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Israel A Quarter of Special Places

The disused and neglected Tel Aviv Port is now the city’s No. 1 entertainment and leisure center.

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Neve Tzedek photo by Dana Friedlander Port of call

The disused and neglected Tel Aviv Port is now the city’s No. 1 entertainment and leisure center.

1936. Bloody riots and an Arab revolt in Jaffa led the Jewish leadership to decide to build a new port in Tel Aviv – a significant step in defining Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel. In the spirit of those idealistic days, it was said: We shall triumph over violence by doing, and so construction of a port began near the mouth of the Yarkon River in North Tel Aviv. The first new immigrants disembarked in 1938, bestowing upon the new port another name – Gates of Zion, the entry to the homeland.


But by 1965, after the construction of a huge new port in Ashdod, the Tel Aviv facility ceased to function as a cargo port. It was not too long before the old port took on a new and much livelier, identity: 70 years after its establishment, the place has become the city’s premier entertainment center, with dance clubs, cafes and restaurants at the water’s edge and great shops featuring the work of Israeli designers.


The port attracts to its wide wooden promenade thousands of people seeking to combine food, shopping and entertainment with romantic red sunsets, salty sea breezes and white sails on the horizon. If you get here after noontime on a Saturday, forget it – you’ll quickly discover that you’re not the only one in pursuit of this magical combination.


A bridge across the Yarkon River connects the port to the historic old Reading power station, whose cavernous interior now serves as an exciting venue for post-Modern design and art exhibitions. Near the bridge is a foot and bicycle path called the Yarkon Promenade that heads east along the banks of the river into the Yarkon National Park – 875 acres of greenery, water, playing fields and leisure activities for the whole family.


Neve Tzedek – the Pioneers’ Preserve


Twenty-two years before the founding of Tel Aviv, Jews left the walls of Jaffa and built in nearby Neve Tzedek. These beautifully restored houses and streets preserve the romance of the early days of Jewish urban settlement.


Jews lived outside the crowded confines of Jaffa even before the founding of Tel Aviv – 22 years before, to be exact, in a neighborhood called Neve Tzedek. Today this picturesque area is bursting with boutiques, galleries, stylish cafes and restaurants; known for its culture and lifestyle, Neve Tzedek commands some of the highest housing prices in the city.


A walking tour of Neve Tzedek is a must for romantics, history lovers and fans of small winding alleys. This is where the city’s first cinema was built in 1914. The Nahum Gutman Museum is located here in the home of the artist who immortalized the early days of Tel Aviv and Jaffa landscapes in his colorful paintings. Here you can also find the unusual Rokach House, now a private museum of sculpture and family history established by sculptor Lea Majaro-Mintz, the granddaughter of the home’s builder and the first head of the Neve Tzedek community, Shimon Rokach.


In the early 20th century, Neve Tzedek was home to many famous writers, artists and spiritual leaders, including the Nobel Prize laureate, writer S.Y. Agnon, and Tel Aviv’s Chief Rabbi Avraham Kook.

Founded by wealthy Jewish families that came from North Africa, the neighborhood was nicknamed “Little Paris” because of its eye-opening architectural innovations. Today, the most outstanding site is the Suzanne Dellal Centre, a bustling dance and theater complex.

How romantic to sit in the cafes and browse in the boutiques and designers’ shops, to see how a charming historic neighborhood survives surrounded by the skyscrapers of progress enveloping a preserve of Jewish pioneering.




 

Jaffa – the Orange of the East


Thousands of years of history come together in Jaffa, one of the world’s oldest cities and the birthplace of Tel Aviv. A center of tourism, food and fun, with an exotic Levantine ambience.

Driving to Jaffa is like going through a time tunnel – skyscrapers soar on the left, while ahead lays a city with thousands of years behind it. The gleaming glass towers give way to weathered stone and ancient arches.


The main port of the ancient land of Israel, and one of the first ports in the world, Jaffa was a center of commerce and culture, agriculture and tourism, the destination of shipping lines from Alexandria and Beirut. From the Clock Tower Square, convoys of wagons and camels fanned out to all parts of the land, and pilgrims made their way on foot to the holy city of Jerusalem.


The clock tower built by the Turkish Sultan Abd al-Hamid the II in 1906, when the land was under Ottoman rule, has undergone a facelift, as has the square surrounding it. In the alley next to the Mahmuddiyah mosque, men are absorbed in endless games of backgammon, or shesh-besh, to use the local parlance. Coffeehouses offering narghiles to smoke along with tiny cups of strong black Turkish coffee create an authentic Levantine atmosphere.


To the west of the plaza are the port and the sea. Fishermen lean patiently on the stone walls bordering the promenade, waiting for a nibble of their lines. The waves break gently on Andromeda’s Rock, just out to sea.


The port hasn’t changed much since the days when it was the main gateway for the worldwide export of the juicy oranges that came to bear its name – Jaffa. It also welcomed the first waves of Jewish immigration starting in the 1880s, when the new arrivals would disembark from their ships onto small boats that took them into the shallow port. Theodor Herzl himself arrived in this way.


Today, the port serves small fishing boats. At the crack of dawn, bleary-eyed fishermen in yellow slickers unload the night’s catch and fold up their nets on the decks. Early risers can buy freshly caught fish and seafood right from the pier.

Steep stairs ascend from the edge of the port into the alleyways of Jaffa’s Old City. There you can explore galleries showcasing art and Judaica, the Ilana Goor Museum, archeological exhibits and charming cafes. From the square in front of St. Peter’s Church, near the Turkish cannons and the statues depicting the soldiers of Napoleon, who stayed here during his attempted conquest of the Holy Land, look northward for a stunning view of Tel Aviv and its seashore.


Jaffa
is also home to a synagogue built by Libyan Jews in the 18th century and a 19th century Arab-Maronite neighborhood of spacious houses with terra cotta-tiled roofs.


On the main commercial thoroughfare, Jerusalem Boulevard, you’ll find the Gesher Theater, a wealth of small eastern atmosphere. Near the Fountain Square is the Reform movement’s new Mishkenot Daniel Jaffa center and just down the road is the Flea Market, a world unto itself.

 

The Association for Tourism Tel Aviv-Jaffa offers free guided walking tours of Jaffa every Wednesday in English. Meeting point: the Clock Tower of Yefet Street, at 9:30 a.m. No need for advance booking – just come along and enjoy!


For more information visit Tel Aviv-Yafo's website - www.visit-tel-aviv-yafo.com​​

 

 

 

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