Tel-Aviv, the First Century: Visions, Designs, Actualities

Tel-Aviv, the First Century: Visions, Designs, Actualities


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253223579
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 11/30/2011
Series: Israel Studies Book Series
Pages: 480
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Maoz Azaryahu is Professor of Cultural Geography at the University of Haifa and author of Tel Aviv: Mythography of a City.

S. Ilan Troen is Stoll Family Professor of Israel Studies and Director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University.

Read an Excerpt

Tel-Aviv, The First Century

Visions, Designs, Actualities

By Maoz Azaryahu, S. Ilan Troen

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2012 Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35694-9


Telling the Story of a Hebrew City

Yaacov Shavit

Tel-Aviv Did Not Want to Be a City

Tel-Aviv did not want to be a city. In fact, it was afraid to be a city. The fear arose from the anti-urban trend and the negative image of the city—"the dark city"—in the nineteenth century, as well as the Zionist concern that the city would attract most of the new immigrants and would compete with the agricultural settlements for resources. Only in the 1930s did Tel-Aviv realize that it was becoming a city after all.

What it really meant to be was a suburb, or a modern small town, but certainly not something on the order of the average European city. Even today, Tel-Aviv, with 390,000 residents, is certainly not a large city.

Why Is Its Hundredth Anniversary Noteworthy?

From the perspective of the world outside Europe, there is nothing special about the founding of Tel-Aviv one hundred years ago. During the nineteenth century, outside the continent, and especially in the United States, many cities were established, and not as a result of government initiative. Within Europe, however, the situation was different; the only new city in the last 200 years is Odessa, which was founded by the Czarist government at the end of the eighteenth century. Within Eretz-Israel the situation was also different. Tel-Aviv is the only new city since Ramle was established in 717 BCE by the Umayyad caliph Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik. It is the first so-called "Jewish city" since King Herod built Caesarea in 20-10 BCE and Tiberias was founded by King Herod Antipas in 22–17 BCE. Thus Tel-Aviv was the first city founded in Eretz-Israel in 1,200 years, and it was the first Jewish city founded there in some 2,000 years.

What Does Tel-Aviv Have in Common with Other Cities?

Although cities have much in common, each has its own history, character, and image. What does Tel-Aviv, with its brief history, have in common with other cities, and what makes it unique? Its uniqueness lies in its being the first city established by Jews for Jews, and more so, it was the first opportunity in general for Jews to found a city and to shape its character.

Meir Dizengoff, the head of the neighborhood committee and later the city's first mayor, declared in 1921,

We are conducting the most important experiment in the entire period of our exile. We want to prove how we will behave in a new, modern city, that will be totally Jewish, that we will light by ourselves, guard by ourselves, improve by ourselves, and keep clean and wholesome [by ourselves].

He referred to a city in the urban-physical sense, as well as to the character of urban life.

The history of Tel-Aviv offers a unique opportunity to see how Jews built a city, what kind of city they wanted to build, and what kind of city grew from under their hands. If Tel-Aviv did not want to be a city, how does this statement fit with the declarations and texts that, already in the first decade of its existence, and certainly after that, seemed to predict the development of the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood into a city?

These declarations were just rhetoric. A pamphlet dated 31 July 1906 raised the idea of establishing a Jewish neighborhood outside Jaffa. Its author, Akiva Arieh Weiss, who was the most important promoter of the neighborhood, wrote that it would be "the first Hebrew city" and that it would eventually become "Eretz-Israel's New York." He did not mean New York as a model for a city, but its role as the port of entry for immigrants. Weiss described this "modern" city:

In this city we will build the streets [so they have] roads and sidewalks [and] electric lights. Every house will have water from wells that will flow through pipes as in every modern European city, and also sewerage pipes will be installed for the health of the city and its residents.

Weiss's vision still lacks many of the elements of a modern city, and certainly of a metropolis. S. Y. Agnon wrote in his novel Tmol Shilshom (Only Yesterday), "Sixty houses aren't sixty cities, but we who do not aim too high, even smallness is great for us." The widespread use of the word "city" (stadt) should not mislead us; Tel-Aviv had no intention of becoming New York, Odessa, Vienna, or Berlin.

