Neve Tzedek, Tel Aviv, Israel has been my neighborhood for the last 10 years. I share this quaint and historic village-like neighborhood with people who’s families have lived here for several generations, some of their family names don the street signs. Neve Tzedek is located in the southern most part of Tel Aviv and was until about 15 to 20 years ago, a rather rough neighborhood. As gentrification began, many new Israeli families and many international residents have come to live here. The lure of this neighborhood is obvious to me, it’s narrow streets run by European/Arabic style homes and buildings. Many of these original structures are more than hundred years old; they were built during the time of the Ottoman Empire and still radiate fairytale charm. Giant bougainvillea vines creep over many of the old structures and crawl over the trees making arches of flowers over streets. Old wooden doors lead to small courtyards where people still hang their washing and side walks are almost too narrow to walk on. The beach is a 10 minute walk from our house and we consider it our “backyard”. The ancient port city of Jaffa is a 15 minute walk south, along the sea.
As colorful as the flowers in Neve Tzedek are it’s residents. The houses are very close together and it’s easy to hear what the neighbors are up to. It’s not uncommon for your neighbor to shout loudly out of their window to ask you a question instead of picking up the telephone. Shouting is an accepted mode of communication here and some evenings neighbors squabble in the middle of the street till the police come, and then the neighbors end up shouting at the police. Shabbat (Saturday) is a day many people don’t drive, so it’s not uncommon for families to put their chairs in the middle of the street to sit and talk and soak up the afternoon sun. They begrudgingly move their chairs when a car needs to pass. Many people know their neighbors and it’s a nice feeling walking through Neve Tzedek and chatting with 5 or 6 people before you get to your destination. I walk almost everywhere I go here because everything I need is close by and I hate to drive in this country.
There are horse and buggies that clomp through the streets in the summer, the vendor yells avatiach (watermelon) and there is a junk wagon, the vendor yells altizakken (old stuff in Yiddish) looking for tin, metal or other valuable things to collect. There are many cute shops, restaurants and cafes. The neighborhood has two little corner stores called mackolets; these small sundry stores are not modernized, they are crowded and dilapidated and full of character. The mackolets here remind me of old, country stores in the southern part of the United States that I’ve been in. I don’t read Hebrew and my language skills are limited, so besides asking people to read labels for me, I rely upon the photos on packaging to find what I need. When trying to speak to someone who really doesn’t speak English, I have also resorted to using sound effects (like a chicken clucking to find chicken breasts or a cow mooing to let the store clerk know that I’m looking for ground beef) and I also use mini impromptu mime performances to communicate. Most Israeli’s and foreigners speak English, but the Russians mostly don’t speak English and the French aren’t very good at it. There are several nursery schools and an elementary French school in my neighborhood. The Le École Marc Chagall draws most of it’s student body from many French immigrants and children of international diplomats, my children attend this school.
One of the biggest tourist sites in Neve Tzedek is the Susan Dalal Center, it is a professional dance complex consisting of several practice and performance buildings. More importantly to the residents of Neve Tzedek is the big piazza in the center of the the dance complex. This large space is where neighborhood children ride their bicycles, skateboards, play soccer, tag and hide and go seek in the surrounding greenery. There are several art and music festivals held at the Susan Dallal complex throughout the year making this area a rich cultural meeting place. It’s really a beautiful place to sit and people watch, have a cappuccino or an ice cream at the gelateria nearby.
Besides the apparent beauty and historical interest of this neighborhood, is the quirkiness that attracts me. The dichotomy between the original inhabitants of the area, the 7 tiny synagogues that pepper the small streets, the handful of trust fund families (people who don’t work like “normal” because they have a trust fund to live off of), the business moguls who have swimming pools on their roofs, the regular folk (whom I consider myself apart of) and the artists that live and work here give this place a unique feel.