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Tel Aviv Marathon
How should one experience this soufflé of a city: concrete, yet so ephemeral? Any way you please, of course, but walking gives you the best access to its treasures. Like New York and London, Tel Aviv is a walker’s city with many varied and unique neighborhoods within a small perimeter. Starting a few years ago, “Sarona,” just west of Azrieli Center, was on everyone’s lips.
Sarona started life at the end of the nineteenth century as a small German immigrant village, with its own wine and olive oil presses, distillery and drugstore. Much of the village has been preserved and given a first-class face lift, in the hopes of making it an attractive shopping area. Shopping hasn’t taken off, except for the market place which opened in the ground floor of adjacent new residential towers. It sells foodstuffs ranging from $8 sundaes to Turkish lafiya sandwiches and is packed day and night. While a failure as a mall, Sarona has become hugely successful as a lovely park with playgrounds and central spaces teeming with young families.
Immediately to the south of Sarona was a wholesale food market, Shuk HaSitonai, which consisted of low functional buildings surrounding a long central open area filled with produce trucks and horse-pulled wagons. The open area has been reconstructed with underground parking, and is now a paved urban space called Kikar Giv’on, large enough for the chariot races in Ben Hur. It is furnished with benches, tree-lined areas, a fish pond and a fountain that functions as a quiet, urban retreat and picnic area for the customers of the 40 or so restaurants residing in the old industrial-looking buildings that line its periphery. During Purim, the park held a huge festival with rides and entertainment stages. Tuesdays and Fridays feature a flea market.
The expensive stores and the tourists are found at trendy Neve Tzedek near Shuk HaCarmel, with its stock of historic houses and buildings built by the original Tel Aviv settlers who left Jaffa to found the city.
Reaching for the sky
Unlike Neve Tzedek, what has taken place with Sarona and Kikar Giv’on is a kind of anti-gentrification. The young families of Tel Aviv, which is experiencing a population explosion, are using these spaces to play and relax. The hip youth that flocked here have become parents. Baby strollers and carriages are everywhere. Not everyone celebrates this development. My cousin, an Ob/Gyn, has moved from her Tel Aviv hospital to Rechovot to reduce her on-call nights.
While the families are growing, the city is rising. If you haven’t been to Tel Aviv in years, you may not recognize it as it now boasts a beautiful assortment of unusual skyscrapers, while scores of building cranes hover over the city creating new buildings, especially east of the Ayalon highway.