1906

After having put down deposits and with some help from the Palestine Bank, 60 Jewish families have joined the Ahuzat Bayit Company. The families say they want to build a new Jewish city somewhere near the seashore. If they ever manage to do this it will be the first Jewish city to be built in this land since the destruction of the 2nd Temple.

We have been listening to the arguments of two opposing factions. One group wants to build their “city” not far from Jaffa. They point out, reasonably enough, that their livelihoods are based there, and if they build too far away they will have to walk to work over burning sands in summer and mud in winter. The other group says it wants to make a clean break from Jaffa. They remind their would-be fellow citizens that not only does Jaffa consist of narrow lanes and inadequate sanitary conditions for housing, but the neighbours are hostile. “Plus,” they add, “our goal is to create a new quarter for ourselves, not only for building good houses, but also to improve our way of life.” This also sounds reasonable but perhaps not so practical.

Your reporter went to have a look at the place in question. He has to admit that while being impressed with the pioneering spirit displayed, he was not impressed with the potential of the place chosen by the second group. It is known as,Kerem Jeballi, but where is the kerem (vineyard)?Most of it seems to be a sandy desert.

April, 1909

The pioneers have won the day! The first 60 families who will live in what they hope will be a city, meet on the sands of Kerem Jeballinear the sea, to draw lots for their future properties.

A leading member of the group, Mr. Meir Dizengoff, impresses this reporter with his enthusiasm. He tells the new citizens that he is confident that one day this new quarter will have 25,000 residents.

We look at the burning sands which surround us and can only think, ‘good luck’.

Later

Building is under way: the first 17 houses are already going up. The Jewish workers have come up with an astounding technological improvement – they are using wheelbarrows for transporting the materials instead of the slow moving donkey power which has thus far been used for such work. The speed of the wheelbarrow pushed by a determined worker is amazing, and residents from as far away as Nablus have come to look and admire – “as quick as an arrow” – we hear some people commenting on this new method of transportation.

The last weeks of 1909

Sixty houses have been built in this first year.

Much, much later

Forty houses are going up every year.At first, each of these is one storey high and has a well tended ornamental garden.

1910

The new site has been given a name – Tel Aviv (telabubu, the tel of the flood).

The largest plot of land has been given over to the building of the first Jewish high school, the Herzliya Gymnasium. This turns out to be a splendid building which “looks like a castle.” It is two storeys high and the spacious entrance has a wide gate with a tower on either side and arched doors and windows.

Even later

Pupils from many parts of the diaspora come to study at the new gymnasium, which is also used as a center for cultural life. Plays and concerts are performed here, writers read from their works and it is also the meeting place of the yishuv (there is no city or council as yet).

Eventually the Herzliya Gymnasium is not big enough to cope with the all the events and its many pupils. The school is moved to a new building.

(Near the end of the 1950s the old Herzliya Gymnasium was torn down to make way for the Shalom Towers.)

1921

Wonderful news! Tel Aviv, formerly subordinate to the Jaffa administration, has been declared an autonomous city. It has joined up with two Jewish settlements nearer to Jaffa –Neve Tzede and Neve Shalom. These three “suburbs” are eventually known as “Little Tel Aviv”. Meir Dizengoff becomes the first mayor of the city.

Water is essential for a city, and some experimental digging is carried out. Eventually water is found and a well is dug at the point where Rothschild Boulevard meets up with Nachlat Benjamin Street.

The early history of Tel Aviv was one of continual rioting and bloodshed – Arabs against Jews – so a Jewish police force of 25 men was established. They are poorly equipped and the British mandatory government seems to be doing everything to slow down their development.

1921

Tremendous excitement – Winston Churchill is coming to visit Tel Aviv.

To impress him it was decided to plant a forest in the sands. Workers were sent off to the Sharona, Mikve Yisrael and Abu Kabir woods, where they chopped down trunks of cypresses and pines, and stuck them in the sands between the Council House and the home of the mayor, Meir Dizengoff.

When the automobile with Churchill and Dizengoff approached, the large crowd was pushed back and, in the process, tipped over the trees exposing the hewed trunks. Dizengoff paled, but Churchill roared with laughter and whispered to the mayor, “Mr. Dizengoff, they won’t work without roots...”

1925

Bialik writes to Tverski, “Tel Aviv is growing from hour to hour. Angels are building it by night and by day.”

