Whenever I go to Tel Aviv, the first thing I always ask myself is, “So when can I move here?” Black hats are the minority, everyone is young and cool and hip (and actually knows how to dress), treif is widely available, the beach is gorgeous, a lot of restaurants are open on weekends, the list goes on and on. And yet, if I had chosen to go to Tel Aviv University instead, I would have been a renegade genuine and down-to-earth person in a sea of Jewish American Princesses. Sure, we have our fair share here at Rothberg, but the situation is even worse at TAU from what I know. Also, if I went to TAU I would have to try so hard not to go to the beach and/or go shopping everyday instead of going to class. So there are certainly advantages to Hebrew U, and of course Jerusalem is where I want to be, smack dab in the middle of history, but it does suffocate you and at some point you just need to go to Tel Aviv. Which is why I went twice last week, on Thursday and Friday.
It was so tempting to skip my only Thursday class, which doesn’t end until noon. I hadn’t taken a mental health day so far this semester, so I thought some quality time at the beach was well-deserved. Israel had a chamsin, or heatwave, last week, so it was maybe around 90 degrees and definitely humid. I so enjoyed lying on my towel in my suit, absorbing those dangerous UVB rays. Unfortunately, though, the water was too cold for total body immersion. We were out of there by 5 p.m., and I returned to the k’far pleasantly tired from the sun.
The next day I went back, but this was planned as opposed to my semi-impulsive beach trip. It might surprise you to know that it’s actually cheaper to go and come back than to stay overnight at a hostel, and the cheap hostel on the beach is pretty gross in my opinion. We left really early because we wanted to shop at Nachalat Binyamin, the artists’ market, before going to the monthly street party on Rothschild Street. I’ve been to Nachalat Binyamin a few times before, and I just can’t restrain myself when it comes to this one woman who sells silver jewelry embedded with colorful stones, so I added another pair of earrings to my collection. In addition to jewelry, a variety of vendors sell Judaica, recycled newspaper housewares, pottery, homemade puzzles, notepads and notebooks, and some weird toys. Here’s some of the more typical stuff:
And some of the not-so-typical stuff, like these sheep made from recycled sponge, recycled liquor bottle clocks, and milk carton holders:
Tel Aviv’s shuk is just one street over, so we went there next to look around and explore. While Machane Yehuda in Jerusalem is mostly food, the one in Tel Aviv has all sorts of cheap clothing, tacky jewelry, and shoes in addition to fruit juice stands and the obvious produce and baked goods stalls. Because it was early Friday afternoon right before Shabbat, we could barely move. I know I put up so many pictures of challah, but these were the cutest mini-loaves:
As we walked around and noticed how cheap everything was, we decided to buy a picnic lunch of turkey, tomatoes, cucumbers, strawberries, and bananas, supplemented by some cottage cheese from a supermarket. We were on our way out when I spotted to my left the fish vendor. In front of the salmon steaks, though, I saw a most beautiful sight to behold: SHRIMP. i.e., TREIF, and therefore NOT KOSHER. RIGHT THERE IN THE SHUK. Shellfish is forbidden because a fish must have scales and gills in order to be kosher, and it would be foolish to sell treif at Machane Yehuda because the black hats would flip a you-know-what and probably start a riot. My day was made when upon taking a closer look I discovered they were cooked, and I didn’t hesitate before buying a half kilo for 35 shekels, or $9.41. Not sure how good of a deal it was, but I didn’t care because I was about to eat viable shellfish for the first time in a very long time. I think my roommates thought I was a bit crazy, but I was to be reunited with the most perfect of foods.
At the end of Allenby Street we unpacked at a table outdoors, washed the fruit and veggies in a nearby public bathroom, and sat down to our cheap feast of the freshest Israel has to offer. Our lack of utensils forced us to get creative:
And me, so very ecstatic, with my shrimp:
My precious little critters were delicious, and I savored every tail because who knows when I’ll see them again. Lunch was certainly a success. Boy do I love Tel Aviv!
