Like many of my other arrivals, I got into Tel Aviv fairly late at night. I guess that’s one of the costs of cheap plane tickets. My hostel was located in the Florentine district which, like in many other cities of the world, is a place that turned from a poor industrial part of town to a haven for artists when they figured out the cheap rent situation. I actually ended up sleeping on the roof while I was there which was a bit cheaper and actually really nice given the climate.
I didn’t really do anything particularly historical while I was there. Its a new city, relatively speaking, and I was going to be travelling to Jerusalem and the West Bank shortly. I mostly spent my time eating great falafel and drinking Arak and grapefruit juice, two things that I find I miss here in the states. I did get a chance to see Old Jaffa which is an Arab town that was incorporated into Tel Aviv over time. Its quite different from the rest of Tel Aviv because it so much older than the rest of the city. There’s more Arabs here I think, but also a lot of Africans who have moved as refugees.
I did talk to some Jewish Americans who were at the hostel after doing birthright. Its an interesting program which had some parallels to my experience in Oman. They basically invite Jewish people from elsewhere to stay in Israel and take them around to show them all the best parts about it. A lot of the people I talked to said it was a bit heavyhanded on the propaganda but mostly they had a positive view of Israel. I think the endgoal of it is to solidify identification in the mindsets of non Israeli Jews and possibly convince them to emigrate. The group I was talking to were mostly more secular, but I could see this being a great recruiting tool for the more religious Jews in the U.S.
A couple of rockets were launched at the city while I was there, but at least in the hostel, no one really seemed to take them seriously. Apparently buildings in Tel Aviv built after a certain date have to include some kind of bomb shelter. In the case of ours, it was the stairwell, so we’d shuffle into there while the sirens went off, but there was a sense that people who had been there for a while were kind of rolling their eyes at the whole process. The owner of the hostel would shoo everyone down there, and when the sirens stopped everyone would go back to what they were doing.
There were a few things like that that seemed out of place to me, but were just part of everyday life. I’ve lived on military bases before, so seeing soldiers isn’t that big a deal to me, but its a bit odd to see uniformed and armed soldiers walking casually about such a big city. They wouldn’t even necessarily be on duty, sometimes they’d be on a train or bus or at a grocery store. Even with soldiers, the atmosphere in Tel Aviv was generally friendly, except for an occasional argument about politics. I left for Jerusalem after a couple of days, and that had a very different feel to it.