It's Tel Aviv until 1949, 1950, and then it's Tel Aviv-Yafo, as they say it officially. No one calls it like this; it's only the municipality and the mayor. And the signs that they changed all over the place in Israel, which is the road signs, like Tel Aviv, but actually, now, they exchange it for Tel Aviv-Yafo which is Jaffa in Arabic. It's a kind of unique, complex story somehow. It's almost fratricidal, I mean, Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Tel Aviv was born in Jaffa and now, Jaffa is the second part of Tel Aviv.
I can just tell you a small story which I love to lecture about. For me, it's also new. In 1950, actually, the Israeli government decided to unify the two cities. Tel Aviv was quite reluctant about it, and the issue was the name. And actually, the government of Israel and Ben-Gurion decided that the name should be Yafo-Tel Aviv, Jaffa-Tel Aviv, which was amazing. I mean, they didn't ask the city; they didn't ask the mayor. And there was some protest, and people didn't like it. And then after a few months, there was another government meeting of a state just born, and then they decided to do-- Ben-Gurion lost the vote, and they named it Tel Aviv-Yafo, Tel Aviv-Jaffa. Just a fine story. It's about relations between history and the old and new. I mean, Arabs, Jews. It's not very much Arabs. It's about the history and new, about Jewish history or history of the land and Zionism. It's about which is the more important. It's a great story, I think. It's about names.
Very interesting story. Interesting moment of decision as well. One of the things we're trying to focus on are the key moments in the history that had a long-term effect. So the choice of the name of the city, whether it's Yafo-Tel Aviv or Tel Aviv-Yafo, has an influence and a meaning about what the city is for, right?
Yeah, it's about self-perception, how we refer to our neighbourhood, how we feel about ourselves. And of course, behind there's always: don't you decide for us. We make decisions through its politics.
But also the name Tel Aviv itself, which is quite a long story, I found it-- for me-- I'm into names. That's my second thing. I think name is the most human thing. I mean, that's what distinguishes humans from animals: using names. The ability to talk about things which are not here, this is names. It's so basic but so important.
Anyway, I mean, Tel Aviv is the only city I know - and maybe I'm wrong - which is named after a book and not vice versa. It's like Berlin Alexanderplatz. I mean, there is the Berlin and then the place. So it's a kind of-- I think it's a nice statement about the city.
Of course, it's Herzl's book 'Altneuland / Old New Country' which is Herzl's book. And it's a kind of-- it's a very poetic translation, Tel Aviv. Tel is like the tale, the ecological tale which is the old and the ruins. And the Aviv which is Spring. So Altneuland, Old New Land. It's a beautiful poetic rendition of Herzl's book. And yeah, it's a city name after the book. It's a song, so to say. That stuff, I like it. It's a metaphor.
It's interesting, isn't it, Maoz, because in a way, this is another example of something that exists in theory before it exists in practice. We tried to say just a little bit about the Lighthouse City that, if I understood correctly, Tel Aviv was called the Lighthouse City before it had a lighthouse. So it's a bit like the idea of the new land exists before the city that tries to embody the new land is created.
Last Thursday, we had a Zoom meeting of the first meeting of the Public Council of the new Historical Museum of Tel Aviv. And the people from the municipality presented their vision, and they will talk about the Lighthouse City. And Sunday, I realised, which I didn't know - and I think I know, but I didn't know - that actually, in all the papers - the visionary papers come from the 12th floor of the municipality building - they talk about the lighthouse city.
Actually, it's another story of Tel Aviv because there was the symbol-- the emblem of Tel Aviv is the lighthouse - the old one from 1925 - which is actually not only a lighthouse, but it's also a gate. And this is the idea that this is the gate to Zion. I mean, the Jews would come to the Land of Israel, so to say - this is the Zionist idea - would pass through the port of Tel Aviv. And like New York, I mean, this is-- the[sentence will say it. Like New York in America, Tel Aviv in Israel: immigrants coming, settling there.
But of course, the port was built in 1936 after the British administration give permission for a port. And it was quite a joke port, okay? It was closed in 1965. I'm really glad they closed it because just to think about trucks and lorries in the city, okay, thanks Heavens. And now, it comes back - and this was my big revelation last two weeks - as a kind of a metaphoric idea about the city, the lighthouse. It's the enlightened, the city as the example, the city that shed light to the rest of Israel because it's a progressive city, it's a liberal city, it's a secular city. I would like to talk to the people there, but I think people are not aware of it. I held it for the first time two weeks ago. Probably, it's buried in the documents, in the visionary documents.
