The following is by our Israeli chaver, Hillel Schenker, co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal:
The celebrations for the l00th anniversary of Tel Aviv started on Thursday night, April 2nd, with a grand ceremony at Bialik Square in my neighborhood. Only “dignitaries” were invited to the festive recreation of Tel Aviv’s history in song, dance and incredible psychodelic images on the walls of the old municipality building and the municipal music library, with Cameri Theater actors hanging from the rafters of the buildings various balconies. When I tried to go up to my roof to watch the festivities with some neighbors, we encountered a menacing uniformed sniper, who refused to allow us onto our own roof – orders are orders.
When I tried using my journalist card to walk the half block up Idelson Street, I was blocked, and told I should try the other way via Bialik Street. Somehow, I made it through the guards, convincing them that I had no threatening technology with me, only a pen. So I got to see most of the show, including President Peres (the reason for the armed guards) saying “Yerushalayim hee moreshet, ach Tel Aviv mitchadeshet.” (Jerusalem is tradition, while Tel Aviv is innovation).
When the show was over, the city had arranged for bicycle-drawn carriages (replacing the donkeys from the ’30s) to take the guests from Bialik Square to Allenby Street. So when cute little Shiri offered me a ride, I said why not. When she got to Allenby Street, I said how about continuing on to Hess Street, the next block where I live. But she couldn’t, only to Allenby. Orders are orders.
The next morning, I ran into a young guy cleaning up the mess left in Bialik Square from the night before, wearing an “I Love NY” t-shirt! “That’s sacriligeous” I exclaimed. “Even though I was born in New York, you should be wearing an ‘I Love TA’ t-shirt!” His response was a smile, and “Well, New York isn’t bad either.”
On Friday there were singers all over the city at various junctions, and I managed to attend a moving Freedom Seder with African refugees from Darfur, Eritrea and the Congo, organized by Amnesty International, Hashomer Hatzair, the Kibbutz Movement, Physicians for Human Rights, Refugee Hot Line, etc., that was held at Levinsky Park, near the new central bus station, a location for parties and picnics for foreign workers, mainly Philipinos and Africans, every weekend.
On Thursday I also saw an incredible exhibition by Israeli and international students of architecture of futuristic images of Tel Aviv, which was unfortuantely up for only two days.
For those of you who don’t know, the unoffical mascot of Tel Aviv is a yellow duck, the signature character of late clever Tel Aviv cartoonist Dudu Geva. Tel Aviv is a fun-loving, relaxed live and let live Mediterranean city, and the yellow duck is the perfect emblem for it. The duck could never make it in Jerusalem. Take a look at it on top of the Tel Aviv municipal building.
On Saturday night, the official public launching of the centennial year took place in Rabin Square. The municipality went out of its way, with the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta seemingly hanging in the air in front of the walls of the municipality building, leading middle and younger generation singers led by Barry Sacharov singing the apparently popular “Zeh Hayom Huledet Sheli” (It’s my Birthday), which everyone under 30 seemed to know, Matti Caspi, Shlomo Gronich, Danny Robis and others, stars of the Israeli Opera singing excerpts from major operas, a controversial version of Carmen interfaced with cheers for the reds (Hapoel Tel Aviv soccer club) and the yellows (Maccabi Tel Aviv), some fast-paced folk and modern dancing, incredible multi-media imagery accompanying everything on the wall of the municipality, still shots of days gone by coupled with contemporary avantgarde imagery, Russian born pop singer Alona Daniel (her mother lived in our apartment building) singing her theme song “Al Gagot Tel Aviv” (On the rooftops of Tel Aviv) with spotlights lighting up all the people watching on the surrounding rooftops, and concluding with transgender Yemenite Dana International representing the club scene, who was actually born in my neighborhood as Yaron Cohen, singing and jumping around to a song she wrote dedicated to Tel Aviv.
Maybe it wasn’t the Chinese opening ceremony for the Olympics (for good and for bad), but it was a world class ceremony which captured much of Tel Aviv’s vitality. As a native born Tel Avivian, Gideon Levy wrote a good piece about the ceremony in Haaretz.
P.S. After the results of the last elections, some of us were considering declaring the “independent state of Tel Aviv.” Believe me, if it were up to Tel Avivians, the composition and policies of the Israeli government would be very different.
P.P.S. At the Freedom Seder for Refugees, I ran into veteran activist Gideon Spiro, who introduced me to his daughter Yael who’s on the Amnesty Israel board, and was one of the event’s organizers. I congratulated her on a very worthy and successful event, but being very conscious of the main theme of the new issue of the Palestine-Israel Journal devoted to The (Palestinian) Refugee Question, wondered why there was no reference to the Palestinian refugees at the seder. She mumbled something about Amnesty’s policy of not dealing with your own society, to protect its activists, which seemed like a rather lame explanation. I have a feeling that including the Palestinian refugees in the seder would have touched upon a raw nerve in Israeli society, and it was easier to devote the (warranted) attention to the African refugees.