Nicholas Jagdeo

Moving to Tel Aviv? Here’s what you should know.

Last month, I was posed the question, “What should I know before moving to Tel Aviv?”, and I thought I’d share my answer with everyone.

This was the view from my apartment on Tsidon in August 2015. The weather was late 30’s Celsius. You can almost see the heat!

1. Weather: Tel Aviv is hot during it’s very long summers, which begin in May and end around September. Global warming has meant record soaring temperatures each year and longer and longer summer seasons of almost unbearable heat. But there are ways to cope: first, get an apartment with a/c – mazgan, as it’s called in Hebrew. This isn’t a joke. My friend, Jen, had an apartment without this necessity, and she was miserable all of that summer. Of course, most indoor public places are air conditioned, so duck into them when you can. When you can’t, dress for the weather: shorts, tanks, flip flops. Visit the tons of parks, haYarkon River, restaurants & cafe’s and, of course, the beaches to cool down in and at. Winters are mild, with temperatures dropping to, at lowest, maybe 5–10 degrees Celsius. When I first moved to Tel Aviv, I was alarmed at how many people were wrapped in fur-equivalent type clothing, but after living in summers where the temperature can and does soar to 40 degrees Celsius and above, a drop to 6 degrees can feel like you’ve moved to Juno, Alaska. Snow is rare in Tel Aviv, but hail and rainstorms are common and the streets can flood. Pack your inflatable boat!

2. Things to do:

The Tennis Courts at Macabi, on the north bank of the Yarkon River, is a great place to play.

Tel Aviv is a very young city with a lot to do – clubs, bars, escape rooms, gyms, yoga, standup comedy, Krav Maga, new language learning options, book clubs, indie breweries, concerts, plays, performances, outdoor exercising groups, sports like lawn tennis and volleyball, beach activities, matkot on the beach, outdoor dancing at Gordon beach on Saturday mornings, Shabbat services geared specifically to young professionals. There’s something for everyone in Tel Aviv (including a veritable army of stray cats, so if feeding stray cats is your things, then there ya go. Something for everyone!).

3. How friendly are the people?: Mostly everyone is friendly. Israelis, in general, are a robustly open and welcoming people, though their quick familiarity can sometimes be misconstrued for brusqueness. Don’t be shy – it’s an outgoing place and it’s really easy to make friends as most people are casual.

4. So it’s in Israel?: It’s not a joke when they say Tel Aviv is a bubble; it most certainly is, and you can forget you’re in Israel. Tel Aviv prides itself on being the most unique city in Israel: a secular bastion which is the complete opposite of the religious Jerusalem, only forty five kilometers away. Don’t bring up politics. Do bring up the good places to party at.

5. What about politics?: Tel Aviv is much more left wing than the rest of the country, and if you do happen to ignore my advice in point four, above, don’t be surprised if you hear the Tel Avivi two state solution being the secession of the State of Tel Aviv from the State of Israel, rather than anything to do with Palestinians and Israelis. Left wing views abound in Tel Aviv, and I mean extremely left wing, as much as Har Nof is extremely right wing. You’d wonder how there is a right-wing government in power at all; but again, the views of Tel Aviv do not necessarily reflect the views of Israel. If anything, Tel Aviv does tend to mellow a fellow, and I went from being center-right in my views of Israeli politics to leaning more center-left since having been exposed to the Tel Avivi political scene.

6. What’s the cost of living?: Many people work at start-ups, in tech, or in finance – and many more supplement their day jobs with a second job as Tel Aviv an expensive city to live in (for 2018, the Economist’s Intelligence Unit has listed Tel Aviv as the ninth priciest city in the world to live in). Despite the expensive nature of the city, restaurants and bars are always packed with people, at all times of the day.

7. Would I fit in?: Tel Aviv is a very international city with a huge foreign population: Filipino caregivers, native English-speaking olim, Sudanese and Eritrean refugees – and this makes it a culturally vibrant place to live. Most city-dwellers speak English but during the summer, French Jews descend on the city and if you walk down Bugrashov, you’d be hard pressed to hear English or Hebrew; you might think you’ve magically teleported to Marseille!

Business lunch at Goocha on the corner of Dizengoff and Ben Gurion.