And it's, again, like taking an old symbol of the city, which was a physical lighthouse, so to say. Of course, the emblem was there before the port was there. That's another thing because Tel Aviv was a metropolis before it was a neighbourhood. That's the whole idea of the city. I mean, time is very mixed up here.
I mean, they have this vision. It's a vision city, and people are running before the city. Tel Aviv became a city only in 1934, which is a big job. It was the biggest city in British Palestine, 100,000. But the status of the city was only given in 1934. It was politics behind that, actually. Then it was part of Jaffa, nominally, etc. So anyway, thank you for the lighthouse, and it's a very strong story because it's connected with the other lighthouse, to the gate, to Zion, which is a street name in Tel Aviv, leading to the port.
It's interesting, isn't it, also, this idea of a beacon, that a lighthouse is a way to throw light, to avoid crashing in the waves. But it's also a beacon that shows a way to go, a way to be. So this metaphorical lighthouse city, this beacon of diversity and cosmopolitanism, all of those things are bound up there.
Yes. And it goes back to a very-- this is my interpretation, but I think I know where it comes from. It's a very Hebrew, biblical idea about Jews and Judaism and namely, that the people of Israel should be a beacon to the nations, unto the nations. I mean, whenever there are political discussions, people refer to that. Well, you know, there were some gruesome crime people mock about, you know, "They're big into their nations." Yes. It's a kind of– Everyone is aware of this beacon. So now this beacon is not to the nations-- maybe yes, but for sure for the rest of Israel. I mean, the rivers, the living city, the only city, if you want. And implied Jerusalem which is twice as big as Tel Aviv. And it's another scale another. It's a city that doesn't have to deal with its own image because Jerusalem is the first village.
The juxtaposition between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and the way that Tel Aviv, in a sense, deliberately differentiates itself from Jerusalem or is, by dint of history, differentiated from Jerusalem, do you want to talk a little bit about that? What is the meaning of Tel Aviv in comparison to Jerusalem as you see it?
Oh, I mean, it's a kind of a cliche, of course. This is, I think, the most powerful cliche in Israeli culture and for visitors as well. I mean, the difference between two cities which are 40 miles apart, it's amazing. Actually, it could be one city if you want-- suburb. I mean, I don't know which is above which.
I would begin with saying, this idea of this juxtaposition between the two cities, in a way, replicates another one, and that is the juxtaposition of St. Petersburg and Moscow. It's the same game. It can be between Glasgow and Edinburgh if you want. I mean, every country has this too, like Manchester and London. I mean, you have it everywhere. Los Angeles and New York. But I mean, here for sure, it plays on the theme of St. Petersburg and Moscow. The new city built by the Tsar as a window to Europe. The same idea: the more open city, modern city. And then Moscow, the old city, the old capital laden with religious meanings. You know, it's playing the same game, and I'm sure that the founders of Tel Aviv, who came from Odessa, that were from the Soviet empire were very well aware of this contradistinction-- I mean, the juxtaposition between the two cities. So actually, it came naturally, I think, this thing.
But I have to say something else: namely, that since the 80s-- everyone talked about it in the 20s and the 30s; it was a common issue. And, you know, you take topography, like the city of the mountain, city on the seashore, and I love-- there is a sentence written in 1928 by a very intelligent guy. I love it. It said that-- ah, but it's Hebrew; I can't translate. But he said something like - which in Hebrew, plays well - 'you can't build a sacred city on sand'. Sand in Hebrew means also secular and sand. So it's kind of the secular city and the sacred city which is not only religious and then the city with history and the new city. And here's the city built on sand, and sand means many things. I mean, it's not really stable and no roots.
There is a beautiful story about Churchill visiting Tel Aviv in 1922, Churchill from the monument, yeah? And they were all in reception to him and-- it was the Rothschild Boulevard, never mind. And the trees were cut there by the Turks before they left, so they put some tree trunks without roots just for the-- and then there was a wind and all the trees fell. And Churchill said to the mayor of Tel Aviv, "You know, roots are very important." It's a story they tell. This says something about the rootless city built on sand dunes.
