I came to Israel for my friend Roni´s wedding. The wedding was to take place near Tel Aviv. Despite having been to Israel twice before, I had never spent any real time in Tel Aviv. I heard great things about the city and its “vibe”. After a day in Jerusalem, the plan was to spend two days sightseeing and one day working.
October 10, 2022: Welcome to the White City
Tel Aviv is a modern city, founded in 1909 by 66 Jewish families on what was a desolate sand dune near the ancient port of Jaffa. They drew seashells out of a box to determine which lots of people would own. In 1925, the city got its first master plan.
As the town was built on vacant land, there was no beef to be had with the local Palestinians. Jews from other cities (and from abroad) flocked to the city en-masse to escape violence elsewhere and knowing that independence from Britain might come. By the time of Independence, the city had 200,000 – nearly all Jewish. Nearby Jaffa had another 100,000 splits more or less evenly between Muslims and Jews.
After Independence, the city continued to grow, it eventually absorbed Jaffa. Today, Tel Aviv is the largest metro area in Israel and is the undisputed economic engine of the country. Additionally, Tel Aviv is the cultural capital of secular Israeli culture and is the most pro-LGBT city in the entire Middle East. Its incredible density of white Bauhaus buildings has made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
After taking the sherut private shuttle from Jerusalem (the train was not running due to the Sukkot holiday), I arrived in Tel Aviv at the central bus terminal. Immediately, I realized that Tel Aviv is very different from Jerusalem because the first business I saw was the “House of Pork” (Both Jews and Muslims have prohibitions against eating pork).
As I walked north, the streets were buzzing with loads of people at bars. Also, unlike Jerusalem, Tel Aviv struck me with its diversity: I saw African and Asian people for the first time on this trip – and they were not tourists.
I strolled past modern high rises and a luxury mall and before reaching the Sarona Market, a top recommendation of my friend Jonathan who used to work in Israel. Snuggled amongst the glass skyscrapers, the Sarona Market is a modern food hall very similar to NYC´s Chelsea Market. Despite being a Jewish holiday, 80% of the shops were open.
I ate at a Thai restaurant and had a delicious pork gaprao. For context, there is only one Thai restaurant in Jerusalem. I suppose finding good Thai food in Israel was not surprising given the large number of Israeli backpackers who go to Southeast Asia after their stint in the army. But also because Tel Aviv is a global city.
Next, I headed to the Tel Aviv Art Museum. While the building itself is ugly, they had a fantastic collection inside. In addition to the expected European and Israeli art collections, a few items stood out including the NFT (non-fungible token – a digital form of art) collection. The NFTs can be viewed using special tablets. They also have a virtual docent explain NFTs, blockchain and crypto. I had never seen NFTs in a museum, but I suppose that Tel Aviv would be the place given that so much tech innovations happen here.
Another fun exhibit was a room full of office chairs attached with motors. Like Roombas they awkwardly danced.
I then took an hour-long stroll down towards Jaffa. Along the way I passed through much of the city. The streets are all beautiful and the city is so lively. I´m not sure how to explain it, but Tel Aviv has an incredible energy.
In Jaffa, I strolled the old town and checked into the Airbnb which I was sharing with 12 other IESE friends. We all got dinner that lasted until late.
October 11, 2022: Israeli Wedding
At last, it was the wedding day. The wedding was scheduled to start late, so I had plenty of time to sightsee.
I started my day with my friend Carmen at the Ilana Goor Museum (another Jonathan recommendation). Ilana Goor is an Israeli artist and sculptor. In 1983 she bought a 300-year-old building in Jaffa with the intention of making it a museum for her artwork. Not everything is made by Ilana Goor – there are plenty of artifacts that she has collected that are also displayed such as a 500-year-old Moroccan chandelier.
After ascending to the top of the house, we were greeted with spectacular views of the Mediterranean. There, we saw someone watering the plants…it turned out to be Ilana Goor herself! She is in 86 and mostly lives in New York but happened to be in Israel for a week. She lives in a private apartment in the museum. It was so fun to learn about her life and how she curated her museum.
