Living in Tel Aviv: My New Israel
By: Gabriel Goldstein, Summer Fellow, Brandeis University
I’ve been asked countless times since arriving in Tel Aviv for the Fellowship if this is my first time in Israel. It’s not an unreasonable question. After all, the people I’ve met don’t know that 5 of my siblings have made Aliyah. They don’t know that my grandmother lives in Har Nof. They don’t know that I have cousins sprinkled all throughout the State, from the West Bank to Tel Aviv.
When I respond with a no, I do so with an air of confidence, as if to say, “Yeah, I know Israel pretty damn well.” Until recently, I really believed that. I spent a great deal of summer days exploring the streets of Jerusalem as a kid. I was fortunate enough to have my Bar Mitzvah at the Kotel. I’ve hiked the Gush Etzion roads on which the ancestors of the Jewish people once walked.
But in the last 5 weeks I’ve come to find that, in actuality, I know very little of Israel. I’ve come to find that Israel is far more than Jerusalem’s Ben Yehuda Street, more than the walls of the Old City, and more than those dusty, albeit historically significant roads. Until this summer, Jerusalem was Israel and Israel was Jerusalem. But not anymore.
My time in Tel Aviv has altered that narrow conception of the State. Whereas Jerusalem plays host to political and religious divides that create an almost tangible climate of tension, Tel Aviv subscribes to the “live and let live” philosophy. Whereas one can hear a penny drop on Jaffo Street on Shabbat in Jerusalem, one struggles to find Saturday serenity in always-bustling Tel Aviv. Whereas Jerusalem elicits a sense of incomparable religious and nationalistic pride, Tel Aviv engenders a deep appreciation for Israeli culture. This Fellowship has showed me another dimension of Israel, affording me the opportunity to appreciate the State for more than just its capital.
Contrasting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv is easy, but comparing them seems to be a fruitless endeavor. It’s similar to comparing apples and oranges. The two are so wholly different that finding sufficient common ground for even a far-reaching comparison is difficult. Despite that struggle to compare, I’ve developed a clear preference for where I’d like to spend my future trips to Israel.
At this point in my life, 3 years removed from Jewish day-school and fully immersed in a period of secular exploration, I feel Tel Aviv is the perfect place for me. You can be whoever you want to be here. When you walk the streets, you feel a sense of New York madness blended with a sense of Midwest ease. What’s more, the food, the nightlife, and the endless Friday-afternoon activities create the ideal environment for a college student seeking to understand Israel outside of Jerusalem.
On my first night here, my cousin told me that Tel Aviv is like a country in its own right. At first, I wrote his assessment off as some sort of geographical hubris. But after living here for over a month, I’ve found that he hit the nail right on the head. This place is unlike any Israel I’ve experienced before, and I couldn’t feel more fortunate to have the opportunity to explore it.
Because of this Fellowship, my Israel is now Tel Aviv and Haifa and Netzana and Herziliyah. Because of this Fellowship, I now feel connected to places other than Jerusalem, the city that once stole my heart but has since lost it to a much sunnier, much more vibrant Tel Aviv.