But the new thing since the 80s about Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, it's mainly about Tel Aviv as a secular, left, liberal city, which is, of course, a myth because there are many different-- I mean, people vote differently. But compared to in Jerusalem, that represents the conflict between Jews and Arabs, and Muslims and Jews and whatever, the holy places. And all the international community looks at Jerusalem.
And Tel Aviv is the new beginning, so to say, which is open and looks across the sea to Europe and to the United States. Of course, the West. Of course, the West here. And so this is the thing that is played again and again, I mean, in the rhetoric of the city. So it's actually, Tel Aviv talks about Jerusalem. Jerusalem talks less about Tel Aviv. They look from above and actually, keep busy with their own things. It's Tel Aviv, the younger one that has to prove. Jerusalem is much bigger, twice as big, populations-wise, from Tel Aviv. And the government now is in Jerusalem. But Tel Aviv has to prove something, and this is the idea of distancing itself from Jerusalem. It's a statement about what we are and about the rest of Israel. Tel Aviv, now, is the sentence or the phrase 'the State of Tel Aviv', which is for 20 years they use now, which means autonomy, which means we are different, which means actually, we are better, of course.
You mentioned there a couple of the geographical features that define Tel Aviv such as the sand and the Mediterranean Sea. And I wonder what roles these features have played in the city's evolution?
Yeah, well, I mean, I would say, I think it's, of course, the beach. I mean, one cannot understand Tel Aviv without the beach. I mean, I think it would give Tel Aviv this character of this fun-loving city of pastime or fun city. It's the beach. I mean, the mayor of Tel Aviv, who comes from the Ukraine-- the first one, Dizengoff, Mayor Dizengoff.
I mean, a very, very nice apocryphal sentence, probably, that 1920, you saw the building there on the beach, the industrial centre of the city. And the city architect told him, "It's the beach. You don't do that." And he told him, "No, no, no, no. Jews don't like to go to the beach," because he came from the Ukraine. And of course, the population, the residents, the Jews, these Jews mostly came from Eastern Europe from small towns and townships just really appropriated the beach. I mean, I have the photos. You can see it was full of people. The city, the apartments were crowded. Too many people in the apartment and, you know, sublet. And many were young people. And of course, the beach was in the conservative end. In the '30s, '40s, everyone was a conservative, dress wise, et cetera. This was the place of boys and girls and fun and flesh and sand. They came from Europe. And that was the fun place of Tel Aviv. And I think, about DNA, the beach is a decisive element of the Tel Aviv DNA. One thing.
Another one, geographic thing is, I would say, the River Yarkon because Tel Aviv was not founded on the beach, I mean, on the seashore and not in a river or along a river, I mean, on the banks of the river, like most cities are. It was neighbourhoods founded somewhere on the sand and then it expanded. And the Yarkon River, which was to the north of Tel Aviv, was the border. I mean, Tel Aviv was expanding northward with its back to Jaffa at the beginning. And the idea of crossing the Yarkon River, that was the big dream. Even the British high commissioner wished them to cross the river. I mean, when he left there in 1936, in his speech, he said, "I hope that next time when I come, I want to see Tel Aviv beyond the Yarkon River." That was his dream. Of course, the problem was that the British government didn't give them the permission to do that, but that was another thing.
But they are calling this an imaginary boundary, which is part of the self-image of Tel Aviv now. I mean, when I ask Tel Avivians-- and when I say Tel Avivians, I mean, 400 people who write about Tel Aviv in the local press, yes, and talk about Tel Aviv and celebrate themselves and the city they actually chose to immigrate to. Most of them are immigrants anyway from Israel. And when you see the mental map of Tel Aviv, it's bounded by the Yarkon. Beyond the Yarkon River. It's like this New York map: New York and Manhattan and the rest of the USA. Beyond the Yarkon, there is only wars and some nothing, which is just three kilometres from where I speak to you, yeah. So it's a mental barrier that Tel Aviv crossed but not in the mind of Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv is still the Tel Aviv of the 30s and the 40s. Tel Aviv University is across the river. I mean, it's the new building areas of Tel Aviv, the more rich part of Tel Aviv. It's like in London, it's west and east; in Tel Aviv, it's south and north. North is the richer part, more affluent part of the city; the south is poor, always been, because Tel Aviv is moving to the north. And yes, of course, people live there, but they come to Tel Aviv when they cross the river.