8. Where should I eat?: The food, almost everywhere, is amazing! My favorites are Sherry Herring at the Shuk haNamal which makes amazing artisan fish sandwiches – the smoked tuna with extra chillies is what I order every time; Pasta Fiore (also at the Shuk haNamal); HaPizza on Bugrashov for the most amazing pizza with the most delicious crust (their pastas are also really good!); Vitrina on Ibn Gavirol and Shusha on Bugrashov for great burgers and fries; Goocha on Dizengoff for, basically, everything on the menu; Fu on Yirmiyahu is my top recommendation for sushi, followed very closely behind by Moon Delite on Pinsker (regular Moon on Bugrashov has the exact same menu as Moon Delite but is pricier; avoid it); Nam at the namal-end of Dizengoff for Thai and Thai House on Ben Yehuda for Thai; Dizengoff Cafe has the most delicious brunch in the city (in my opinion; the eggs

Vitrina’s burger and fries – constantly voted as the best burger in the city.

and shakshuka are delicious); Brasserie on Kikar Rabin that’s open 24 hours and serves really good food; Taqeria near Levontin for great Mexican (and drinks and shots specials!); Yashka on Frishman/Dizengoff is my favorite for quick Israeli fast food – shawarma, falafel, etc.; Ma Poule on Ben Yehuda and Gordon for delicious chicken (if she has baguettes, she’d make you a chicken sandwich, which isn’t advertised on the menu board!); Shine on Shlomo haMelekh is a great little cafe with delicious salads and an amazing burrata pizza; Chateau Shual on Ben Gurion and Kikar Rabin for great wines; Nanushka on Lillienblum for great vegan food (and a great bar to dance on!).

9. Service: Tel Avivi bartenders, waiters and waitresses are wonderful – and if you’re nice, they’ll give you free shots and join you as well with a quick l’chaim.

10. And the rest of Israel?: Tel Aviv is well-connected to the rest of the country. If you’re not driving, use the public transport to get out and explore the country! You’re in Israel – there’s so much to discover outside of Tel Aviv: Jerusalem, Tzfat, Herzliya, Caesarea, Haifa, Be’er Sheva, Ramle, Dimona, the Dead Sea. Buses and trains will take you anywhere and everywhere, and Israel isn’t that big, so each visit will get you back to Tel Aviv on the same day, except for Eilat – but you can take the plane from Sde Dov to go to the south. Use Tel Aviv as your amazing base to get out and explore.

11. Hebrew knowledge?: While you don’t necessarily have to learn Hebrew (as mostly everyone speaks English), it would be in your favor to learn, even just a bit. Join an ulpan or make some Tel Avivi friends, so you can curse along in Hebrew when you’re frustrated!

12. Fashion: Tel Aviv’s fashion is a lot more casual than other western cities, and much of this is as a result of the weather and the general Israeli laissez faire attitude toward dressing up. Dress down to match the locals. Dress up to stand out as a foreigner/tourist. After a year and some change of living in Tel Aviv, I was at the bus stop, off to have drinks with friends, and the Israeli girl next to me smiled and said, “You’re not from Israel, are you?” My button down shirt, trousers and shoes betrayed me. Don’t get me wrong, Israel does have a very vibrant fashion scene, it’s just reflective of Israeli society, and, as such, much more casual and beachy. Visit local designers for great Israeli fashion (and girls, beautiful handcrafted jewellry).

13. Nightlife: Experience Tel Aviv’s legendary nightlife by making sure to club hop until 7am, the next morning! The hot spots change ever so often, but the main and steady places to go dancing are Kuli Alma, Radio, Billie Jean, and Rubi’s but keep your ears and eyes open for whatever the new happening spot/s is/are. There are pop-up clubs which open only during summer, Clara and Shalvata, being two of the most popular at either end of city. 

If you look closely at our table, you can see the red curry chicken and rice dish I love from Java, which has tax-free alcohol!

14. Bars: As mentioned earlier, Tel Aviv is expensive, so going out can add up. Take advantage of the happy hours at bars (many have two-for-one specials on drinks and shots/chasers specials, as well as specials on bar food). I love the little stretch of bars between Frishman and Arlozorov on Dizengoff – Mila, Ilka, Cerveza, DizzyFrish, and all the rest, that have great happy hour specials and are great for people-watching. There’s also the famous Tel Aviv bracelet bars, where you pay for a bracelet and drink all night based on that (great examples are Mezeg on Ibn Gavirol, Biggy-Z on Bugrashov). Java on Ben Yehuda has tax-free alcohol and the food there is also delicious (their red chicken curry dish – I’m obsessed with).

