I was introduced to Allenby Street differently than most people are.
They know it coming up from the boardwalk and the beach.
I know it coming north from Haaliyah Street. Because growing up in Holon, we’d play hooky from school and hop the 1 bus from Kiryat Sharet all the way to Dizengoff Center.
To catch a movie.
And it would wind its way through Holon. And Kibbutz Galuyot Street. And Shocken.
And we’d see Allenby as it truly is. Dirty, gritty, grimy. Hungover.
At the intersection of Derekh Yafo, the Jaffa Road, we knew we had made it.
The big city. (But we’d be careful to sit low on those seats so that none of our teachers, maybe off that day, would spot us)
Four hours. While our little Mohican is at gan.
Four hours of freedom from our kids to enjoy Tel Aviv.
To enjoy life.
M. wanted to get a gemstone for one of her necklaces. Allenby is full of shops that sell gems and necklaces.
And two of my favorite shops are on Allenby. There’s Halper’s Used Books. That place has been around since I was a kid. And I’d get off the bus and run inside. Spend hours perusing the classics. And I’d buy a Dickens or a Twain or whatever creased and yellowed paperback caught my eye.
And he’s been there for thirty years or more. The owner. But he doesn’t recognize me. Never has. And I say “Hello” in English. Invariably he says “Shalom” to me in his American accent and proceeds to speak to me in Hebrew.
It’s raining. Pouring. And we’ve forgotten our umbrella in the car which is parked somewhere between Ahad Haam and Mazeh Streets. Near Café Noir.
She goes from gem shop to gem shop. None of them cater to individuals. Only in bulk. They sell to those overpriced shops in Neve Tzedek or to those fancy Israeli designers that charge a fortune online for stuff that costs about ten shekels to make.
And we wind our way down to my second favorite shop. Foto Film. Where I look at all the cameras and lenses that I can’t afford and fantasize about my next film. Or documentary. Or gallery of photos.
If only I had the Nikon XXXX or the Canon XXX or the lens that does this. Or that.
Rothschild is at the heart of Allenby. On the left you’ll see the new high rise towers looming ominously (that nobody could ever afford to live in)
And there’s that tiny little candy shop with the old Russian. And to go in there is to be transported to another century, another country.
The old country.
The wafting aroma of fresh coffee beans. Exotic liqueurs. Rows and rows of candy. And he smiles at you from behind those thin rimmed glasses and you feel lost for a moment.
It’s pouring out there. It’s warm inside. You could stay here forever.
The busses and sheruts, special service taxis, whizz by and send huge waves of filthy muddy water into the air.
You have to stick to the shops as close you can. Otherwise you’ll be soaked to the bone.
General Allenby got the best street in Tel Aviv named after him.
And The Great Synagogue is on his street. It is rumored that as General Allenby approached the newly conquered Jerusalem he got off his horse in reverence.
The great intersection of King George, Shenkin and Allenby.
We’d always walk up and down Shenkin Street. Before it was the gentrified, over expensive, pretentious and hipster street it is now.
When tattoos and cool vinyl shops were considered dangerous.
And then we’d walk down Allenby until it hit Ben Yehuda to play some pool at the old Noga pool hall (which is probably an AM/PM now)
Sixteen year old kids smoking cigarettes and drinking Goldstar in the middle of the day.
Like an Israeli cliché or a Burekas movie.
And then cut through to Dizengoff Center to catch a real movie. A Hollywood movie.
Nahalat Binyamin is empty. Not a single stall with a recycled aluminum can made into a clock or a creepy fairy on a stool blowing fairy dust at the kids.
The rain has rendered this tourist promenade a ghost town on a Friday morning.
And the shuk reminds me of Venice. A stream of water beneath our feet.
M. buys some fish.
And in this torrential downpour I can’t help but notice random acts of kindness.
A woman makes way for me so that my camera won’t get wet. An elderly gentleman shifts his umbrella over to keep a young kid dry. Several people hand a poor old lady charity.
And in this, of all places, I sense the true heart of Tel Aviv, and on a larger scale, the whole heart of the Jewish people.
We can push, shove, argue, fight and yell at each other, but when all of us are thrust into a dire situation we can’t help but come together and help our fellow man and woman.
When the movie let out we would continue on Allenby all the way to the boardwalk and the Opera Tower.
And watch the sunset.
And before we could say “Jack Robinson”, Allenby would transform on us.
Into that dark mystical, foreign street, full of neon lit sex shops and hole-in-the-wall bars. Graffiti and distant languages. The sights and sounds that enthrall any young mind with the promise of an enormous world teeming with as-of-yet to be uncovered pleasures.
And we’d hop back on the 1 bus reluctantly. Back to Holon. Back to what we knew and were bored with ten times over.
And through the dark glass of the bus we’d see a whole different side to Allenby street.
To this city.
Allenby at night.
With it’s mythical nightclubs playing punk rock. Its shady drunks swaggering in the streets. Its vibrancy and life in every face.
It was the closest any of us had come to New York City in our lifetime.
The rain stops somewhere between Yehuda Halevi and Lillenblum.
And the sun comes out and shines for us as we leave Allenby Street.
Washing it clean.
Washing us clean.