Maybe, Maoz, I can follow that up with just ask a question about Tel Aviv-Yafo the city and then the metropolitan area because we three are all human geographers. We know that the growth of the population of the metropolitan area is somehow dependent upon the growth of the city. But how do you think about that relationship between the neighbouring municipalities outside Tel Aviv-Yafo and the population within it? Is it older, younger? Is it richer, poorer? Is it something to do with people move to the suburbs and beyond the municipal border, why do they do that? What is the difference in identity between the different places within the metropolitan area, as you see it?
Well, actually, the big fail of Tel Aviv is the failure to create the Greater Tel Aviv, like Greater London or Gross Berlin, Greater Berlin. This never happened and will never probably happen, but we are talking about it.
It will never happen?
It will never happen, yes. I mean, too many mayorships are involved, too many jobs are involved, too many vested interests are involved. But I mean, the metropolitan area is, let's say, the Dan region, as it's called--
I remember when I began teaching geography, a student came - I teach Haifa University, University of Haifa - and I asked them, what is the Dan region? What does it mean? I told this, both think about it, and they say, "Very simple. It's where the Dan Transportation Company travels." The Bus Company, yes? It's the Dan.
But what happens, of course, is that-- Tel Aviv was only Tel Aviv until 1950. I mean, around there was small towns. There were 5,000 - 6,000. The big growth was after the state was founded. Now it's a huge, huge agglomeration of cities that are continuously-- I mean, geographically, they are continuous.
And some of them have their own character if you want. To the north, they are always more affluent; to the south, less. But being close to Tel Aviv makes all the difference. So actually, it's Tel Aviv. When you cross the border, the boundaries between you don't even-- only the street signs tell you that you are in a different city. That's all. But Tel Aviv was a centre and is a centre. It's a very small town, actually, relatively speaking; it's 430,000. Tel Aviv, well, it's a small-big city, but it's the Dan region. But even Tel Aviv is not Tel Aviv. I mean, Yafo, Jaffa is not Tel Aviv. And the east part of Tel Aviv across the Wadi there, yes, where the highway is, it's also--
Mentally, Tel Aviv is just a very small part of the city, built in the '30s and '40s, and every research about mental maps and how people think about the city shows the same. Tel Aviv is the Tel Aviv of the 30s and 40s, where I live.
But if you come from Herzliya or you come from another one of the municipalities, when you're travelling abroad and people ask you where you're from, do you say Tel Aviv, or do you say near Tel Aviv, or do you say I'm from the Dan region? I don't think so. Is Tel Aviv the name, the organising idea for where people think they're from or not?
I don't think so. No, people will say-- well, I've never done it because I would say I come from Tel Aviv. I wouldn't even say I come from Israel. That's to avoid politics. Always would say Tel Aviv. Forget about politics. But people will tell you-- I guess, they'll say, Herzliya and then will say, it's near Tel Aviv, or it's in the centre of the country. I think this is how it-- because no one knows the name. I mean, Herzliya is okay but then Bat Yam or Holon, who knows about them? And they are nice cities, but Saba, I don't know. That's a rumour I have. I have never been there.
So people don't use the idea of Tel Aviv to describe the whole metropolitan area?
No, I wouldn't say so, no. The government would. They call it the Tel Aviv District, but no one cares. I mean, that's the bureaucratic lingo. I mean, no one is interested. Like even Tel Aviv-Yafo is the official name of this city is not used by people. It's Tel Aviv. And when the people talk about Yafo, they say Yafo or Jaffa, yes. I go to Jaffa, I would say.
So you go to Jaffa even though you're in Tel Aviv-Yafo? So it's a district-- it's a neighbourhood kind of nomenclature?
Yes. I would say that. With its distinct identity, very clear identity, Jaffa, I mean. I mean, there is a place when I take groups touring the city - as a geographer, I do it - and there is a point where I stand. It's a parking place, a huge parking lot. I stand there, and I say, "This is the hyphen. Tel Aviv, Jaffa, there is the hyphen. This is the hyphen. Here is Tel Aviv. This is Jaffa. We are standing in the hyphen." I have to explain it, but then, of course, it's clear. You see, it's the in-between thing, yeah?
Who decided to bring both cities under the same name, and why did they do that if they have such distinct identities?
The government did it. The government did it, and the reason was very clear; Jaffa was a majority Arab city with 70,000 residents in 1948. Then after Israel's War of independence, 1948 War, most of them left. Not all of them; 5,000 were left there. And there are some 20-something thousand Arabs living there now. And in the city, Jews, refugees from Bulgaria actually settled the city. They came first. So Jaffa, for many years, was a Bulgarian Jewish city. I mean, like the food and the football, everything was Bulgarian until they moved on.
