By Lydia Aisenberg
A few minutes walk from the hustle and bustle of Tel Aviv's Carmel Market, tucked away behind the multi-storey hotels on the beachfront, an enclosure of tranquility can be found.
Sitting on the boundary between Tel Aviv and beckons Jaffa the Neve Tzedek quarter and the charming Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater, set among attractively renovated 19th century buildings.
Named after the dance loving daughter of the Dellal family of London, who died tragically in her teens, the complex has become an essential part of Tel Aviv's cultural life.
With narrow roads and alleyways, bumpy pavements and crumbling walls here and there, Neve Tzedek's street names remind one of the city's founders and famous rabbis, intellectuals, writers and artists who shared visions that few lived long enough to see materialize.
Established and wanna-be yuppies, artists, dancers, designers, potters and candlemakers all rub shoulders within the walled flower and plant bedecked courtyards and lanes with neighborhood old- timers and their offspring.
There are also a number of wee folk in the neighborhood. Not leprechauns, but straight from the kiln―images of folk and animals. They can be seen in all sorts of shapes and sizes perched on window ledges or walls of balconies – I even spotted one dangling from a roof.
Wooden shutters and support beams, ceramic name plates and decorative wrought iron balconies stand out against the pale blue, pink and yellow painted walls. Red-tiled roofs add even more dashes of color to this intoxicating and quaint quarter.
The Suzanne Dellal Center is formed around a trio of renovated buildings erected at the beginning of the 1900s to house the Alliance and Yechiely schools and the original Lewinsky seminar.
The large paved open spaces in between the rehearsal rooms, theaters and dance studios also become a stage for outdoor music recitals and an array of artistic "happenings" during the summer months.
The main plaza has gnarled orange trees, majestic palms and narrow channels of gurgling water to be admired. On the wall, an eyecatching mural helps link the personalities of Neve Tzedek's illustrious past with present-day contemporary Israeli art, theater and dance.
One part of the ceramic mural, entitled The Intellectuals, depicts Rabbi Abraham Yitzhak HaKohen Kook, S.Y. Agnon, David Shimoni, Alexander Ziskind Rabinowitz, Yosef Haim Brenner and Deborah Baron.
A group of schoolchildren come marching into the area, bags bobbing on their backs and each holding a clipboard, questionnaire and pencil. They are on a rather long journey, traveling back through their teacher, a 100 years when Jews from many different countries were creating what we now call history.
A young mother pushes two young children in a double buggy through the group of pupils – she stops to listen to the teacher as her tots sleep tightly through the lesson in the square.
Another part of the attractive ceramic mural on the wall depicts the Hebrew school for girls, the Chelouche bridge and the Herzliya Gymnasiam, while a third applauds the founding fathers, Chelouche, Rokach, Amzaleg and Barnet, all of whom were fascinating characters.
Zerah Barnet, for instance, was one of the "Hovevei Zion" who arrived in Turkish controlled Palestine in 1871 and was involved in the founding of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem. However, he left for England but returned in l890 after buying a piece of land near Neve Tzedek (then called Neve Shalom and now part of Neve Tzedek) but was ridiculed when talking about building a Jewish neighborhood on the sand.
They certainly wouldn't be laughing in ridicule these days if they owned a piece of land in Neve Tzedek– laughing all the way to the bank perhaps!
Almost three decades ago with many of the buildings dilapidated and deemed dangerous, an ambitious project for preservation and rehabilitation of the neighborhood by the sea was successfully pushed through and nowadays residents and visitors literally have art, dance and music wherever they go within their friendly neighborhood - whether it be at the Suzanne Dellal complex or at the many open houses of artisans at work that one passes by whilst wandering the alleyways and narrow streets of the quarter.
From Neve Tzedek to the Mediterranean shore is practically a hop, skip and jump but one can hardly see the sea. Much to the chagrin of local residents, the towering luxury hotels on the seashore totally block the sea view in this charming area where the present overshadows a very rich backyard of history immediately behind them.
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