Other urban visions were expressed. The writer A. A. Kabak, for example, wrote in 1914 that Tel-Aviv would become a large city in which "a rich culture will flourish, large shops [will have] splendid display windows, electric streetcars will pass by with a clatter, locomotives will shriek, [and] factory smokestacks will blast." Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor, predicted in 1924 that TelAviv would become a metropolis and a great Jewish cultural, commercial, industrial, and political center.

However, as some of the city's first residents stated, In truth, no one foresaw the coming of Tel-Aviv, ... when we drove the first stake in Kerem Jebali ["vineyard"—the first 85.5 dunams that were purchased by the first residents of Ahuzat Bayit] we never dreamed that our little neighborhood would grow into a big city and that the city would become the heart of the country, and if someone had predicted generations ago that within twenty-five years a big city would be built on the sandy desert north of Jaffa, [and] that [it] would have more than 100,000 residents, he would have been considered a dreamer.

In short, "Tel-Aviv was not built according to a predetermined plan, because its founders did not foresee its future."

Even architect Patrick Geddes, in his 1926 outline plan for part of Tel-Aviv believed that Tel-Aviv would be "northern Jaffa." His plan referred to a small town on just 3,000 dunams (750 acres), with small houses (residential buildings no more than three stories high), and commercial buildings, in commercial areas, of no more than four stories, as well as public parks and private gardens. This was a plan for a city of 100,000. Yet ten years after his plan Tel-Aviv numbered 150,000 inhabitants.

The character of the city was not shaped in accordance with a vision or preconceived plan. Agnon wrote ironically about the first days of Tel-Aviv that naïve people who believed that their plans and their will had made Tel-Aviv were in error; the city had developed in a totally different manner from what they wanted, and that was God's doing. In secular language, the city was shaped by the life force—that is, various forces that determined the rate of urban growth and the nature of that growth. Agnon wrote that Tel-Aviv became "the complete opposite of what the founders of Tel-Aviv wanted to make of Tel-Aviv." Instead of becoming an autonomous and modern suburb, it became first a town and then a city, which was not the result of a vision or a plan.

It is true that various groups had a variety of models in mind for a city, but these models had only a slight influence on the course of Tel-Aviv's development, at least in its first forty years. This is true not only in relation to its physical-urban character but also in relation to its social-urban and cultural-urban character.

"City Of Jews," "Jewish City," "Hebrew City," "European City in the Orient"?

Tel-Aviv was a combination of all of these. It was undoubtedly a "city of Jews." In 1909, the year that the Ahuzat Bayit neighborhood was established, more than a million Jews lived in New York (540,000 on less than one square mile), 300,000 in Warsaw, and 150,000 in Odessa. Several cities not only had a demographic concentration of Jews but also a vibrant Jewish life. Numerous cities in Europe and in the New World had larger Jewish populations than Tel-Aviv during the British Mandate, and after. In some places, there were more Jews than in all of the Yishuv.

Jews have been portrayed as a quintessentially urban population who played an important role in the urban nineteenth-century revolution. However, Tel-Aviv was both a city of Jews and a Jewish city because all the residents within the municipal boundaries, until 1949, were Jews, and because only Tel-Aviv was a city established by Jews as a Jewish enterprise. It was a city whose urban character was shaped by Jews, a city that was run by Jews, and a city whose public space was controlled by Jews. Therefore, the urban challenge to its residents and its image-shapers was all encompassing. What shaped the character of Tel-Aviv was that at least some of the important decisions that determined the development of the urban space and of the urban society were under the control of the city's residents and its leaders. It was the first and only place where Jews not only settled in a city, contributed to its growth, were an active element in it, were influenced by it, and at the same time-established autonomous Jewish life, it was also a city in which they were the sole factor in its establishment, the sole moving force behind its development, and almost the sole shapers of its character.

Without the vision of the "Hebrew city," without the desire to establish a modern Hebrew city, and without the ability to oversee urban processes at least partially, Tel-Aviv would have been just another city of immigrants and refugees, like all other cities.

However, urban visions do not portray the real city, but rather how the builders of Tel-Aviv and its residents imagined the ideal city. In fact, the city grew from the bottom up, and not all its layers developed according to preconceived ideas or in accordance with plans on paper, but rather as the result of a mostly uncontrolled dynamic.

