Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Parallel Cities

When I had originally planned on this month’s message, I had no idea that I would open it with a prayer for the safety and well being of three Israeli boys who were kidnapped by terrorists on their way home from boarding school.

Since early Friday morning, these three students have become all our boys. We are all thinking and talking about them in Israel and around the Jewish world.

So I open my message today with a prayer for the safe return of Gilad, Naftali and Eyal to their families, and for the safe return of all the security forces now involved in this operation. Let us all hope for shalom. Amen.

Last Tuesday Israel’s Parliament elected Reuven Rivlin as the States 10th president. Rivlin is a member of the Likud party and a former speaker of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. Rivlin follows Shimon Peres’ very successful seven-year term.

Rivlin was born in Jerusalem and is a Jerusalemite inside and out. Shimon Peres grew up in Tel Aviv and lived there through most of his life. Rivlin’s style will be a study in contrasts to that of his predecessor; just like the two cities from which each hail.

Jerusalem, located in Israel’s east is where ancient eastern winds blow; spirituality, mist and holiness fill the air with ancient sounds, exotic smells and colorful sites that take over all senses. Tel Aviv, located in Israel’s west, on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, is where waves break onto pure sand, bringing with them modernity, contemporary sensibilities, fresh influences and new beginnings.

Two weeks ago, on the 28th of the Hebrew month of Iyar (May 28), Jerusalem celebrated Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, which marks 47 years of a united Jerusalem. Last week, Tel Aviv celebrated Gay Pride week, culminating in the 16th annual pride parade on Friday through the streets of the city.

Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, two very distinctive cities with very distinctive personalities, like Washington DC and New York City, like Berlin and Munich. Two cities less than 40 miles apart and so different, so distant.

The Talmud says: “Ten measures of beauty descended on the world – nine were taken by Jerusalem, one by the rest of the world.” (Talmud: Kiddushin 49B).

‘Lonely Planet’ ranks Tel Aviv among the Top 10 action-packed cities and among the world’s most vibrant in nightlife.

There are those who love Jerusalem and can’t stand Tel Aviv. And there are Tel Avivians that consider Jerusalem to be on another planet.

I consider myself lucky to be able to drive by Jerusalem’s walls daily and admire their glory and beauty. I was born in Jerusalem and was just a baby when the city was liberated and united. As a child I loved listening to my parent’s stories about life in Jerusalem prior to June 1967, when Jews could not enter the eastern half of the city, could not reach the Western Wall, the Kotel, something every tour group that arrives here takes for granted.

Jerusalem with its holiness and political baggage — where every stone whispers this city’s story, a story that goes back to the fourth millennium BCE — can be intimidating for some. The weight of history and tradition cause many to yearn for something lighter, free and uncomplicated. Tel Aviv represents exactly that: a new, white, modern city, one free of complications and complex narratives. Tel Aviv is the economic, cultural, and party capital of Israel, a place you can hear a world-class orchestra perform Mahler or dance all night to beats mixed by internationally famous DJs. If Jerusalem is about spirit, antiquity, wars, politics, glory and holiness, Tel Aviv is about modernity, art, music, beaches and business. If Jerusalem is about hummus and Falafel, Tel Aviv is about Molecular gastronomy and sushi.

Last week’s Gay Pride celebrations through the streets of Tel Aviv have expanded greatly in recent year. A parade of several hours has turned into a solid week of revelry and happenings throughout the city.

Twenty-two members of our JCC Israel Center LGBTQ Boarding Pass group joined thousands of Israelis and tourists from all over the world at the parade. As the LGBTQ community’s colorful rainbow flags filled the streets of Tel Aviv, our group experienced both classic Israel and contemporary Israel through the lens of the gay community here. Or, in other words, our group had a Jerusalem experience and a Tel Avivian one.

I love Tel Aviv, but will agree with our sages as they said in the Talmud, “There is no beauty greater than Jerusalem.”

Hadag Nachash, one of Israel’s most popular and influential musical bands sings “Here I Come.” Below are some of the lyrics.

Jerusalem, a city worth an explosion
walking in the street feels like ingathering of the exiles
a thousand cultures, everyone has a brother and nine sisters
Arabs in order, ultraorthodox in the study-room
and all are receiving God here – at a frequency
after Jerusalem’s Teddy stadium burnt out fast
from day to day Tel Aviv sparkled more
friend left or got closer to the creator of the heavens
gray, boring, there’s no sea
thoughts about leaving
three years it took me to get the decision
I pack my belongings into the suitcase
from the village to the city in the direction of descending
Tel Aviv – here I come
I’m arriving – here I come.

Leah Garber, Vice President, JCC Israel Center
leah@jcca.org