26 February 2009

Thursday - The Hundredth Anniversary of the CIty of Rebirth

Today I learned that the name of the city of Tel Aviv does not come from some nearby spring (which would be ma'ayan, anyway) but is a Hebrew imagination of the title of Zionist founder Theodor Herzl's book, Alteneuland. In German, the title means "OldNewLand" - reflecting the irony of creating a new country which is also the revival of a nation formed 3,000 years before. in Hebrew Tel does not only mean "hill", but is the type of hill that archeologists call a "mound" - an agglomeration of historical strata one on top of the other. Aviv means "Spring" the season, and not the water source. Therefore, this city , founded one hundred years ago, quite consciously as the first Hebrew city in thousands of years, was named Tel Aviv - a new Spring flowering in the place of ancient history. This year - 2009 - Tel Aviv celebrates its first hundred years, and our convention had an opportunity to learn a little bit more about the city we did not live in for our year in Israel.

When Michelle and I were living in Israel - fifteen years ago - for our first year of Hebrew Union College, we lived in Jerusalem. We travelled around the country - mostly to sites of historic and Reform Jewish interest. Tel Aviv did not seem to be one of these. Instead, Tel Aviv was the place that we went when we needed a break from Israel and wanted a taste of the U.S. We would hop on a bus and head for the Hard Rock Cafe - for a cheeseburgand onion rings that tasted like home.

We started at Mishkenot Ruth Daniel - the community center in the south of Tel Aviv created by Rabbi Meir Azari - one of the foremost among the incredibly creative, dynamic, and indefatiguable Rabbis building the Reform movement in Israel. Along with Beit Daniel, the center in the north of the city, Rabbi Azari has reached out to the mainly secular Tel Aviv Jews and created a place where they can discover and engage in a new form (to them) of Judaism. Mishkenot Ruth (a short walk from the Mediterranean) is also a youth hostel and will definitely be a stop on the eventual Temple Sholom Israel trip. After a short lunch and introduction by Rabbi Azari (including singing), the mayor of Tel Aviv Ron Huldai welcomed us and then spoke about his and his city's relationship to Reform Judaism in Israel. Then, it was off to become more familiar with the city. Michelle and I took a trip through the different markets of Tel Aviv - from the furniture market near where the Saloniki Jews built the port of Tel Aviv, to the Levinsky market with the freshest spices, dried fruits and cheeses, to the Carmel open air market which had everything from Hebrew Coca-Cola t-shirts through flowers and gummy worms - but most impressively, the reddest and sweetist looking strawberries you have ever seen.

In the evening, we learned about the cultural life of Israel, getting a sneak preview of the original Israeli version of the HBO-optioned A Touch Away and then watching Not by Bread Alone - a play created and performed by deaf and blind actors at Nalaga'at Center. We ended the evening with a (too early for the night life) dinner at the hottest spot in Tel Aviv, the up-scale Tel Aviv Port.

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