Saturday, May 26, 2007

Beginning of Tel Aviv

In Israel, the weekend revolves around Shabbat, or Sabbath, which is sundown Friday to sundown Saturday. And while only about 30 percent of Israel’s population are observant Jews, I’m told, most businesses follow religious rules that prevent commerce, cooking and other activities on the Sabbath.

As a visitor, this may mean no brewed coffee in the hotel and no eggs at breakfast. But it doesn’t have to mean quietude, either.

Today I visited Neve Tsedek, the Soho/Deco District-like historic neighborhood of shops, cafes and arts. And while many shops were closed, the place was lively. Young professionals biked the streets, families strolled. A few cafes were open – and yes, served yummy cooked foods, not just rewarmed dishes. Visitors streamed into the home of a pair of craftspeople who make and sell glass beads; others filled the small exhibition gallery of the Gutman Museum, a historic building featuring the words of an early neighborhood artist, Nahum Gutman, and other artists.

The highlight was a visit to the Rokach House. In 1887, Shimon Rokach was sent by his father from Jerusalem to manage the toll-taking on the road between Jerusalem and the port city of Jaffa. By then, Jaffa was already jam-packed. Rokach organized a new Jewish community outside the Jaffa walls in the sand dunes, a row of three houses called Neve Tsedek. Decades later, it would sprawl and then be engulfed by bustling Tel Aviv.

In the 1980s, Rocha’s granddaughter, artist Leah Majaro-Mintz, restored his home and transformed it into a museum filled with family furniture and photos from the city’s early days. “I wanted to show how life was 120 years ago. Here, for the children of Israel, it dawns on them that there was no electricity,’’ she explains.

The house is filled with her own work – ceramics and paintings of women, draped over chairs and each other, tired from the ceaseless endeavor of shopping, cooking, cleaning, caring. “Men show women very beautiful,’’ she said – but their depiction isn’t necessarily realistic. “I wanted to give a feeling of how the woman is in the world.’’


TOP: Neve Tsedek, Tel Aviv's first neighborhood, is now surrounded by towers.
ABOVE: Artist Leah Majaro-Mintz with a photo of her parents, Leon Majaro and Hanna Rokach Mararo, whose father founded Neve Tsedek.

No comments: