Tuesday, February 27, 2007


I've been under work pressure recently which is why it's taken a while to post this blog. And by chance several friends also talked to me about the pressure they are under and its physical effects. We all suffer from pressure. Pressure is the price we pay for having to run to keep up with the accelerating pace of work.
But how to drop out in style?
The photo was taken from the inside of my car in a car wash.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tel Aviv messiahs

Israel , or the Holy Land, has always been a magnet for messiahs (meshichim) and messianists of every weird shape and hue. Of course most of the messiah-action takes place in Jerusalem but the messiah, I was reminded this week, can also be found in Tel Aviv.

On Sunday I ate a felafel in Florentine at the Massiach Ben David restaurant (above). The proprietor who carries this illustrious name (the messiah according to Jewish tradition is descended from the House of King David) was a little orthodox guy who made one of the best (and biggest) felafels I've ever tasted. It did take him about 20 minutes to prepare but what's that in the life of a messiah? This little religious enclave (the simple restaurant is glatt kosher) seems to co-habit happily with its very secular surroundings.

This building was built by the German Christian Templer sect that set up flourishing communities throughout Palestine at the end of the 19th century.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Templers_(religious_believers) A group of these buildings near the Neve Tsedek Tower, ( see earlier blogs) are now being conserved, as "compensation" for the rape of the skyline. This Templer settlement was called Valhalla. The Templers, like the Jews, believed that settling the Holy Land would hasten the coming of the messiah (different messiahs, same idea)

When Hitler came to power many of the Templers joined the Nazi party (apparently as a way to reconnect with their Germanness). The house in the photo was part of a factory compound owned by a Herr Wagner who was the leader of the Nazi Templer faction and who was being groomed to rule Palestine under nazi occupation. The problem was "solved" by the Palmach who, (according to an interesting documentary on the Templers on TV) assassinated Wagner on Levinsky Street.

And today, a new messiah appeared before the cameras. Arkady Gaidemak, the Russian oligarch who launched a new "social" movement and advised us to vote for Netanyahu.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Know Hope

The glass towers, the restored buildings, the chic restaurants and the stock market boom are just one aspect of the story. Eventually, stark reality always punctures the so-called Tel Aviv 'bubble'. And if Tel Avivians, hooked on escapism, succeed in remaining immune there are always a few artists to remind us to ponder our existential situation. One is the anonymous street artist known as Know Hope who leave his ambivalent signature behind him.

And in the Nahum Gutman museum there is a retrospective by the late and much missed comics artist Dudu Geva whose characters resonated with the Israeli reality. One was the petty official Yosef, another was his 'everyman' Duck who, though inflicted with innumerable trials and tribulations, managed to survive with unflagging optimism. "Still optimistic' (adayin optimi) runs the caption under the exhibition's duck motif.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The building and renovation work going on within a 1km radius from the rooftop is taking on staggering proportions. The old commercial centre of Tel Aviv (which roughly corresponds to Ahuzat Bayit, the forerunner or 'old city' of Tel Aviv) is being transformed before our eyes.

Of course, in terms of sheer space and presence, it is the office buildings and residential towers that dominate. The upside is that in return for approval of their building plans, the developers are obliged to conserve listed buildings. Add to that the demand by European Jews for architecturally interesting properties (and near the sea to boot) and the result is salvation for some interesting but neglected old buildings in the area that otherwise would have simply fallen down. This transformation is also affecting the human environment but we'll that for another time.

Coincidentally or not, the municipality is also chipping in by replacing old infrastructure, fixing the pavements and even adding some attractive street furniture. Until this work is done (we're talking months here) trying to take the car in or out of the area is becoming extremely challenging. Sometimes, at night it's literally impossible to get home by car (well, not without breaking the law) ...

