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September journey part 5: Diameter of a bubble

Staying on the move in Israel and the Palestinian Territories through a month of trial. And today: walking the miracle mile.

Last night was too good for me to leave Tel-Aviv just yet. The city that hosted the biggest demonstration in this country’s history not only deserves another day, it begs to be experienced during its return to routine.

So many questions open up here this morning: Will the tents remain? Will the spirit live on? Will Dafni leef and Itzik Shmuli, conflicted leaders of the struggle, wake up hung-over in each other’s arms? and most importantly: what will happen next?

To make a journey of it, I pick one street, Sheinkin street, determined to stick to it for the course of the entire day. It is a distinguished street. During the eighties, this was the hub of Tel Aviv’s hardcore bohemian scene, a scene that strongly marked the city’s urban spirit. “Sheinkin” became a nickname for artistic, liberal Israel.

In the early 90s, when the artsy crowd was priced out, the street became trashy and liberal. Boutiques riding Sheinkin’s fame offered ice cream and piercings for city-hungry suburban youths, only to be priced out a decade later and replaced with techno-beating jeans retailers.

Today, this remains the only place in the Middle East you can walk down the street in your underwear, but it’s likely to be tacky underwear.

Only a short missile-flight away from Tehran: Tel-Aviv

Sheinkin remained meaningless and liberal, and a good example of why true Tel-Avivians are extra mad at israel’s economic apparatus. Still, it has color.

This Wolkswagen beetle is the sign of Sheinkin's original juice stand. Settle for nothing less.

and a certain aesthetic edge – how did anyone obtain the Parisian Metro’s mind-the-doors stickers, and how did they get them stuck on a wall halfway up a building?

Tu risque de te faire pincer tres fort.

I walk into one of the street’s best known establishments, Orna and Ella’s cafe. It’s a classy place, complete with ironed table clothes. A good friend is here: art theorist, editor and curator Joshua Simon. He sits at a table with artists Roy Rosen and Gilad Ratman, and all three seem to still be basking in last night’s optimistic energy.

Clockwise from pink shirt: Simon, Rosen and Ratman. Be sure and check out their work.

“It was like a good party, wasn’t it?” Joshua says, “My feet still hurt.”

“Was there actually a party afterwards?” I ask.

“There was an after party with all the organizers, but I didn’t go. We’re old, man. These guys are 25. Anyway, we sent Nimrod Kamer, and he had a sexy dance with Stav Shaffir, so everything is good.”

We both deeply doubt that such dance ever took place, but the idea of one of our acquaintances flirting with a member of the struggle’s 7-member leadership cell is amusing. In Tel-Aviv, No revolution is possible without sex symbols.

I become worried, however, that jokes such as this are all that remains of last night’s momentum. Rushing up the street to the tents I find them at first where I left them.

Now you see 'em.

but on second glace, discover that serious gaps have appeared between them.

Now you don't.

This isn’t necessarily a sign of the struggle’s demise. The leadership spoke of dissembling the tent cities post-protest. It is, however, a sign of summer’s end. Never had this city known such a free summer. You could eat for free at the communal kitchens, watch films for free on the boulevard, listen to great musicians play for free and of course camp out, right here on Rothschild and Sheinkin, rather than pay the city’s scandalous rents.

Those who tented out here this summer became for aspell neighbors of one of Israel’s best known authors, Yoram Kaniuk. I am fortunate to know this incredible man, and won’t dream of skipping his home on a journey down Sheinkin.

We remenice of the demo, which Kaniuk, at 81 years of age, watched on TV. In his opinion, the protesters should be “a little more extreme.” He considers Shmuli and the student union he leads to be an unnecessary ice cube placed in the struggles soup bowl. “They weaken the revolution,” he says. “This leadership should have openly called for Netanyahu to quit. I want them to say ‘elections now’. Say it! that would startle Netanyahu, why not startle him? Netanyahu keeps leading us to Masada. He fights with the Turks, fights with the Americans, fights with everybody. What they express is too mellow. what do they mean when they chant: ‘The people demand social justice?’ What the people demand is a regime change!”

The author of over 30 books, Kaniuk had a recent bestseller with an irreverant record of his service in the 1948 war.

