Maoz Azaryahu, S. Ilan Troen, eds. Tel-Aviv, the First Century: Visions, Designs, Actualities. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012. xxvii + 449 pp. $70.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-253-35694-9; $24.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-253-22357-9.
Reviewed by Arnon Golan (University of Haifa)
Published on H-Judaic (July, 2013)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman
From Garden Suburb to Metropolis: Tel Aviv at One Hundred
Tel Aviv is Israel's main urban center and the hub of its largest metropolitan area. The city's population numbers about four hundred thousand, among the more than three million residents of the surrounding metropolitan area as a whole; in all they account for 40 percent of the country's total. While Jerusalem is Israel's capital and political center, Tel Aviv is the beating heart of the country, the core of its economic, cultural, and social life.
Tel Aviv is a young city yet it has a stormy and intense history. It was established in 1909 as a Jewish garden suburb of Jaffa, the chief port town of Ottoman-controlled Palestine. The suburb developed rapidly into a Jewish city, which as early as 1921 became separate from Jaffa. Urban growth during the decades of British Mandate rule (1920-48) made Tel Aviv Palestine's leading urban center. The fighting that erupted along the urban boundary between Tel Aviv and Jaffa during the initial months of the 1948 war, Israel's War of Independence, brought about the uprooting of most of Jaffa's Arab population. Thousands of Jewish immigrants were settled in abandoned Arab buildings, and in 1950 Jaffa was annexed to Tel Aviv. The new urban entity was formally called Tel Aviv–Yafo (Hebrew for Jaffa).
The need to assimilate Jaffa and a large population of newly arrived immigrants, along with the development of a new Israeli urban system and especially of Tel Aviv's metropolitan area, resulted in a gradual decline of Tel Aviv in the late 1950s, which lasted through the 1960s and 1970s. But the wind changed during the 1980s, with the so-called postmodern turn that occurred in Israel--in Tel Aviv especially. The result was gentrification of obsolete and depleted areas, expansion of the central business district, and construction of tens of high-rise office and residential buildings that dramatically transformed the city's skyline. The expanding urban economy also attracted thousands of labor immigrants from Africa, the Far East, Eastern Europe, and Latin America, who settled mainly in the most impoverished and run-down neighborhoods in the southern sector of the city. Recent Tel Aviv constitutes an aspiring world city, whose multicultural character and hedonist lifestyle attracts many in-migrants, especially among the younger generation of Israelis.
Tel Aviv's centennial served as an opportunity to sum up, evaluate, and criticize the past and the present, and to anticipate future trends of Israel's main metropolis. It produced a plethora of publications, academic and nonacademic, which analyzed the city's different aspects. This volume, edited by two leading Israeli scholars and renowned Tel Aviv researchers, historian S. Ilan Troen and cultural geographer Maoz Azaryahu, forms part of this trend; indeed, it appears to be the most comprehensive volume of its kind published in English. It includes a selection of writings by leading researchers of different political, social, economic, and cultural aspects of Tel Aviv then and now.
The first and largest part of the book concentrates on various historical aspects, beginning with the establishment of the garden suburb. Yaacov Shavit analyzes the image envisaged by Tel Aviv's founders and early residents. Hizky Shoham concentrates on the founding myth, while Azaryahu deals with the identity of Tel Aviv through its early anniversary celebrations. Other essays examine some less bright aspects of the city; for example, Tammy Razi writes about subversive youth street cultures, and Deborah Bernstein about the depleted southern sector of Tel Aviv bordering the northernmost Arab sector of Jaffa. Orit Rozin and Anat Helman concentrate on different aspects of everyday life in Tel Aviv that were hardly considered in historical research in the past. While Rozin's work deals with life at the time of economic austerity in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Helman focuses on complaints about noise and dirt as reflecting the social and cultural views of many residents of a fast growing city during the British Mandate period.
Part 2 is devoted to cultural matters: language, literature, and art. The opening essay by Zohar Shavit deals with a most fundamental aspect of Tel Aviv, namely, the daily use of Hebrew as a unique feature of a Jewish-Zionist urban entity, considered since the 1920s the First Hebrew City. Since most of the residents were immigrants who spoke a confusion of tongues, the use of Hebrew had to be enforced at least in the public sphere. Barbara Mann delves into the interpretation by Jewish writers and poets of Tel Aviv in the first decades of the twentieth century. Aminadav Dykman depicts the formation of Tel Aviv as a mythic city in the work of a somewhat forgotten Jewish poet, Shlomo Skulsky, who emigrated from the USSR to British Mandatory Palestine in 1941 and settled in Tel Aviv. Rachel Harris turns to Tel Aviv's later decades, dealing with the place and concept of the maturing city in the literature of Israeli writers and poets. Dalia Manor concludes this part with an essay on Tel Aviv as portrayed in the works of different Israeli artists from its early days to the present.
The third part of the book focuses on spatial aspects of Tel Aviv, particularly its planning and architecture. The ambition of the city leaders to form an urban Zionist entity, a model city that would also conform with the concepts of modern urban planning, was articulated in the 1925 master plan plotted by Sir Patrick Geddes. Volker Welter analyzes the plan and its dominant role in shaping Tel Aviv. Nurit Alfasi and Roy Fabian move to the other rim of urban development, that is, the preservation of urban heritage--that of premodern Jaffa and, ironically, of the modernist-planned sector of Tel Aviv built in the 1930s and deemed obsolete already in the 1970s. Caroline Aronis's essay turns from large-scale planning and architecture to the micro-level. It concentrates on the Tel Aviv balconies, their role in a hot and humid Mediterranean climate, and their place in the cultural history of a city planned and built mainly by immigrants from Europe.
This volume encompasses a wide range of disciplinary approaches and the latest research on the essence of Tel Aviv. Israel's main metropolis is scrutinized through the lens of history, geography, architecture, art, literature, and gender studies, presenting the many facets that have come to constitute the elaborate personality of a very complicated city and society. This is by all means a much-needed volume, and required reading for any student of Tel Aviv. That is not to say that it embraces all aspects and views of the city's development and structure--as stated clearly in the preface, the volume could easily have been larger. This may challenge the editors, and other scholars engaged in research of Tel Aviv and in Israel studies as a whole, to initiate the publication of follow-up volumes concerned with further aspects of Israel's main metropolis.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the list discussion logs at: http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl.
Arnon Golan. Review of Azaryahu, Maoz; Troen, S. Ilan, eds., Tel-Aviv, the First Century: Visions, Designs, Actualities.
H-Judaic, H-Net Reviews.
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