The Life Force That Spurred the Urban Growth of Tel-Aviv

The main impetus for the establishment of the small Jewish neighborhoods that were built outside Jaffa starting in 1887 consisted of two factors: one was severe overcrowding in Jaffa, resulting from three kinds of increase: the urban growth of Arab Jaffa, an increase in the Jewish population of Jaffa as a result of internal migration (within the Yishuv), and Jewish immigration from outside the country. The second factor was the desire of some of Jaffa's Jews to improve their housing conditions. In this respect, there was no difference between moving outside the walls of Jaffa and moving outside the walls of Jerusalem's Old City, starting in the 1860s. Jaffa had ceased to be a bridge to Jerusalem and had become a favored destination. After 1909, and especially after World War I, Tel-Aviv became the favored destination of Jews from other cities in the Yishuv, and especially of many of the immigrants.

Dr. Arthur Ruppin, head of the Palestine office of the World Zionist Organization established in 1908, explained that

In no other place did they see the same degree of independent communal management, under a leadership that [the residents] themselves elected. In no other place was there such a feeling of total security; in no other place was it possible to educate the children to the same degree with the same Jewish-national spirit; in no other place was there such a complete revival of the Hebrew language as here.

Alter Druyanov, Tel-Aviv's first official historian, had a different explanation:

With the increase in immigration, Tel-Aviv's growth was proportionally greater than that of the other Jewish settlements in the land. [Living in] Diaspora conditions for eons made the Jew an urban and metropolitan creature. When he started becoming uprooted from the Diaspora and immigrated to Eretz-Israel, and even if that was not only because he was pushed out of there, but also because an ideology caused him to come, he was nearly powerless to part with his urban nature, and the slightest obstacle led him primarily not to the village but to the city ... and when the immigrant found Tel-Aviv, an "almost city" that was better run than the previous one, he went there.

Several years later, one of the local activists explained the preference for urban life:

The immigrants were attracted to Tel-Aviv only because they found in it all the comforts they were used to in Europe: electric light, water, a little cleanliness, cinema, opera, theater, and also more or less advanced schools, ... busy streets, full restaurants, cafes open until 2 AM, singing, music, and dancing.

All three were correct. The Second and Third Aliya waves of Jewish immigration to Eretz-Israel included many non-pioneering immigrants who were in search of housing, employment, and a living, which only an urban setting could provide. For many of the pioneering immigrants, Tel-Aviv was not only a way station, but also a permanent place, because its development provided employment. Without Tel-Aviv, these opportunities would not have existed. That is why, despite the absence of objective elementary conditions, already in the first decade of Tel-Aviv's history the internal forces of a city were created, and the desire to create a suburb of Jaffa, a suburb that would have a grid of streets and sidewalks, running water in the houses, and electricity, led to its becoming an autonomous town, and then a city.

Just as New York was "the Promised City," so too was Tel-Aviv, especially starting in 1924—when the United States imposed severe restrictions on immigration to its shores, and Poland imposed economic pressure (Grabski decrees) on its Jews. Many of the immigrants did not identify with the pioneering ethos, did not want to settle in agricultural settlements, and preferred to manage on their own, to work in the trades they had had prior to immigration, and to live the kind of life to which they were accustomed.

Tel-Aviv was dependent on Jaffa for many years, and even in 1945 34,000 Jews resided in Jaffa. However, the physical distance from Jaffa, the autonomous government, and the control of the urban space turned Tel-Aviv into an independent urban entity and a destination that attracted immigrants. Moreover, the agricultural and semi-urban settlements could not absorb the waves of immigration, and it was Tel-Aviv that offered housing and employment opportunities.

The Jewish population of Tel-Aviv (and Jaffa) during the British Mandate numbered between thirty to forty percent of the entire Yishuv, and in 1939 it reached thirty-nine percent. In 1950 it dropped to twenty-eight percent, and in 1952—the peak of mass immigration—to twenty-three percent. The growth was rapid. Between 1931 and 1936, the city grew by a phenomenal 215 percent, from 46,000 to 145,000; and between 1936 and 1939 it grew by another fifty-two percent, from about 154,000 residents to 220,000. It is not surprising that David Ben-Gurion wrote at the height of this rapid growth that Tel-Aviv was turning the Yishuv into a city-state (polis) rather than a city within a state (a city with the proper proportion of inhabitants in relation to the general population).