One year I decided to be a Frenchman for Purim, and walked around the city swinging a big ol’ baguette under my arm, while sighing, <<Alors!>>, at everything.

15. Festivals: Purim in Tel Aviv (between March and April each year) is like nowhere else in the world. Purim commemorates the Jewish victory over the evil Haman from the time of Queen Esther of biblical fame. The mitzvah for Purim is to get so drunk that you don’t know the difference between Haman and Mordechai, and everyone in Israel takes this mitzvah to heart, particularly in Tel Aviv. Costumes abound, alcohol flows, and if you’re really up for experiencing the fullness of the holiday, go to a local shul where you can drown out the name of Haman as the megillah is being read in your costume before you head out to party. I’d advise to do the first night in Tel Aviv and then head over to Jerusalem for Purim 2 (only walled cities at the time of Queen Esther celebrate a second night of Purim). Pride in Tel Aviv (in June) is also on par

Pride festival in Tel Aviv.

with Purim, but with much less clothing. Israel is famously gay-friendly and recognizes gay marriage, and its support of the LGBTQ community is expressed annually in it’s summer Pride parade in Tel Aviv, which is the largest on the continent of Asia, where hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on the city for the week-long celebrations.

16. Groceries: Go to the Shuk haCarmel for your fresh fruits and veggies, and the Shuk haNamal on Friday’s before Shabbat comes in. It’s worth it for the huge selections. However, the regular supermarkets and grocery stores have great, fresh produce as well and are probably better-situated, though a bit pricier. Tiv Taam and AMPM are 24-hour convenience stores, so you’ll never go hungry! In case you need alcohol, though, these 24-hour mini marts are obliged to stop selling alcohol before 11PM, so bear this in mind for any pre-gaming parties you’re hosting or invited to.

17. Neighborhoods: Figure out which area of the city suits you best, as each neighborhood really has a distinctive flair. I preferred the area around Ben Gurion Blvd, as I really just fell in love with the street – both aesthetically and also because I found it to be centrally located to the things I liked to do and the places I liked to frequent. I actually was lucky enough to live in two apartments right off of this street and also one right on it! If you’re more of a hipster, then the Florentine area is probably better for you. Get to know the city and find the right neighborhood for your personality!

18. Pets: Tel Aviv is one of the most dog-friendly cities in the world, with most apartments allowing pets, and most public places welcoming dogs. If you’re a dog lover, Tel Aviv is the city for you. Go to King George Park on Fridays where there’s a huge adopt-a-dog drive. There’s also a huge stray cat population in the city, and there are many kind-hearted souls who feed these poor animals. Don’t be surprised if you hear the yowling of a cat at 3 in the morning; it isn’t a baby that’s been forgotten outside – it’s just a hungry cat.

19. Getting around: Try to walk – the city isn’t very big and it’s great to walk and explore and learn the city. Biking is also a way to beat the traffic and get some exercise! Public transport is quite good; the buses take you everywhere, and, if you find them too late in arriving, the sherut – shared-taxi minibuses – are a good alternative. Taxis abound in the city, and it’s easy to stop on any of the main north-south streets and hail one, but using the Gett (Get Taxi) app – which is native to Israel! – is a better option. Uber does exist in Israel, but is pricier than Gett. If you’re going to get a car and live in Tel Aviv, unless your building guarantees you a parking space, then good luck. Parking in Tel Aviv is a very limited commodity, and the police love doling out tickets for illegal parking.

21. Be in the know: Join “Secret Tel Aviv” on Facebook! It’s a hugely important aid and guide to the city: events, jobs, and all sorts of other random things, many of which are quite funny and very “only in Tel Aviv”. “Timeout Tel Aviv” is a wonderful resource for events, for restaurant and movie reviews, and generally for being in the cultural know.