And the city, the government decided to annex Jaffa to Tel Aviv or to make them to join them because of the welfare thing. I mean, Tel Aviv was a rich town, and they could support the welfare services to the new immigrants. Tel Aviv was not interested, but the government really forced them. They gave them areas beyond the Yarkon, so kind of to tempt them to take Jaffa. Tel Aviv was not interested in Jaffa. So it's not that Tel Aviv was greedy, annexing Jaffa, but said, "Oh, no, I mean, this is--" they didn't say it like this, but it was very clear from the correspondence that it meant problems, it meant a burden, it meant, "Well, we will have to invest a lot of money and goodwill." Yeah.
I'm thinking, if you agree, Maoz, we might ask you three or four questions now. And one might be, what in your opinion really makes Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv? And then we might ask the question about, what are the unifying ideas that everybody who's associated with Tel Aviv hold strong? Then we might ask you just to say a bit more about how you think some of these characteristics that you've spoken about already - the geographic, the political, the ethnic, the, as it were, national - how these ideas make Tel Aviv distinctive. And then I might ask a question about, how should Tel Aviv communicate itself? What is the usefulness of this conversation about DNA as you see it? Is it useful to unite the people of Tel Aviv? Is it just an academic exercise? Is it useful for city branding?
Yeah, I mean, I was thinking about it. It's a good question, by the way, DNA. I was resisting the idea of DNA because I was working-- someone from the municipality wrote a PhD. She was dealing with the branding of Tel Aviv, and she was talking all the time about DNA. I said, "Well, we're not talking about biology." And the city is not a living creature. The city doesn't think and doesn't talk. I mean, people are talking about the city. Anyway, but it's a very good metaphor, actually, what is the DNA. Why is it good? Because it forced me to think. So I'm grateful for that.
Anyway, what I want to say is that when think about Tel Aviv, I think, what are the underlying ideas of Tel Aviv? It's what I can see, the DNA, the things that are from the beginning and still influence the city and how it develops. I think I would say, the idea of a modern city. From the start, it should be modern, like utilities from the start. 1906, when they first conceived of the city, electricity, running water, which was very new, street names, the first city in Palestine to have street names by a committee.
And so the idea is this-- and that, of course, I mean, it's from-- so if I want to joke a little about Tel Aviv, just to close the circle, well, of course, it leads to this idea of the start-up city which is a variation of the start-up nation. I mean, this is where it originated. Tel Aviv is actually borrowing, borrowing all the time. I mean, the original idea was-- the 'Start-Up Nation' was a very famous book. And then Tel Aviv became this start-up city because, well, there is a lot of start-ups here, but not only-- there are in Herzliya, which is not Tel Aviv, etc., etc. But Tel Aviv is small, so it's very concentrated.
But if I can joke a bit, I would say that what makes Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv is this tension between the start-up and the upstart. And this is Tel Aviv. Tel Aviv's in between, okay? It's like the cube, you know, you look and something as the start-up and something is the upstart. And what do I mean by the upstart? I mean, the idea that Tel Aviv should be recognized as a city in its own right in the world was there from the start. I mean, in the 20s, there were some 30,000 people here. People were comparing the city to Paris and of course, then New York and London in the 60s, the swinging London, and Berlin, now, and Barcelona.
And Tel Aviv, there is something now-- I hope I'm not too un-nice to my hometown. There is something provincial there which is the idea that the important things happen elsewhere. This is the core of provinciality. There is this provincial consciousness. I mean, recently actually proved that Tel Aviv became what it always dreamt about, a city that's recognized in the world. I mean, I have quotation from The New York Times to The Times of London to The Wall Street Journal to Washington Post about-- I mean, beautiful quotations about what makes Tel Aviv distinct. So it's a dream come true. I mean, it's a quest realised. I mean, it's amazing what happened in the last ten years. But this was from the start, we want to be recognized. So it's up-to-dateness, always, which is also a little provincial because you check all the time, and it's about the idea of fun and the self-consciousness of independence which is-- the 20s, 30s, 40s. It was formulated in national terms, like Tel Aviv is the example of the Jewish national home in Palestine. This was one part.
