Tel Aviv: A Redefinition of Israel Educational Priorities

“When someone comes and asks you,
‘Where is your Jewish Culture?’ you will answer,
‘What do you mean!’ and take him riding through the streets of Tel Aviv”
Marvin Lowenthal “This Hebrew Renaissance” 1925

by Abraham Silver

Much has been written in the last several weeks concerning changing educational needs for visitors to Israel in general and Taglit-Birthright in particular. Israel has the ability to connect each Jewish person to their Jewishness and to strengthen those ties. The issue is not about time spent in a specific place, but how to best utilize time to forge that connection. The issue is not about choosing one site over another, but understanding that each experience has its place in comprising a full portrait of the land of Israel and its people. A ten day trip to Israel allows for enough time in every major site. The question is how we, the facilitators, use that time.

Israel exists on a myriad of planes, all of which together create a mosaic of our homeland that allows every individual to bond to it in a unique way. One should be exposed to our roots in places like Masada. One should be exposed to our diversity and modern political issues in the center and in the periphery, from the desert to the Galil. One must be exposed to the spiritual side and the soul of Judaism, Jerusalem. Within this context, Tel Aviv is no less important in understanding the modern Jewish world. One must also be exposed to the heart of modern Israel, Tel Aviv.

Tel Aviv is a vibrant, exciting city filled with young people, young ideas and progressive values. The positive energy is infectious. Tel Aviv is the place where it is “cool” to be Jewish. If a tour imparts this feeling on its participants it can be one of the strongest tools in creating a successful Israel experience. We must ask ourselves: Does visiting Rabin Square accomplish this? Does visiting the museums?

Tel Aviv was founded as a modern Jewish city. What does that mean? How is it manifested in the city today? How can we strip away the veneer to understand the city that Amos Oz called the “secret project of the Jewish people”?

Tel Aviv pulsates with a Judaism that unites us all. It is possible to explore the city in a way that gives every Jewish person a greater and fuller understanding of what it means to be Jewish today. Instead of returning to the bus after Independence Hall, walk up Rothschild Boulevard. Stop at Eliyahu Golomb’s house and discuss the concept of Jewish Defense. Stop at the Ohel Moed Synagogue and explore the meaning of the words “Tel Aviv” through its amazing architectural statement. Stop at the Belze Chasidim Yeshiva and look at how the various communities interact in the city today, and why that particular community is located in the heart of “secular” Israel. These are just three examples of how the relevance of Tel Aviv emanates from that remarkable street. One can easily encounter other meaningful themes with a walk through Neve Tzedek, down Bialik Street or in Trumpeldor Cemetery.

Bialik, Achad Ha’am, Rachel the poet, Berl Katzenelson, Agnon, Brenner, Rav Kook, Gutman, Rubin, Arik Einstein and Ben Gurion all resided in Tel Aviv. By visiting them through the buildings in which they lived and worked, the concept of the New Jew and the revolution called Zionism can come alive. South Tel Aviv forces us to confront our responsibilities of being a free people in our own land, from Jewish immigrants to foreigners living among us. There are monuments like the Munich Massacre Memorial, the Holocaust Memorial, and the Holocaust Memorial for the Gay Community, that show a society steeped in memory while looking to the future. There is also the aspect of our High-Tech economy and our “can do” attitude. Tel Aviv abounds with countless possibilities.

To understand Israel and Israelis is to recognize that a significant plurality live in Gush Dan. It is the center of modern Jewish peoplehood and culture. It is essential to every Jewish person’s awareness of their Jewishness. By redefining Judaism as a nationality it challenges each of us to think about what Judaism means to us. The future of our people is being determined in Tel Aviv. It also screams that being Jewish is an amazing, fun part of one’s life. All sites in Israel have value, and all can be accessed with good educational leaders. In Tel Aviv, just coming to shop, go to the beach, party and visit a museum is not enough. Every group should scratch the surface and discover why it is “the most Jewish city in the world”, to understand how Zionism changed what Judaism means, and to encounter Jews embracing their heritage in dynamic ways that can speak to each of us.

“Where is your Jewish Culture?” Take the time to walk the streets of Tel Aviv.

Abraham Silver is a Senior Israel Educator and an Architect. He is an expert in using Tel Aviv to explore the sociological development of Israeli society through its architecture. He is also a Lecturer at Hebrew University on the Architecture of Jerusalem. He can be reached at abrahamsilver@gmail.com