22. On the ground: Speaking of events, there are always things happening, and Secret Tel Aviv and TimeOut Tel Aviv are just two of the ways and means to keep you in the loop. I mentioned the dog fair on Fridays, but there’s so many others. Friday’s at Shuk haNamal, there’s a huge market with bakers and vegetables and fruits; on Tuesday’s Dizengoff Street turns into an artists fair, with artists lining the street selling paintings, books, hand-made jewelry and all sorts of beautiful art (great for souvenirs!); haBima always has something going on – plays, musicals, concerts, the best of Israeli performing arts; local and foreign musicians are always performing – be it at huge sold out venues like in Rishon Letzion or any of the intimate cafes, bars or coffee shops.

23. Fun with friends: Go to the beach at nights and take some drinks with you as you and your friends hang out and listen to music and play matkot or volleyball and poi, and soak up the goodness that comes with being blessed to live in a city on the beach. (Petty thefts do happen at the beach at nights, so don’t get too drunk and if you and your friends decide to go skinny dipping, let at least one person stay on shore to guard your belongings!).

24. Crime: Tel Aviv, alas, is not all smiles, sunshine and skinny dipping. While the crime rate is, indeed, much lower than comparable Western cities, crime can happen. Cell phones and bikes get stolen all the time. It’s the bane of everyone’s existence in Tel Aviv. Guard your phone at all times and expect your expensive bike to get stolen, whether you lock it or not. Sorry. And rape can and does happen, so females, be as on guard in Tel Aviv as you will in your own home city. Do not accept drinks from strangers!

25. Nerdy stuff: If you’re a reader, there are so many hidden book gems in the city. The Little Prince on King George Street has many used books and serves as a cafe as well with great food. Sit and read and enjoy yourself! There are many second-hand book stores tucked away off of Allenby and Dizengoff, as well as the major chains everywhere like Steimatzky’s for all the recently published English language books. There are mobile libraries scattered throughout the city, but most of the books there are in Hebrew.

26: Amor: Being a young city, Tel Aviv is also great for dates. I’ve found it to be quite romantic! Top date spots: haYarkon Park in the evening, and then to the Namal at night; Metzizim Beach at sunset (this is my favorite beach); Kitchen at Shuk haNamal for dinner; Goocha for dinner (mentioned before); Mesa for dinner or lunch; Shila and Ernesto on Ben Yehuda for dinner; Rothschild, Sderot Chen and Ben Gurion for an evening stroll is lovely; the haBima compound and the Gan Yaakov Hanging Garden, is beautiful, especially when the flowers are in bloom and if you sit at the sunken area, you can hear music from the speakers which are built in cunningly below the wooden seats; Chateau Shual (mentioned before), El Vecino at the haYarkon end of Ibn Gavirol, Par Derrière on King George and Spice Haus on Dizengoff for wine and evening drinks; Lev Dizengoff for a movie; Max Brenner for some chocolate. Get on the dating apps and meet new people and fall in love – both with the city and the soulmate who’s waiting there for you!

27. Religiousness: If you’re Jewish, there’s a vibrant religious scene that’s happened in the past few years. Chabad on the Coast, Tel Aviv International Synagogue and Ben Yehuda 90 are the cool synagogues which caters to the young, international crowd (particularly the Anglos, French and Latinos). You’d find lots of things to do there, as well as a built-in support group and Rabbis Naiditch (Chabad) and Konstantin (TLV international) are always having exciting things going on at their respective shuls.

At the end of the day, Tel Aviv is unique in the world. There’s no other city like it. It’s the financial, cultural and arts capital of Israel, and it was the first Hebrew-speaking planned metropolis of modern times. It continues to be a focal point of the Israeli narrative and living there, every day, is an adventure, full of surprises. Tel Aviv will make you cry, it will make your curse, it will disappoint you at times – but it will take your breath away, it will give you experiences you never dreamt of, it will find you the most loyal life-long friends, it will give you the happiest memories, it will make you laugh and jump for joy.

Tel Aviv will make you fall in love with it and steal a piece of your heart for always.

That’s the one thing you should know before moving there. Have fun!

*All photos were taken by the author and are available on his Instagram.

About the Author
Nicholas Jagdeo is the founder and executive director of "Understanding Israel Foundation", a Trinidad & Tobago-based NGO which is lobbying for greater relations between Trinidad & Tobago and Israel. Nicholas' debut novel, "The First Jew: The Resurrection of Abraham", is available on in print and kindle formats. He is a Schusterman Foundation ROI Alumni (2019) and holds a Master of International Business, an MSc in Strategic Leadership and Innovation, and is currently pursuing his MA in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
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