It was a bit overcast at this point, so Niri and I walked to Rothschild for the street party because the beach didn’t seem worth it. Though it wasn’t so crowded when we arrived, by the time we met up with some of our Rothberg buds everyone was packed in like sardines. A sign on one of the police barriers said the capacity was 8,000 people. In essence, it was a huge dance party with lots of DJs and booze and a few stalls of hipsters selling their graphic tees and embellished headbands. The music was great, we got free hats, and the majority of the crowd was under 30. Pool in the middle of the neutral ground (it’s not a median), guys dressed up like the Queen’s Guard, and Niri and I:
Also, adorable little boy selling hotdogs, rooftop fun, and a DJ:
This is what the crowd looked like mid-afternoon when Niri and I took a break and crossed to the non-party side of Rothschild for some sitting, tea/coffee-drinking, sunflower seed-munching, and people-watching:
By the time our other friends who had gone to the beach arrived at the party, it was winding down, but it cooled down a bit and the crowd was thinning, so we went back and danced until it was over. Afterward, we walked down Rothschild all the way to Dizengoff Street, and on the way I spotted a few potential future summer apartments. I’ll be taking a vote:
Everyone was famished, and we ended our perfectly relaxing day in Tel Aviv with dinner at Japanika, an Israeli sushi franchise that’s really good and really cheap. I had tofu for the first time in Israel, never realizing how much I missed it until then (you can get it at the supermarket but it’s unreasonably expensive), and I also had salmon. Wow, shellfish and fish in the same day in Israel! Oh, Tel Aviv, how you spoil me.
So what do you do during the sheirut ride back to Jerusalem? Make plans to go back the next weekend! There’s a very interesting “exhibit” at the Holon Children’s Museum in a suburb of Tel Aviv called “Dialogue in the Dark” in which the visitor experiences life as a blind person for a little over an hour. I had never heard of it, but my roommates had and so we decided to check it out today. After an expensive cab ride due to the general confusion of Tel Aviv’s bus station (which is also the ugliest and most haphazardly designed structure I have ever seen), we finally arrived for our tour (reservations are required), not knowing what to expect. We bought our tickets, were given walking sticks, and entered total, pitch-black darkness. All of the guides are either blind or visually impaired, and ours was waiting for us inside.
Ma’ayan led us through a hallway and told us that we would be experiencing scenes from everyday life, and that we would need to harness our other four senses. I gradually accustomed to channeling my sense of sound in order to focus on following her voice. Our first stop was a sort of park, where I found and touched a waterfall. There was actual gravel, grass, and dirt. I definitely had a hard time adjusting to the dark, and it was disorienting to not be able to see what exactly it was I was touching. Next, we went inside a cabin with a bed, kitchen utensils, and a sculpture of a Native American, of all things. I found a rack with a pair of shoes.
Then she told us it was time to leave the country and go to the city, so we took a short boat ride. Upon exiting the boat we were bombarded with the urban sounds of a metropolis, as we discovered a car, a motorcycle, a bike rack with a bicycle, and a house. I was constantly scared that I would trip, since there were real sidewalks on either side of the street.
From there we went to the shuk, which was my favorite part because grocery shopping is definitely the daily and most basic activity that I connect to the most. On either side of me I felt the fruits and vegetables in the baskets: onions, potatoes, oranges, carrots, cucumbers. There was also the scale that they use to weigh everything, and a bicycle with a basket.
Our second-to-last stop was the music room, where we listened to a variety of genres for six minutes. Not having the ability to see, I focused instead on the vibrations of the music, and found that my ears were especially sensitive. Finally, we went to the cafeteria, where you can actually get food. Still “blind,” we ordered drinks and sat down as Ma’ayan encouraged us to ask her questions. We learned that she is not blind, which means that you cannot see anything at all, but visually impaired, which can mean anything from just being able to distinguish between light and darkness all the way up to seeing everything extremely blurry. Ma’ayan is at the latter end of the spectrum, but because visual impairments occur in parts like the cornea and retina, they cannot be corrected by glasses or laser surgery. However, she does not use a dog or a stick because those are only for blind people who cannot see what’s in front and to the sides. Although it’s a blessing that she’s “high-functioning,” she said it’s also difficult because people don’t always understand that she has a visual impairment since she doesn’t need a stick or a dog. She is in her fourth year of studying psychology and education at Tel Aviv University, which means she’s probably around our age. Also, she was born with the visual impairment and so has never been able to see sharply.
When I exited the complex, my eyes hurt. Ma’ayan had also told us that when she started working at the museum she had had to adjust as well since she is not blind. We finally got to see her, and she looks just like any other female 20-something university student. In the end, I was just so happy to be able to see again, and I definitely have a new-found appreciation for my sight as well as more respect for the blind and visually impaired. I have gone to private schools all my life where almost no one has been handicapped in any form. But at Hebrew University I have noticed a lot of blind students, especially when I ride the bus to school. I can only hope that it never becomes a reality for me.
We wanted to have a late lunch at Benedict, Tel Aviv’s famous 24/7 breakfast place, but when we got there the line was too long and so we ventured further down Rothschild to Cafe Hillel, an Israeli coffee house chain like Aroma, where we sat outside in the sunny, chilly breeze and lived the Tel Aviv life of sitting in cafes and just being. The view from my perch:
And that, my friends, is a taste of Tel Aviv. Sorry for the lack of extensive photography, but I hope it was still entertaining!