The Jewish Story of Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv is the most populous city in the Gush Dan metropolitan area of Israel. Located on the Israeli Mediterranean coastline with a population of 460,613, it is the economic and technological center of the country. Considering East Jerusalem as part of Israel, Tel Aviv is the country’s second-most populous city after Jerusalem; if not, the most populous city before West Jerusalem.

Tel Aviv is governed by the Tel Aviv-Yafo Municipality, headed by Mayor Ron Huldai, and is home to many foreign embassies. It is a beta+ world city and is ranked 25th in the Global Financial Centres Index. Despite its size, it contains the third or fourth-largest economy and the largest economy per capita in the Middle East, but has the 31st highest cost of living in the world. Tel Aviv receives over 2.5 million international visitors annually. The city was founded in 1909 by the Yishuv (Jewish residents). It was perceived to be a modern housing estate on the outskirts of the ancient port city of Jaffa, and was considered to be part of the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem within the Ottoman Empire. It was initially called ‘Ahuzat Bayit’ (lit. “House Estate” or “Homestead”), the name of the association that established the neighborhood. The following year, the name changed to ‘Tel Aviv’, after the biblical name ‘Tel Abib’ was adopted by Nahum Sokolow. This was the title for his Hebrew translation of Theodor Herzl’s 1902 novel Altneuland (“Old New Land”).

Additional Jewish suburbs of Jaffa that were established before Tel Aviv eventually became part of the city, the oldest among them being Neve Tzedek, which was established in 1886. Tel Aviv was given “township” status within the Jaffa Municipality in 1921, and became independent from Jaffa in 1934. After the 1947–1949 Palestine War, Tel Aviv began the municipal annexation from parts of Jaffa. Eventually, it became fully unified with Jaffa under the name “Tel Aviv” in April 1950. It was then renamed to the Tel Aviv as we know it today being “Tel Aviv-Yafo” in August 1950. Jewish refugee immigration to Israel was so immense that the growth of Tel Aviv soon outpaced that of Jaffa, which had a majority Arab population. Tel Aviv and Jaffa were later merged into a single municipality, two years after the 1948 Israeli Declaration of Independence. To learn more about this historic day, make sure you stop by Independence Hall.

Tel Aviv’s White City, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, comprises the world’s largest concentration of international style buildings, including Bauhaus and other related modernist architectural styles. There is even a Bauhaus Center dedicated to showcasing the functional yet pristine design movement throughout Tel Aviv. Additional must-see sites include the Tel Aviv Art Museum, which is home to a notable collection of local and international art, Rabin Square, Israel’s most famous plaza dedicated to Yitzhak Rabin, Israel’s Prime Minister who was assassinated after a pro-peace rally, and of course, the infamous Tel Aviv beach promenade. If you’re visiting Israel during the summer and looking to escape the heat and learn more about this city’s history, Tel Aviv is filled with amazing museums like the Eretz Israel Museum, the Palmach Museum, and the Museum of the Jewish People; and conveniently, these museums are  located close to one another.

There is no shortage of famous and renowned people who have strong roots in Tel Aviv. One of the most notable and revered is Meir Dizengoff, the first Mayor of Tel Aviv. He is known and respected as someone who had such clear visions and hope for the future of this city. People trusted that he would succeed in making his visions come to come to life and he constantly did. Dizengoff was active in the Hibbat Zion Movement and later formed a Jewish workers’ organization. He participated in Zionist Congresses and was a founder of the Gulah Company, formed in 1904 to purchase land in Israel. He additionally founded The Ahuzat Bayit Company, organized to establish a modern Jewish quarter near the Arab city of Jaffa in 1909.

When Tel Aviv officially became a city in 1921, Dizengoff was elected as its first mayor and served until the end of his life in 1937. Upon the outbreak of the 1936 Arab riots, Dizengoff urged that the government offices be opened in Tel Aviv and succeeded in establishing a separate port at Tel Aviv, independent of Jaffa and its port. Dizengoff was one of the major initiators and dedicated supporters of culture in Israel. A highly spiritual, yet social individual he encouraged cultural life in all its variations. To this day, Tel Aviv has followed Dizengoff’s life interests and has become the center of a bustling and vibrant life. Chaim Topol is a Tel Aviv born Israeli actor who is best known for playing the character of ‘Tevye’, a dairyman, in the musical comedy-drama ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ on stage and screens in his career. He is a man of many talents – not only is he a great actor but also a singer, producer, comedian, voice artist, and illustrator. As an Israeli, he has achieved many features in the international stage of the show business, including being the first-ever Israeli to be nominated for the Academy Awards.

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