Mr. Chaim Toren, who supplies this information, adds, “A sparkling city radiating the charm and impishness of youth. Sometimes it seems to be a living creature whose breathing never stops, 24 hours a day, with everything it contains telling of rapid, accelerated, stepped-up pace.”

This year an unusual type of building starts to go up in Rothschild Boulevard. We understand that this style is known as “Bauhaus”. It seems to be mainly rounded, with curved balconies, and the whole building is colored white.

(Tel Aviv is known as “the White City” – it has one of the world’s largest concentrations of buildings of the Bauhaus style – notably in Bialik and Idelson Street and Rothschild Boulevard.)

1925

The municipality buys 50 dunams of ground from Ibrahim Shuki Efendi for 3,000 lira. (This is the site of the future zoo, later replaced by Gan Ha’ir and the city hall square.)

The orchards stretch from Pardes street (the name of this street is the only reminder of this tremendous orchard) to Ahad Ha’am Street. The orchards fall into disuse and eventually vanish but a large pool built on a mound remains, and children often walk up the mound to go swimming there. In 1935, following a request by Hapoel, the municipality turns it into a swimming pool.

1929

Aharon Vered writes in “City of Miracles”:

“In my rambles in Tel Aviv I could almost imagine I was walking in New York. It was only when I saw different people, in khaki, strong, muscular, deep-chested striding out vigorously, bare-armed and bare-legged, with heads raised high and chests thrust forward – only then did I realize that there were jackals howling two furlongs away from here, and that 15 years ago there were only rolling sands here, sands on the sea shore; only then did I realize that people like those I saw this evening... crossed the sea... and built this city on the sands.”

1930s

The Tel Aviv Museum of Art, which originally began in the home of Meir Dizengoff, has been built. The first concerts are held in the museum.

1929, 1936

These have been years of bloody riots. They failed, however, to break through the boundaries of Tel Aviv. Many people have been killed but there have also been many acts of kindness amongst the Arabs. People hid Jews from the mobs, gave them food and saved lives by transferring them in boats from Jaffa port to the shores of Tel Aviv.

A new port has been built in Tel Aviv to free the Jews from dependence on the Jaffa port.

1938

The Tel Aviv zoo is established by Dr. Mordechai Shornstein, owner of the first pet shop in Tel Aviv (in Sheinkin Street). The zoo is situated in Gan Hadassah in the north, still an unpopulated area.

However, the rapid growth of Tel Aviv eventually led to the zoo being surrounded by blocks of flats.

In 1980 all the animals were removed to the Safari Park outside Ramat Gan. Where the zoo had once been, a new shopping center, parking lot and high block of flats went up – this package is known as Gan Ha’ir (city garden).

My memory of a mid-1960s visit is primarily that of the bad smell which pervaded the surroundings. I’m reasonably sure that a tremendous sigh of relief went up from the people living in the area when the zoo, with its smell, was gone.

1940s

Itamar, a friend of mine, was born in Tel Aviv 76 years ago. He says that the central area of the city was fairly dense, with the highest buildings being about four storeys high. “There was even a hotel with a lift and my father, as a special treat, took me for a ride in this marvellous contraption.”

Itamar was also a great swimmer and often went down to the Tel Aviv beach. “The sand was such a dazzling white that when the sun was high overhead you couldn’t look at it. And the water, it was pellucid and clear, so much so that I even drank some of it.”

1950s

The Gordon swimming pool, near the beachfront at the end of Gordon Street, is opened. The water is pumped in from “the depths of the sea” and is much praised by the numerous swimmers who come here not only to swim but to socialize.

1960s

We of MAHAL went to the seaside several times and were not impressed. The coastline was straight, and suspicious elements bobbed up and down on the waves when you tried to go swimming. The promenade consisted of dirty and stained concrete.

All this has been cleaned up. Breakwaters were built which curved the beach into many distinct arcs. The sea is far cleaner due to the building of a superior waste-disposal system. The old and dirty concrete has been replaced by an attractive promenade which curves for many miles from the north of Tel Aviv to Jaffa. Even the run-down cafes have become more elegant. However, I miss the motley of melody, the musical groups and orchestras which serenaded us as we walked from one open-air café or restaurant to the next.

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Mike Porter

Mike Porter was born in South Africa. In Johannesburg he became a newspaper reporter on the Rand Daily Mail, besides writing for the Sunday Times, Zionist Record and, years later, for the EP Herald...
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