Here in Tel Aviv, I have been constantly searching for a place to seek refuge…
I have been trying to find an area in this city where I can feel a pleasant change: From the loud to the quiet, from the busy to the calm, from the rather unattractive aesthetic to the picturesque aesthetic. A place where I can feel at home, like a local, not a foreigner. Somewhere to feel equal among others. I was basically looking for an oasis of justice here in Tel Aviv.
After being here for two months now, I was beginning to think that this blissful ‘oasis’ idea I foolishly put into my head was nowhere to be found. I was actually beginning to doubt everything, constantly questioning why I am here, which accompany feelings of homesickness.
I was also getting frustrated with myself for even thinking there would be an area of this city where I could actually feel this change in atmosphere, even for a moment.
However, to my pleasant surprise, I found my moment. My blissful irrational ‘oasis’ idea somehow came to life… and quite literally.
It’s 3:00 in the afternoon on a Friday, just hours before sunset and Shabbat. You are standing outside and the sun is still strong, lingering in an almost cloudless sky. There is a perfect late summer breeze, even though it is early November.
You are walking down a small street, with cars parked bumper to bumper on the sidewalk, looking like a mouth with too many teeth.
Along the sidewalks you see colorful shops and restaurants, blending into cafes and antique stores, all unique in their own respects. The colors are so strong and saturated; it is as if the blue sky itself was there just to flawlessly contrast these colorful buildings.
While standing in the middle of that street, you can smell both the delicate ocean air and the harsh scent of the city. But while walking on the narrow sidewalks, close to the stores and restaurants, you can smell a mixture of perfumes and coffee, food and baked goods.
So… Here you are, happily strolling among trendy tourists and locals alike, most of whom have shopping bags swaying from their wrists while eating ice-cream cones, and all of the couples you see swing their arms hand in hand.
Everyone looks… relaxed. And the whole area is very, very… quiet.
Now, this delightful area that you have peacefully and quietly found yourself in, is just south of central Tel Aviv. Only minutes away from the crazy Shuk HaCarmel food market, only minutes away from the busy highway along the beach, only seconds away from downtown skyscrapers.
But, for some mysterious reason, there is this calmness where you are. It is as if the charm and beauty itself is providing a magical silence, which ultimately takes you out of your element. And it puts you into a place that can be found nowhere else on earth.
When I first experienced this, I was confused. I was so close to the noise and hustle, that if I took a wrong turn I could easily find myself back on the mean streets of Tel Aviv. Did I literally convince myself to feel like this? Or was this area really as magical as it felt?
Well, it turns out, this tiny area of Tel Aviv is called Neve Tzedek. And from direct Hebrew to English translation, Neve – an oasis, Tzedek – of justice. I am in… An Oasis of Justice! Eureka!
As far as it’s history goes, Neve Tzedek is placed here for this exact reason. The founder of Neve Tzedek, who goes by the name of Aharon Shlush, supposedly created this area to be a getaway from the neighboring crowded city of Jaffa. Neve Tzedek is the first Jewish neighborhood of Tel Aviv. It was founded in 1887, twenty-two years before the actual city of Tel Aviv was founded.
Although Neve Tzedek is now one of the most expensive areas to live in in Tel Aviv, and has become rather commercial and ‘touristy’ because of it’s central location and old charm, you can still feel the quaintness in the colorful winding alleys. And on a Friday, you can feel that almost enchanting stillness that comes with Friday’s late afternoons here, moments before the Sabbath.
All in all, this is a place where you can get away from the crowd of Tel Aviv while you’re still in the middle of Tel Aviv.
So, as far as my search for a familiar oasis in Tel Aviv goes, I think I’ve found it. But at the same time, the newness of the city is still settling in for me, and I am still constantly questioning why I am here, but I am also not giving up on trying to feel at home during my time here.