” the national anthem.

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Birth Of Israel. The Hall of Independence on Rothchild Boulevard is best known as the site of the signing of the Declaration of Independence on the 14th of May 1948. The chairs are set out around the table as they were in 1948 and the names of those who attended the signing of the declaration are written on the chairs. Visitors can listen to a recording of the declaration ceremony and see a 16 minute film about the historic event. Two of the signatories were women Rachel (Kagan) Cohen and Golda Meir; three of the signatories went on to become Prime Ministers; one became the President and 14 of the original signatories served as cabinet ministers in the Israeli government.

As we finished the tour of Independence Hall, we came out and saw again the Espresso Bar formally The First Kiosk Of Tel Aviv where it had all begun.

All agreed.

It was time for another cup of café hafuch.