It started innocently enough. I’m looking for work in the environmental or clean tech fields, so most of my networking brings me to the mercaz (center of Israel) from my home in Jerusalem. I casually mentioned to a few friends that if the opportunity presented itself, I’d probably move to Tel Aviv. I hadn’t anticipated the near universal reaction — their concern I’m secretly plotting to ‘go off the derech’, as they say. Why else would anyone want to leave Jerusalem? For a Jew who is into observing mitzvot, Jerusalem is Gan Eden: the Kotel, classes day and night, mehadrin l’mehadrin restaurants, cool mountain air in the summer (and the occasional exciting snowstorm in the winter).
Once I realized that some people define how religious they are based on how long it’s been since they’ve visited Tel Aviv, I began to understand their distress at the idea that I want to be there — all the time. The reasons not to move there are often thrown at me with a frenetic desperation: There are no kosher restaurants! There are no religious Jews! There is nothing spiritual happening there, why make aliyah to have the same spiritually empty life in Israel?
I started to view my frequent trips to Tel Aviv as fact-finding missions, eager to show my friends that it was possible to live there as an observant Jew. With my eyes peeled, I was able to find sparks of holiness everywhere. I could hardly go a few blocks without stumbling across a shul or kosher restaurant. Conversations with secular Jews were full of “Baruch Hashem (Thank God)”. After being conditioned to experience Tel Aviv like S’dom and Gomorrah, it was feeling more like Meah Shearim.
It could just be that after living in chutz l’aretz for so many years, it’s much easier for me to find the positive in almost every interaction here. A couple of examples: While buying beer on a Friday afternoon to bring to a friend for Shabbat, a fellow patron in the store, full of piercings and sporting a snazzy mohawk, went out of his way to tell me the brands I had selected were available refrigerated in another part of the store. I was covered from elbows to knees, an obvious sign on a warm day that I am at least somewhat observant, but it didn’t seem to be an issue for him. We ended up leaving the store together and had a nice chat as we walked in the same direction. When we parted he smiled and wished me a Shabbat Shalom. Another weekend I attended a networking Shabbat dinner. A woman I had been chatting with while waiting to hear kiddush informed my friend and I, “You two seem normal, so I’m going to stick with you.” She had driven to the event from Herzliya, and admitted that she came in part because she wanted a ‘real’ Shabbat. Her husband and sons make kiddush and have dinner together on Fridays, but as soon as the meal is over everyone runs to do their own thing. She was so excited to talk to us about that week’s Torah portion and ways we could apply its lessons to our life. We’re still in touch today, getting together to talk about our careers and the Rambam.
In the end, rather than trying to convince my friends through anecdotes such as these that Tel Aviv is definitely spiritual, just much more ‘chill’ about it, I decided to start a website showing them the facts first hand. Shomer Tel Aviv collects all the cool places to congregate on Shabbat, classes, events (like this weekend for Purim), of course where the kosher restaurants are (and on a user-friendly map) – b’kitzur, everything you need to be observant in Tel Aviv. The site will hopefully be a resource for anyone looking to lead a shomer (observant) life in the White City — whether you live there or are just visiting for the day. After all, Tel Aviv has more to offer than just the beach or proximity to jobs, there is also the opportunity to lead just as spiritually fulfilling a life amongst Jews that are just as holy as anywhere else in this land.