18 Chapters
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11 Der Eko Fun Goles: “The Spirit of Tel-Aviv” and the Remapping of Jewish Literary History

S ILAN TROEN Indiana University Press ePub

Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place;
also the noise of the wings of the living creatures. . . . 
Then I came to the exiles at Tel-Aviv.
—Ezekiel 3:12–15

Tel-Aviv . . . is not Eretzyisroel . . . Tel-Aviv is goles.
—Eretzyisroel in 1937, Sh. Fraylach

I am the very spirit of Tel-Aviv,
Good morning to you! . . .
White houses under me.
Long, beautiful wide-spread streets . . .
What a difference from Jaffa.
From the narrow, stinking “streets.”
Culture, culture!—
Called out from all sides.
—Reuben Joffe, “I fly over Tel-Aviv,”
Tel-Aviv: Poema (Buenos Aires, 1937), 25

In Mayne Zibn Yor in Tel-Aviv [My Seven Years in Tel-Aviv], a Yiddish memoir published in Buenos Aires in 1949, we find the following conversation between two new immigrants in Haifa; one of the men, newly arrived from Warsaw, is considering moving to Tel-Aviv:

I’m going to Tel-Aviv.

Why Tel-Aviv?

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15 The 1925 Master Plan for Tel-Aviv by Patrick Geddes

S ILAN TROEN Indiana University Press ePub

Politics and History are interwoven, but are not commensurate.
—Lord Acton

Reflections on the city of Tel-Aviv are often framed by discussions of modernity, especially the Jewish experience of modernity.1 The origin of the city was the Jewish suburb of Ahuzat Bayit that was founded outside Jaffa in 1909, and changed its name to Tel-Aviv a year later. The city’s many buildings of the 1930s and 1940s in the styles of Le Corbusier, the Bauhaus, and other versions of European modernist architecture suggest that Tel-Aviv is the realization of architectural modernism’s dream of an ideal city erected on a clean slate. The stories of Tel-Aviv’s origin on sand dunes, vineyards, and orange groves seem to support this characterization. Superficially, Tel-Aviv’s urban fabric indeed indicates a modern city with few, if any, historical roots. Yet from its inception, the city was part of the Zionist project of resettling the land of the forefathers, an endeavor that sought to re-establish roots in the ancient homeland.

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16 Preserving Urban Heritage: From Old Jaffa to Modern Tel-Aviv

S ILAN TROEN Indiana University Press ePub

The city of Tel-Aviv–Jaffa is Israel’s metropolitan core and a dominant cultural center. Tel-Aviv–Jaffa is extraordinary in that it is among the few Israeli cities that incorporate preservation of the built environment as a principle in city planning and, in doing so, promote and institute successful preservation initiatives of large urban areas. In effect, Tel-Aviv is at the forefront of local governments regarding the preservation activities it promotes. The city was the first in Israel to institute a local preservation policy regarding the conservation of Old Jaffa during the 1950s and early 1960s. In the 1990s, Tel-Aviv garnered local and international acknowledgement of the value of its modern architecture, culminating in UNESCO’s nomination of the “White City” in 2003 as a World Heritage Site. Old Jaffa and the White City are exceptional sites in the Israeli urban landscape, as their preservation is managed by the local government as part of the local development policy. Although many other Israeli cities have archeological and historic sites, few operate comprehensive preservation programs and even fewer succeed in integrating the historic districts into the living city. Moreover, it seems that Tel-Aviv is extending its preservation policy to new sites, as indicated by the recent conservation of the German colony of Sarona and the Ottoman train station in Jaffa.

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13 Decay and Death: Urban Topoi in Literary Depictions of Tel-Aviv

S ILAN TROEN Indiana University Press ePub

“This city doesn’t deserve to exist. This is just a misunderstanding.”

The founding and growth of Tel-Aviv reverberated with the ideology of Jewish national revival and the quest to build a modern Jewish city different than both the Jewish shtetl in East Europe and the cities of the Levant. The Tel-Aviv creation narrative focused positively on the constructive energies of urban pioneers engaged in building the first Hebrew city.1

Although criticism of Tel-Aviv, mainly from the Labor Zionist establishment (which preferred an agricultural ideal), existed from the very beginning of the city’s construction, forbidding descriptions of the urban landscape were rarer in fiction and poetry. It was not until the 1970s—late in comparison to portrayals of the city evident in Europe—that writers adopted negative universal urban topoi, widespread in European and American literature, to depict Tel-Aviv. Imagery representing the urban environment as a place of alienation, decay, disillusionment, and failure, with its attendant sexual, financial, and moral corruption, has been adopted and adapted in Israeli fiction. Writers increasingly depict Tel-Aviv society as decadent and corrupt; the city is portrayed as a monster; while the flâneur protagonist is shown to be isolated and alone. The city is depicted frequently with dark, forbidding streets, and a seedy underworld dense with corruption and prostitution.2

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10 Tel-Aviv Language Police

S ILAN TROEN Indiana University Press ePub

Tel-Aviv . . . Herzl St. boys and girls were pouring out of Gymnasia Herzliya at the end of the school day. Just then, two famous Yiddishists who were traveling around the country found themselves in front of the school. The greater of the two said to his companion: “The Zionists boast that Hebrew has become second nature to the children of Eretz-Israel. Now you’ll see that their boast is nothing but lies. I’ll tweak a child’s ear and I’m sure he won’t yell ‘Imma!’ [Mother!] in Hebrew, but rather ‘Mamme!’ in Yiddish.” He did as he said he would: he walked up behind a child and tweaked his ear, and the child immediately turned and yelled at him in Hebrew, “Hamor!” [What an ass!]. The famous Yiddishist turned to his companion and said, “I’m afraid they’re right . . .”

This anecdote, adduced by Alter Druyanov,1 reflects the great pride of the Jewish Yishuv in Tel-Aviv’s children, whose Hebrew was natural and native. Speaking Hebrew became one of the symbols of the city of Tel-Aviv and was a point of pride for its leaders. The creation of Tel-Aviv as a Hebrew city symbolized its uniqueness and the great promise it held. The city’s leaders, teachers, and writers, as well as other public figures, joined in the constant struggle to maintain the city’s Hebrew character.

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