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Classic western view

Classic rooftop view to the west on a bright, sunny and slightly chilly day. The sea is eastern Med, the red-tiled roofs cover the houses of Neve Tzedek established in the 1880s, and the granite like building blocking part of the view belongs to the Hachsharat Ha-Yishuv company which also owns the Ma'ariv daily paper. There are more tall buildings, office towers and hotels Lining the sea shore to the north as you can see here.
Further north still there are still a few patches of sea to be seen. The buildings in the foreground, built in the 1920s, are on Lilienblum Street, once the place to buy illegal dollars and now a commercial street by day and a strip of popular bars and restaurants by night.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tel Aviv - Cairo

Not Gaza or Cairo but a long-neglected building snapped this morning in south Tel Aviv, in Florentine to be exact. Sometimes landlords deliberately neglect the buildings in order to encourage protected tenants to move out and allow them to sell the property to developers. Sometimes, the residents are too temporary, poor or disorganised to tackle the job of a renovation. Tel Aviv municipality wants to force all apartment owners to renovate their properties every decade or so. But will they receive financial help?

Talking of Cairo, yesterday we visited the Yoav Hot Springs near Asheklon, emerging with glowing skin and that lovely ironed-out feeling you get after a (too rare) massage. At the entrance to the spa we came across this strange sight.

A memorial to the Anonymous Egyptian Soldier! Click on the photo and you'll see that the plaque is in Arabic only. Presumably this is a memorial to the Egyptian soldiers killed in the war against Israel in 1948. We are in the same area of the kibbutzim Yad Mordechai and Negba where there were fierce battles in that war. I wonder if there a memorial to the Anonymous Israeli Soldier killed in Egypt in 1973 or in 1967?

Thursday, February 8, 2007

My amazing school

I was thinking of writing about the negotiations between Mahmoud Abas and Khaled Mash'al in Mecca because they could be crucial to what happens next between Israel and the Palstinians and the rest of the world.

But instead I want to write about my amazing school. A kind uncle sent me the link to an article in the Independent on the primary school I attended in Birmingham. Then it was called the 'Hebrew School', but for years it's been the 'King David'. When I was there (in the middle of the last century) it was 95% Jewish; today Jewish children comprise 35 per cent, Muslims 50 per cent and Christians, Sikhs and others, 15 per cent. The amazing thing is that the school, still strictly Jewish in essence (while respecting other faiths) has become a model of peaceful co-existence. It also still boasts an impressive academic record. There are even Moslem families who move to the school's catchment area in order to register.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Neighbourhood foray 4

Another rainy day. Actually a blessed event in these parts. This was taken from the rooftop about ten days ago though, facing east. Fog in Tel Aviv is fairly rare, giving the city an uncharacteristic European face.

We came across this this house yesterday on a Shabbat morning stroll around the old streets (Kalisher, Mohilever) running down to the Carmel market and the sea south of Neveh Tzedek. I later learned that it was part of a compound built shortly after the start of the British Mandate for the employees of the first British bank in Palestine.

Caught this kitty on top of a wall nearby.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Invasion of the outsiders and the house opposite

This is the rooftop view to the south. A formerly handsome building with unusually grand balconies in the 'eclectic' style. An identical twin with its neighbour, it once served as the labour court and later, in disrepair, as a temporary home for the homeless and the hooked.

Pretty much the same picture appeared on the front page of The Marker, Ha'aretz's business magazine, yesterday. It turns out that the building was purchased by a group of British businessmen for $7 million. After it is renovated the entrepreneurs hope to sell the luxury apartments at prices starting at $2 million! (or they're just saying that in the hope that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy).

At any rate it looks like we're going to have some rich neighbours . I can't help wondering how much increased value this might project onto our modest building.

Regardless of finances, the renovation of the building opposite is certainly going to beautify this end of the road. There are still lots of architectural pearls to be found around here waiting for a major cash investment. According to the article , market forces, combined with the edgy fear of European Jews looking for a pied-a- terre in Tel Aviv will do the trick.

This is what the same building will (hopefully) look like a night in a few year's time.

There are many other project development projects financed by prosperous Jews from France, the UK, Belgium and Italy who have either recently made aliyah or who have one foot in the country. Most of their customers are other real or potential olim with a taste for an elegant home with a European feel to it and enough strong euros or pounds to pay for one. This property invasion of the 'outsiders' is mainly being conducted abroad but is already having a deep effect on our environment. Sometimes it is for the good, like the house across the road, and sometimes the result can be ruinous, like the Neve Tsedek Tower built to grab money from foreign Jews while also ruining our view, our light and the low-rise proportions of the neighbourhood.