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A Tale Of Two Cities

Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are not Charles Dickens’ London and Paris but in a similar way, these two cities capture in their characteristics Israel’s variety, diversity, heterogeneousness and color. And they are less than 40 miles apart.

In Jerusalem we dig to discover our roots and past; in Tel Aviv we dig to welcome the future. Tel Aviv, Israel’s first Hebrew city — and Israel’s cultural capital — is finally connecting its dots and after 50 years of planning, embarking on one of the state’s biggest construction projects — digging and building a Metropolitan Area Mass-Transit System. Target date for completing the first line is in 2021, which means years of even heavier traffic jams, dust and bustling noise.

In Jerusalem, where building and digging has been so common for centuries, the light rail operating since 2011 has become the capital’s most popular means of transportation, connecting East Jerusalem with West Jerusalem.

But Jerusalem’s transportation advantages can’t compensate for its prejudice. Jerusalem should look up to Tel Aviv, the gay capital of the Middle East with its well-established LGBT community that hosts an annual gay pride parade attracting large crowds from all over the world, for its tolerance, openness and acceptance. Contrast this to what happened just a few weeks ago in Jerusalem, where, for the second time, violence erupted during its annual gay pride parade. Sixteen-year-old Shira Banki was stabbed to death by an ultra-Orthodox man who perpetrated a similar stabbing at the 2005 march. He had only recently been released from prison after serving 10 years for that earlier crime.

Shira was killed for proudly marching in support for her friends and the LGBT community’s right to celebrate life as they choose. Shira was killed by a madman full of baseless hatred for her right to support free love.
Shira’s family called for “a little less hate and a lot more love,” followed by an announcement that it had decided to donate her organs in order to save the lives of others, whoever they may be.

Tel Aviv is the economic, cultural, and party capital of Israel. It is a place you can hear a world-class orchestra perform Mahler, or dance all night to beats mixed by internationally famous DJs, and in between, relax on the beach, whereas Jerusalem is Israel’s spiritual center, holy to all three major religions. It now has a syndrome named after it: Jerusalem Syndrome, attacking people with religious-inflected psychosis when they can’t handle its spirituality and holiness.

Founded more than 100 years ago, literarily from sand dunes, and known as the first Hebrew city, Tel Aviv always has been an attraction to massive waves of Jews fleeing persecution in Europe and elsewhere, as well as to a large number of illegal immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers from places such as Eritrea, Sudan, China and the Philippines. This has created ethnic clusters in the city, adding to Tel Aviv’s cosmopolitan atmosphere, as these communities jostle for the privilege of calling Tel Aviv home.  Compare it to Jerusalem, where historical and archeological evidence can track its establishment to 3800 B.C.E. was first conquered by King David and proclaimed as his capital in 1000 B.C.

Since the 1980s, young, urbane and educated Israelis from all over the country have flooded Tel Aviv, which gives the city its sophisticated air.  Massive renovation and development has added skyscrapers to all those Bauhaus gems, so the city now combines the look of a relaxed Mediterranean seaside town with an edgy urban vibe. Many of those young, sophisticated, and educated Israelis arrived in Tel Aviv from Jerusalem, where its complex, religious, ancient and political air was too stifling for their contemporary selves.

This August was one of the hottest on record in Israel, with temperatures hitting 113 degrees. Tel Aviv’s 90 percent humidity was impossible to escape, day or night. Yet in Jerusalem, after dragging through a miserable hot day, a cooler evening greeted by Jerusalem’s mountain winds awaited.

Tel Aviv is the young funky, light and fun loving sister. Jerusalem is the responsible adult with its official state offices, Parliament, historic sites and political complexities.

Jerusalem is famous and proud for its signature dish —meurav Yerushalmi, or Jerusalem mix. Different kinds of meat piled into pita bread with plenty of onions, tahini and salads. Nothing pretentious, very simple, very local and extremely delicious. Tel Aviv, on the other hand, is all about foodie culture, with its growing fusion cuisine where you can find more than 100 places to eat sushi, and is known for the best Italian restaurants outside of Italy, according to the Italian tourism ministry.

I was born and raised in Jerusalem, breathed its air and inhaled its oxygen. Our JCC Israel Center is located only five minutes from Jerusalem’s Old City and driving by all the historical sites daily still excites me. I love Jerusalem with everything it has to offer but I live in Modiin, exactly halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  I guess I’m more of an Israel mix vs. the traditional Jerusalem mix I ate so often as a child.

More than 100 years after its establishment, Tel Aviv has grown into its founders’ vision and become the vibrant, cosmopolitan, sophisticated city they once imagined. Tel Aviv, the city of renewal, should aim for growth and evolution, prosperity and positive subversion — blazing a path forward.

More than 3000 years after King David proclaimed Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish world, Jerusalem, which has more than 70 different names, each reflecting the city’s many dimensions, continues to be a source of yearning, and of pride. It is the bedrock of our hope and an enduring symbol of Jewish sovereignty.

But with all its claims on history and our hearts, Jerusalem, the City of Shalom, needs to respect 16-year-old Shira Banki’s memory, strive for tolerance, reach out to peace, and we must do so first and foremost among ourselves.


Leah Garber, Vice President. Director, JCC Israel Center

[email protected]

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