Tel Aviv is the largest city in Israel by population, a number that resides around 850,000. Though tiny compared to a major American metropolis like New York or LA (the former's population resides at over 19,000,000), Tel Aviv is extremely diverse and is arguably the most progressive city in the middle east. The Friday we were there, for instance, was the day of an annual lgbt pride parade, often noted as the largest in the middle east. Time constraints did not allow us to attend, but my visit to Tel Aviv was still wonderful and introduced me to plenty of things I haven't seen on my previous visits.
The first was Carmel market, especially busy before Shabbat. It's a long street with shops piled on top of each other on each side. Signs scream out the prices of every product imaginable - fresh food, candy (which I got, a transaction I pleasingly did entirely in Hebrew), bathing suits, and everything else imaginable and unexpected. After getting through that hubbub, we arrived in a square where we had some free time to get lunch and shop around a bit.
David led a few of us to a local pizza shop, where he knew some of the workers. The nine in our group ordered five pies (the slices were thin and we were hungry - don't judge). I also got a lemon fanta, which I haven't seen before. It was okay. Tastes like Mountain Dew. There, also, a few guys hit on some Israeli girls, amusingly oblivious that they were probably lesbians since they were chatting about the parade the whole time.
After that bit of free time, we congregated back at the square that was at the exit of the Carmel market. Before moving on to Independence Hall, I noticed a street artist was performing in the square. She was a middle-aged-looking woman dressed as an angel, clothes and makeup white as cloud. I realized how terrible it must be to be a street artist. To do that as a living must require some sort of artistic temperament. But that kind of artistic temperament does not lead one to be a painter or a novelist, but instead an actor who stands around and pretends to be a nonmoving angel for hours at a time. They are the least inspiring kinds of artists, with such little creativity and such little meaning behind their work.
Ironically, much of the architecture in Tel Aviv is in German style. Koren told us that during WWII, many Jews left Germany for Tel Aviv, and many of those Jews were among Germany's finest architects. This is only part of the long tradition of Israel being a home for Jews who were expelled elsewhere, and them bringing their talents to our homeland.
Allenby Street, on which we walked to get to Independence Hall, was something unique. It represented space and time on Earth. Stores had signs in every language, owned by people from all over the world. Stores selling antiques stood by stores selling the latest in digital photography. It's because of Allenby Street and other places like that around Tel Aviv that the city is considered an International Heritage City, one of the few in the world.
Our tour guide in Independence Hall was funny, engaging, and thoughtful. One of the things he told us is that Yom Ha'Atzmaut, Israeli independence day, is celebrated every year on the Hebrew date, not the date on the Gregorian calendar. This is part of the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
The room where the Israel Declaration of Independence was signed was surprisingly small. I guess I always thought it would be in someplace epic, like a grand concert hall or auditorium. But no, it was merely a small art gallery (where the art still hangs). The room did, however, have wall-to-wall carpeting and shiny AC, which I don't think was there in 1948 but I'm thankful for nonetheless.
After WWII, everyone went home. But the Jews of Europe had no home to go to or did not want to return. So a Jewish state was needed. It's amazing that figures like David ben Gurion and the others buried on Mount Hertzel had this kind of thought and willpower to make this happen. In the US, we learn of comparable founding fathers like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. It just never occurred to me before that Israel has the same type of figures. And, by extension, so must many other countries.
We listened to a recording of Ben Gurion reading the declaration aloud and leading everyone in the room in singing Hatikvah, the Israeli national anthem. But it wasn't until today
, at Yad Vashem, that I quite realized how monumental that was. An exhibit in Yad Vashem had not only video footage of the same event in that room, but also footage of thousands and thousands of Jews standing outside, listening, then cheering, and then joining in a thunderous Hatikvah.