Friday, November 17, 2006

Tiyul Time: Tel Aviv uncovered…

Today I had the pleasure and great opportunity to take a guided walking tour of Tel Aviv with my classmates from the Conservative Yeshiva. Our outstanding guide was Rabbi Julian Sinclair, who is working on a doctorate on the life and effects of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hacohen Kook, the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of modern (pre-state) Israel. Our tour focused on Tel Aviv's role in the history of Zionism, including both its religious and secular forms. In the morning, we started out looking out onto ים התיכון (Mediterranean sea), standing with Jaffa to our right, Neve Tzedek in front of us and bustling central Tel Aviv on our left. We then preceded to spend the morning touring Neve Tzedek, which was the first Jewish neighbourhood outside the old city of Yafo. We followed in the footsteps Rav Kook, seeing his former home and synagogue that he occupied for eleven years. Because of the expertise of our guide, I was able to imagine the neighbourhood in its heyday, when the Rav mingled with leaders of the Yishuv, including some of its most prolific writers, Shai Agnon and Yosef Chaim Brenner, and the artist Nachum Gutman. The culmination of the morning touring was a mincha service, which I was honoured to lead in the ruins of Rav Kook's synagogue, which was needless to say, a very moving experience. We then ate lunch in the plaza of the Suzanne Delal Centre for the Performing Arts, which was established in the past decade in the heart of Neve Tzedek.

After lunch, we made our transition to the second part of the day when we walked from Neve Tzedek into the original part of Tel aviv and along the way saw some of the original sights, such as the city's first movie theater, opened in 1913, and some other original buildings. Our next stop was Independence hall, one of the highlights of any trip to Tel Aviv. Although I was there a little over a year ago on USY Pilgrimage and not much had changed, it was still a nice opportunity to relive that amazing day of 5 Iyar 5708 / May 14, 1948, and reflect on the miracle of the State of Israel. After spending some time there, we continued our walk and passed under the Shalom Tower, formerly the tallest building in the Middle East, after which we passed through Nachalat Binyamin, somewhat of a cross between the shuk and Ben Yehuda Street. At the end of the pedestraian mall, I and a few friends found the proverbial pot of gold at the end of the rainbow when we found a Kosher Shawama stand. Even more amazing was the fact that they used real lamb meat, and and I got a pita's worth. It was very tasty, probably one of the best one's I've ever had.

We ended the day down the street in a quiet circle outside the custom-built home of poet Hayyim Nachman Bialik. We studied a few of his poems, and discussed their meaning, especially in relation to how we view Zionism today. While we were discussing, a secular Israeli overheard us and joined our discussion, adding in his post-Zionist, universalistic view. Our Rosh Yeshiva chose to engage him and we witnessed a cordial, but heated debate on the importance of even Jewish studies, religion aside, in secular Israel. As we would say in the Yeshiva, it was definitely some l'ma'aseh (practical application) from our studies today.
To cap off the day, as we were preparing to leave Tel Aviv, the bus drove along the Mediterranean and I was able to capture this beautiful sunset!

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