Tomorrow Kaniuk will be traveling to the Muqata’a in Ramallah, to meet with the Palestinian President. He was recruited by author Sephi Rekhlavsky, who organizes various pro peace activities, without even asking who else will be in the delegation and it’s specific purpose. “You saw what Sefi does.” Kaniuk says, “You saw us demonstrating against racism in front of independence hall. It’s all good stuff. Besides. I want to meet Abu Mazen and see what kind of man he is. I’ve met Arafat at the time, he was a sort of a crook.”

A few steps outside Kaniuk’s flat, at a quintessential Tel-Aviv cafe named “The Bottom” I meet another gentleman who had once met Arafat. The work of legendary exploring journalist Igal Sarna has had more than a little influence on this project. During the days of the first Intifada, Sarna traveled the west bank extensively, later producing the travelogue: “State Witness”.

Igal Sarna puts the heart into Hebrew Gonzo journalism.

He’s too busy to provide thoughts on the day’s burning issues but has a tip for my journey: Go to the little place called “Sword unto Plowshare.” It’s a small community of Hungarian Jews, right on the green line. It’s named after the saying in the bible: ‘and they shall turn their swords unto plowshares’ Such an interesting place. No one’s heard of it.”

I certainly haven’t. “If that be thy will,” I say, “there I shall go.”

So far, the supposedly trashy Sheinkin (at this point in its eastward progress renamed Lincoln St.) is surprisingly full of rich souls. I meet another one on a street corner. He is Chaim, a teacher at the local ultra orthodox school for boys. We have never met before, but he notices me taking photos and stops to chat.

Chaim, a man of spirit.

Sheinkin, besides being a symbol of secular Israel, happens also to be central Tel-Aviv’s only authentic Hassidic quarter, the “Plezl”. Relationship between the two groups is impeccable. “The secular people who live around here are traditionally writers and artists,” Chaim explains, “So we are all people of spirit, and people of spirit don’t quarrel.”

My city’s supposedly shallowest street did offer me some goofy humor today, but also insight into the J14 mechanisms, a surprising memory of the PLO’s great leader, a tip for a future lag of my trip and a statement of peace from a cummunity that tends to be at odds with my own. What’s more to ask for?

Some art, of course.

To reach the Tmu-na theatre, one must follow the street to the point where it is no longer even called “lincoln. What started off as boutique-studded Sheinkin is now semi-Industrial Yitzhak Sade St. One block off, nestled among the garages, is the city’s most active nests for fringe theatre.

Here, before the stage, I realize what a shallow street Sheinkin really is. So far on this entire day there was no talk of the holocaust, no talk of Gaza…

Yifat Israel as the Palestinian actress and Gilad Friedman as the playwright in "Hokey Pokey"

Eyal Weizer’s sharp satirical play “Hokey Pokey”, offers a puzzle of misplaced political and historical emotions, cut out of their natural habitat and pasted unhealthily into the private lives of Israelis. The chief protagonist is a playwright and director, who prefers a Palestinian actress to his wife for a role that was originally based on the wife’s own personality.

The playwright get’s excited by the idea that a Palestinian will paly his wife, so long as she acts and talks like a Palestinian. While he struggles to bring his vision of a humiliated, angry victim of the occupation out of a bourgeoise urbanite who makes her living as ballet teacher, his wife is turning into a grotesque caricature of an Arab, driven by jealousy for the part. Hitler watches from the wall, himself the obsession of the family counselor treating the unhappy couple.

Our many misconceptions are unhealthy attachments are nicely displayed here, finally making an Israeli day out of a day spent in Tel-Aviv’s bubble. I don’t know whether I should thank him or be mad. Outside the theatre, Yitzhak Sade street continues to the east, meets Hashalom road and then the Gehaa highway, which extends into areality of endless complexity. I’ll head there tomorrow, after composing the review and the post and catching some sleep.

Click here for more of the September journey

Thanks for reading and taking part in the adventure. If any of you would like to pitch in for my travel and food, please do so using the “donate” button at the top of this page. Please be sure and specify that you are contributing to Yuval’s September Journey.

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    1. Thanks Yuval,I have really enjoyed reading about your travels:)

      Reply to Comment
    2. Rick

      Really enjoyed reading this, I used to live in Tel Aviv before moving back to Europe and I really loved your description of Sheinkin, also about the Haredi presence. I have a friend who lives in Nahmani and it was a strange realisation to see that he shared his apartment building with a Haredi family, in downtown Tel Aviv. Beautiful to see though that it was possible (although there’s also some friction now and then).

      Reply to Comment
    3. sarna

      good. great work

      Reply to Comment

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