Now, it's independence, the kind of, we are different from the state of Israel, we are more liberal, they're all primitives around us, we don't vote like the majority, the openness to the gay community. Tel Aviv is actually a gay capital in the world, which is very important. I mean, just last week, we didn't have the gay pride parade, which a year ago was huge. You just look at the photos I took. It's a huge event, and people come from all over the world.
So Tel Aviv, actually, is a dream realised. And in a way, it's going back to its name. In a sense, it is the realisation of Herzl's dream of a liberal Jewish state. It came from Vienna. That was his vision. So a city named after his book, actually, is the realisation of his vision, if we want. In a sense, this is the DNA. So it's Herzl. In one word it would be Herzl. It's the vision of Herzl coming true in terms of a city. So this is one thing.
About the modern, which I talked about, it's the idea of the modern architecture. It's the capital of modernist architecture. And in a funny way-- I share with you something new. I mean, one of the questions you asked, which I found beautiful, is about the innovations. So I would say the city. And the discoveries made in the city, I see the biggest discovery that Tel Aviv made is the discovery of its own heritage: the so-called White City, the modernist, the international style, so-called, in Tel Aviv, Bauhaus. And the funny thing is when they discover it, they say re-discovered it. Not true. Tel Aviv was always considered by Tel Avivians to be an ugly city, architecturally ugly city. There was nothing interesting: no cathedrals, no palaces, no parliament, no Big Ben. No, I mean, just go to Europe. Everyone who goes to Europe and see this beautiful Firenze etc. And Tel Aviv was just cubes, white cubes on the dunes. And I grew up, and I found many, many quotations about that. Everyone complained about how ugly the city was. Well, it was also not kept well near the beach. I mean, in the Mediterranean, it's not so good.
But then I discovered - I have to share it with you - that in the 1940s, in Great Britain, actually, people were talking about Tel Aviv as the kind of-- let me just quote Kenneth Clarke. Kenneth Clarke was writing in 1947, the Kenneth Clarke, about the Tel Aviv style. I mean, he didn't like it. He liked the traditional British style.
And people were-- I think I'm talking about publications in Great Britain talking about British architectures. I found this sentence and probably, I will read it aloud… “probably, the best places in the world to study the new architecture, like the academic new architecture, are the Jewish settlements at Haifa and Tel Aviv.” Amazing. That's from 1944, during the war. Which is also amazing because it talks about Haifa and Tel Aviv, but everyone knows about Tel Aviv; no one knows about Haifa. So that's something about Tel Aviv and how Tel Aviv can brand itself. It's another story. Also Jerusalem, beautiful international style neighbourhood, but Tel Aviv knew how to profile itself as this thing. So this discovery of its own heritage, which I find great, because it's a new city, 111 years old, with historical heritage which is modernist. You see, it's full of paradoxes. Modernism as heritage, a new city with historical heritage. I mean, I think only Tel Aviv can do that.
While you're on this topic, Maoz, what do you think are the other innovations, inventions or discoveries of Tel Aviv? Anything else you would point to?
I was thinking hard about it. I even consulted a few people. I don't think I can pinpoint one thing which is Tel Avivian. Inventions, not really, but that's not the issue here. I mean, it's not like, I don't know, Mercedes-Benz and Stuttgart, yes, or BMW would be Munich. No. Tel Aviv, there was not– No, I couldn't find anything because inventions would be Israeli. It can be food. Falafel is not Tel Aviv, shakshuka is not Tel Aviv. I mean, Tel Aviv doesn't deal with this; Tel Aviv deals with itself. Tel Aviv is us, we, Tel Avivians, and the city as an innovation, as a discovery of itself. It's appropriation, even architectural appropriation. The international style is everywhere, not only in Tel Aviv, but everyone knows Tel Aviv.
It's an interesting comment. It's a little bit like Sydney. People tell me that nothing's invented in Sydney, but everything that's invented in Australia becomes famous in Sydney. Sydney has the ability to magnify, to congratulate, to project. So Sydney, in this sense, is not an original, but things that Sydney appropriates becomes seen as related to Sydney. It's very interesting.
Yeah, it is interesting. I will try to think about Tel Aviv. Well, in the 60s, they built the Shalom Tower in Tel Aviv, which was the tallest building in Israel, 32 floors, the tallest building in the Middle East. We are far away now, I mean, competition-wise. But I mean, Tel Aviv wants to be the first.