Next, I strolled along the beach and ended up at the Carmel Market, the main outdoor food market. There, I met up with my friend Alexa. Alexa moved to Israel (“made Aliyah”) about years ago. She is currently a soldier in the Israeli army but runs food tours of the Carmel Market in her free time.
Alexa devised a 3-stop tour of the market. Our first stop was a juice shop called the Etrog Man. Etrog (citron in English) is a citrus fruit that originates in South and Southeast Asia. Genealogically, is one of the original citrus fruits from which all other citrus originates. For Jews, the fruit plays a key role in the holiday of Sukkot (which happened to be going on now). However, during the rest of the year, nobody cares about the fruit. The Etrog Man decided to use the fruit in juices. I tried a sample, and it tasted like a pulpy less acidic lemon. Very tasty and supposedly very healthy too!
Our next stop was a hummus shop called Shlomo & Doron. The hummus shop was founded in 1937 making it 10 years older than the State of Israel. The area of the Carmel Market used to be the Yemeni area. The owners of the shop are of Yemeni descent. While most old hummus shops have their recipe and stick to it, Shlomo & Doron decided to create innovating hummuses. We ordered a deconstructed falafel humus which included pieces of falafel, tomato, egg and greens. It was so delicious!
Our final stop is at an…eccentric… older Yemeni women´s shop. As soon as I walked in, she gave me a huge hug and made me take a shot of arak. We then worked together to make Yemeni Jewish pancakes called malawach while she joked around. After mixing the dough and creating the tomato sauce, we friend the dough on the oven. Eventually, the malawach was ready and it was delicious!!
Before getting on the bus for the wedding, I met up with my friend Aviad who lives in Tel Aviv. He showed me around the Dizengoff Street area.
At 18:00, all the IESE wedding guests met at Rabin Square, the main square in Tel Aviv to catch our bus. Due to the traffic, the ride took 90 minutes to reach the venue which was near Netanya. It reminded me of a tropical resort in Bali or the Maldives.
After a solid cocktail hour which included alcoholic passionfruit sorbet, we gathered for the ceremony, which was held underneath a chuppah or Jewish wedding canopy.
One quirky facet of Israel is that there is no secular or civil marriage. All marriages must be conducted by a chaplain who is Jewish, Islamic, Druze or one of 10 Christian denominations. If you are non-religious or belong to a different faith, you cannot get legally married in Israel. However, the State will recognize all marriages – including same sex marriages – performed outside of Israel such as nearby Cyprus or marriages performed in Israel over Zoom by the US State of Utah. The system came to be during the Ottoman Empire and has not been changed.
Another funny facet of marriage in Israel is that the weddings are unbelievably casual. I wore a short sleeve collared shirt and dress pants and was in the middle in terms of dressiness. The most formally dressed man was Roni the groom who wore a suit. The least formally dressed man wore an American Eagle t shirt and shorts. Nobody looked at him strangely. The father of the bride wore business casual.
The wedding had about 350 guests but only seats for 100. Therefore, everyone crowded around the chuppah for the short 20-minute ceremony. The service was in Hebrew, but luckily Roni translated his vows into English for his foreign friends.
After the ceremony, we moved into the main venue where the Israeli club music started bumping and we danced nearly nonstop until 2:00. Wow so much fun!!
The bus then took us back to Tel Aviv and I got home at 4:00.
The next day, I slept until it was time to work remotely and then headed up to Haifa to begin my trip around the north.
While Tel Aviv does not have blockbuster attractions, the city is so much fun to visit. The energy is enchanting. Additionally, the food, the beach, and the party make Tel Aviv one of my favorite cities that I have ever visited. While Jerusalem is controlled by religion, Tel Aviv is not and represents the achievements of the modern secular diverse Jewish state.
The two gripes I have are the prices of everything (Tel Aviv is one of the 5 most expensive cities in the world) and the difficulty in getting a taxi (there is no Uber and the Gett app is not very good). Despite that, I still think that Tel Aviv should be on any traveler´s list.