Last Sunday I traveled to Israel for the first time since I moved back to the United States in 2003, accompanied by my fiancé who had never visited before. For me, it felt like a long-delayed coming home, For him, it is all new. My life, for over a decade, was once based in Jerusalem. It is there that I was first married (and later divorced), where two of my sons were born, where I began to love Mizrahi music, dream in Hebrew, enjoy a different pace of life. This time, my fiancé and I reserved Airbnbs in Tel Aviv and in Jerusalem, each for a week, and set out to discover and rediscover. Far more familiar with Jerusalem’s neighborhoods than with Tel Aviv’s and having been away from the country for so long, this trip would be an adventure for us both.
The only things I remembered about Tel Aviv was seeing the Agam fountain and the beach. Well, the sculpture has been relocated temporarily while work is done at Dizengoff Circle to lower the ground before it is returned. And the beach is the beach. But together, among other things, we enjoyed the architecture, exploring the Bauhaus Center, a combination gift shop and gallery, as well as the tiny Bauhaus Museum showcasing pieces of furniture. While Tel Aviv boasts 4,000 buildings made in the International Style, more than any other country, its reason is, to me, tragic. Jewish architects fleeing Nazi Germany (and some who had come from pre-state Palestine to study) brought the style to Israel.
So, we walked throughout the White City. This UNESCO-declared World Heritage Center is an area of Tel Aviv, up Sheinkin Street and down Rothschild Boulevard, and couldn’t help but notice the efforts the city of Tel Aviv is putting into refurbishing and bringing back the former glory of so many of these buildings. A newer city to begin with, it is as much a living example of the continuity of history.
On our last day in Tel Aviv we took a tour up north along the coast – overlooking Haifa and its Bahai Gardens, the grottoes in Rosh HaNikra with its British Mandate train line history, the city of Akko – the Crusader ruins just a small piece of its continuous inhabitation for 4,000 years, the ancient Roman city of Caesarea with its long and varied history of conquests too.
To say we’ve jumped around in history on this trip is an understatement. To say we could feel the vibrancy of Jewish history and presence in the land is not. And for me, just as it struck me the very first time I visited Israel in 1984, the juxtaposition of ancient and more recent history is unlike anywhere else. As a design aficionado, so too the concept of home, the houses we build, what they look like, feel like, convey and reflect in their design, strikes me as vitally important.
Late last night we made our way to Jerusalem and wandered around the city center streets. Like Jaffa Street with the light rail running through it, Ben Yehuda Street today is different than it was when I lived here. In 1988-1989, I actually lived at the top of the midrahov, the closed street; today I see added stories, new facades, different stores. Café Atara, with its key role in the founding of the state, is long gone. History marches on. I know in my bones I cannot let 15 years go by before coming again. Nope.
Today, while planning a tour to the Old City (and a nighttime visit or two to its Jerusalem Light Festival, sounds fabulous!) we also got to see the new Gazelle Valley, near where I lived for many years in Givat Mordechai, followed by a visit to another old-but-not-ancient-old-and-now-new-again destination, First Station.
Until I came to spend the summer after college graduation in Israel, I’d never been outside of the United States, except for a high school band trip to Belgium. There, I remember seeing the old and modern buildings lining the streets in Antwerp and thinking about how history lives on. Coming from a country with only a few hundred years to its name, I was especially impressed. But then when I later got to Israel, I saw what tourists see – the Wailing Wall, the Dead Sea, Masada. The remains of the small synagogue housed at Masada is one of the very oldest in the world. Its existence spoke to my soul. And then we have the far more recent testimonials to the Jewish people’s existence — Yad Vashem, Ammunition Hill, memorials to fallen soldiers and tanks on the sides of the road…
History is not only alive, but it breathes in deeply, looks around, and says I am home.
In fact, no matter the shape of the building, the age of the bricks, the lines of the walls, the curves of the furniture inside – my soul says I am home.