Tel Aviv, for many years, imported things like fashion from London in the 60s. I mean, I have many like-- the boots imported to Tel Aviv. Someone complained in 1964 that it took two years for the boots - women - to arrive from London to Israel. That was a complaint, yes? Today, it would be like this. But inventions, things, mm-mm. They are placeless in this sense.
Can we talk about leadership for a minute? If we were talking about the most important leaders, not just mayors of the city - they may be important - but the leaders who were the chief Tel Avivians, if you want to put it that way, who do you think they have been?
Okay. Because you cautioned me about not necessarily men, so I begin with this. One of the complaints I'm getting with street names in the city, 2% of Tel Aviv street names are named after women. It's always a complaint when I am interviewed about it. This only means that for many years, males were dominating the public sphere. And I always tell as an answer, I mean, you don't want the women to die because they're first to die in order to be honoured by her street name. I mean, it takes some time. So it will take time, but now, I can tell you that every-- I mean, it's going to be-- the new policy about street naming is 50/50. That's mandated, yeah?
But I would say there is one. There is one man. That is Meir Dizengoff who is considered to be the founder, but he was the promoter - very American in a sense - the industrialist. And he fought against all odds. I mean, that's very interesting. He became-- just a sentence about him because I read about him a few months ago because he interests me. How come he became a leader of the city? Because he was not the founder. He was not Alexander the Great. It was a group of people, so how come he became so famous, the first among equals?
And the issue was that he actually represented the Jewish community under the Turks, Ottomans during the First World War. And he knew how to stand up for the Jews against the Turkish government, which was not the nicest in the world, to say the least, okay? So that's how he became a leader. That's one thing.
Another thing is that he led the city, which was the biggest centre of Jewish Palestine, but in a time where Zionist ideology was-- who are socialist kibbutzim, not Tel Aviv. And he had to fight against it. He said, no. He was the father of a capitalist city, of a bourgeois city in a time where the official ideology was not very much in favour of it. He had to defend this city all the time against the leadership, the Zionist leadership. The people settled there, of course - I mean, the facts were on the ground - but ideologically speaking.
And he knew how to move, and he promoted the city in crisis, and, yes, it was in this first chapter of the life. I mean, it's this ex nihilo: from nothing to-- which is always the most-- it's the miracle part of everything, creation. Everything else is development, you know, variations, fine-tuning, changes a little. But he did it, and he laid the foundations of this, I think, quite an amazing project, I would say. Yes. Well, I won't speak in religious terms, of course, but when you see the history, he said, "Oh, wow. It could have been different. And it's here."
Of course, I would say another leader that I learned to appreciate is another mayor, Shlomo Lahat, and he was the mayor between 1974 to 1993. And he was a general who, after leaving the army, was elected a part of the liberal wing of the Likud Party. And he was a very liberal male, actually.
He made Tel Aviv-- he invented, so to say, the non-stop city. It was under him. It opened for the first time - which may sound strange to people - the cinemas. I mean, the film theatres doing on Friday evening when they close because of the Shabbat, and he did it. There was a lot, a lot of politics behind, but it was kind of opening up the city. So he is the father of the non-stop city. He began the revolution--
Father of the secularisation of the city?
Yeah, but he did it in a very fine way. I mean, he was very considerate about the concerns of parts of the population, which found it awful what he was doing. So he opened certain cinemas in certain places where it wouldn't disturb others. It's kind of in a very balanced way and very considerate way. I mean, I just followed how he did it, I mean, recently, the whole process, very considerate. It was not like ideology and power and, I show you because I can. He did it in a dialogue. And he did it, and he opened up the city.
So the current mayor, which is doing now, is doing this much more ideologically. It's kind of a little in the face, I think, which Lahat didn't do. In a very nice way. He was angry. I mean, when he was attacked. No, no, no. And of course, it was like that. So Lahat.
So I would say Dizengoff is the father of the first Hebrew city, which is the founding myth of Tel Aviv, and Lahat or 'Chich', as they used to call him.
Yesterday, I visited his grave at a cemetery, just saw his grave. Chich always have the nickname there. He came from Berlin. Why Chich? Because the kids used to call him like that. And he was the founding father, if you want, of the second [mythic?] phase of the city, that is the non-stop city.
And do any people stand out in your mind as having really told the world about Tel Aviv's story, whether that's cultural leaders or artists or writers or poets that have really communicated what is the spirit and DNA to the world that aren't necessarily political figures?