Tel-Aviv's population grew faster than that of many of the cities in the countries of immigration in the New World, even though it was not built by a central government, it received almost no financial support from the WZO or from the government, and it received only indirect aid from the Mandate government. Thus the motivating force, its life force, was immigration; immigrants' private capital (which Dizengoff estimated in 1934 at thirty million lira at the time, mostly private investment and privately held); private and public enterprise; municipal local taxes; and the activity of various agents of growth and change. Moreover, the entire complex of advanced municipal services—including education, health, and infrastructure—was all funded by the city's residents, and under their management.

Much of the city's character was determined by the nature of the capital that reached the city. There was no investment of foreign capital, no investment by big Jewish capitalists; all the investments were by people with limited capital, which enabled them to build homes that were not splendid, and certainly not monumental, and some rental properties, small workshops, and businesses.

Was Tel-Aviv a "Modern European City"?

Upon seeing The Hague, the capital of The Netherlands, Theodor Herzl wrote in his diary on 30 September 1898, "Will is what causes cities to rise. If I point to any spot and say 'Here there will be a city!' a city will rise there." Herzl believed that in the modern era human beings could harness technology to conquer nature and to build a city from scratch. When Herzl described the exemplary city he did not describe a new city, but rather Haifa, a historic city that was changing into a modern port city, had neighborhoods surrounded by greenery with single-family homes of one or two stories, and industrial plants. Yet in another context, in discussing the possibility of Jewish settlement in el-Arish, Herzl wrote, "I believed that in founding a city one should follow as much as possible in the footsteps of ancient settlement ... a city means layer upon layer of experience ..."


Excerpted from Tel-Aviv, The First Century by Maoz Azaryahu, S. Ilan Troen. Copyright © 2012 Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and Ben-Gurion Research Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface: Maoz Azaryahu and Ilan Troen
Introduction: Tel-Aviv Imagined and Realized / S. Ilan Troen
Part 1. Historical Issues
1. Telling the Story of a Hebrew City / Yaacov Shavit
2. Tel-Aviv's Birthdays: Anniversary Celebrations, 1929-1959 / Maoz Azaryahu
3. Tel-Aviv's Foundation Myth: A Constructive Perspective / Hizky Shoham
4. From "European Oasis" to Downtown New York: The Image of Tel-Aviv in School Textbooks / Yoram Bar-Gal
5. Subversive Youth Cultures in Mandate Tel-Aviv / Tammy Razi
6. Dirt, Noise, and Misbehavior in the First Hebrew City: Letters of Complaint as a Historical Source / Anat Helman
7. South of Tel-Aviv and North of Jaffa—The Frontier Zone of "In Between" / Deborah S. Bernstein
8. Jaffa and Tel-Aviv before 1948: The Underground Story / Nahum Karlinsky
9. Austerity Tel-Aviv: Everyday Life, Supervision, Compliance, and Respectability / Orit Rozin
Part 2. Language, Literature, and Art
10. Tel-Aviv Language Police / Zohar Shavit
11. Der Eko Fun Goles: "The Spirit of Tel-Aviv" and the Remapping of Jewish Literary History / Barbara Mann
12. A Poet and a City in Search of a Myth: On Shlomo Skulsky's Tel-Aviv Poems / Aminadav Dykman
13. Decay and Death: Urban Topoi in Literary Depictions of Tel-Aviv / Rachel Harris
14. Art and the City: The Case of Tel-Aviv / Dalia Manor
Part 3. Planning and Architecture
15. The 1925 Master Plan for Tel-Aviv by Patrick Geddes / Volker M. Welter
16. Preserving Urban Heritage: From Old Jaffa to Modern Tel-Aviv / Nurit Alfasi and Roy Fabian
17. Balconies of Tel-Aviv: Cultural History and Urban Politics / Carolin Aronis
18. The Architecture of the Hyphen: The Urban Unification of Jaffa and Tel-Aviv as National Metaphor / Alona Nitzan-Shiftan
Afterword: Tel-Aviv between Province and Metropolis / Maoz Azaryahu

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York University - Sara R. Horowitz

A much needed volume, bringing a range of perspectives to bear on the understudied center of Israeli cultural and commercial life.

University of Colorado at Boulder - Kenneth E. Foote

A serious yet accessible look at the many facets that have come to constitute the complex personality of a very complicated city and society.

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