Yeah, it's a terrific question, really. And I mean it because it forced me to think about it. Namely, it's very local, and it's a very Hebrew thing. I mean, when I say the name Nathan Alterman-- I get to the lecture and then conclude with Nathan Alterman; everyone was happy that I did it. But who knows Nathan Alterman? Who is on the bill, the 200-shekel bill, yes? He was a very local Tel Aviv poet and an Israeli one, I mean. But no one knows about him because it's not translated. The only Israeli Nobel laureate is Shmuel Yosef Agnon who lived in Tel Aviv because it was founded, but he's a very Jerusalem figure and very Jewish figure.
So Tel Aviv hasn't produced a great nightlife. Not for me; I'm too old for that. I mean, my joke would be that my biggest contribution to Tel Aviv's nightlife is when, at 11 o'clock, I call the police. This is my contribution; I take part in that, too. It's only age. It means that when I was younger, I was on the other side; now, I'm on this side. But nightlife vibrancy, it's not culture. It's not high culture, not music. I mean, the song of Tel Aviv, which is 'The White City', people know it here, but it's Hebrew. No one knows it outside of Tel Aviv. It's a very local thing. So Tel Aviv is a global-local thing but very culturally global image. And it's nice to see this tension. I mean, I'm quite amazed, when I think about it, because of you, about this question. So thank you.
Maoz, this is to just think about the future of Tel Aviv and in a sense, using the metaphor of DNA to ask the question. What do you think will be the strands of consciousness, civilization, the defining characteristics in the future of Tel Aviv? Do you foresee opportunity? Do you foresee risk? Are you optimistic? Are you pessimistic?
Ok. I mean, to answer that, of course, Tel Aviv loves to think about themself as a separate entity. There is Tel Aviv, and there is the rest of Israel. But Tel Aviv is part of Israel, and Israel is part of the Middle East. And these are the moments of awakening, every now and then, when it can happen-- last time, what was it, three years ago when rockets are fired at Tel Aviv, and you have the sirens. These are moments of awakening when they realise that-- not me. Everyone realize that this idea of this make-believe thing that we live on an island or it's a bubble, it's not there. It happens every now and then. So the fate of Tel Aviv, of course, is linked to the fate of Israel and what happens in the Middle East. So this is one thing.
I think what we'll have, if it's only about Tel Aviv, more of the same. It's the DNA thing. It's about the idea of modernization, updateness, to be connected to the centres. And centres in the West change all the time. Tel Aviv is very good at recognizing where things happen and to contact, to emulate sometimes, maybe even to-- I don't know. Let's see if there is some innovation that will come out from Tel Aviv. It could be Tel Avivism. I don't know.
If I can quote a British source from 1947, someone defined it in a British magazine about architecture, which is amazing, 'the most 20th century of cities'. Wow. So let's see what happens in the 21st century. I don't know, but I think it will be much more, much, much more of the same. Thank you.
Does Tel Aviv want to tell the world about its story, or is it happy focusing kind of on itself in the way that you said was very local?
No, I think they want to-- Tel Aviv, what is the Tel Aviv? It's the-- I call it the 12th floor, yes, I mean, where all the branding people are sitting there. And the spokesperson of the municipality will tell you all the details about how great Tel Aviv is. Well, that's a job; that's what he's paid for. I mean, the local stories are not told to the world.
I mean, there is a discrepancy here. I mean, nightlife, openness, gay culture, all these things, this is the message that goes out to the world and is validated by people who visit here. And food, restaurants, pubs, etc., this is true. But there is another level, which I'm very aware of, which is very Israeli, because it's where I live, is the area here. This cultural phenomena of groups who tour the city with two guys, Israeli two guys, and they're about very local things, about actors - this is where I live - of the Habima Theatre. So about singers and about bohemian life and about certain families who live there. This kind of local knowledge. People here are curious about it because Israelis are curious about Tel Aviv. And they come to visit. Groups - they can be teachers, can be from Facebook, whatever - they organise a day in Tel Aviv or go to the market, the Carmel Market with all this local knowledge which is transmitted to them, and Israelis love that.
Try to translate it to foreigners - I know it for me - it needs a lot of effort to move from one level of storytelling to another level of storytelling because you have to explain everything. I mean, if I say in Ben-Gurion, everyone knows, or Dizengoff, everyone knows. At least it's the main street, the main thoroughfare. But just to explain-- and the story is ruined by all these footnotes, yes? You need too many footnotes to translate it.