So lately I’ve been spending time in Tel-Aviv/Yafo- i.e., Jaffa (Arabic name). I am seriously leaning toward moving to Jaffa’s old city, hopefully around the port or flea market. My friends have encouraged me to move to Tel Aviv and most people who meet me say- you should really live in Tel Aviv, it’s so you!
Here’s the thing:
Tel Aviv is really not me. I don’t like to go out at night. I am selectively social, a misanthrope in recovery and do not enjoy parties, cookouts or crowds. I dislike the over populated beaches and honestly, I’m not 32 going on 21. The art scene is too commercial and quite frankly, I find it cheesy.
I love art, culture, quirkiness and most of all- I do not particularly enjoy a homogenized environment. This is what initially drew me to Jerusalem, yet I have grown out of my attraction to it for a myriad of reasons. I still love it, but there is a much better fit for me elsewhere.
There are many reasons I love Jaffa. The history is amazing, the old ruins, the stone streets and architecture have that Jerusalem charm. There are 46,000 people living there- 30,000 Jews and 16,000 Arabs. It is very Jewish, yet you don’t think about it because the Haredi costume is missing. Jews are just simply Jews. It feels like more people because of Tel Aviv, yet it doesn’t. The food is so much better than anything I’ve had thus far in Israel. The Arabic cafes serving killer Turkish coffee with Middle Eastern pastries, stunning tapestries, antique cups and that calm, cool vibe is so alluring. The sound of classical Arab music is so sensual and intricate. The rhythm is hypnotic and you can feel the essence of the place in your bones. The emerging art galleries have me hooked too and this is to say nothing of the stunning, non-commercial beach with its graffiti backdrop. The flea market is like a seaside town from a magical distant past. It’s unpretentious, super chill and authentic AF. Of course I’d prefer to live there. Crazy expensive though!!! Bah…
It’s funny; I live around Arabs now in Musrara, across from Damascus gate. It feels nothing like Jaffa and here is why:
The Old City, or what we call “the seam,” East Jerusalem- this is the heart of the conflict. The air is always thick and tense. When I cross over to Damascus gate to the Arab shuk for produce, the vibe is not appealing to me at all. It doesn’t feel like Israel. It feels like you just walked into Palestine, a depressed one at that. None of them know I’m a Jew, just American. It’s super serious, the people are old, over weight and somber. Merchants play the call to prayer in their shops. They are not smiling or laughing and no one is speaking to me in order to entice me to barter. It is such a low energy there. They are not Israeli citizens; they are legal residents of the municipality. I feel like I am walking amongst the dead, it’s really hard to explain. It’s a failing cause they will die for, rather than a winning cause worth living for. The Palestinian friends I have made are either from Bethlehem or elsewhere, but not in Jerusalem. (Side note: I made a couple friends in Gaza and they are easier and warmer towards me, than Jerusalemite Palestinians.)
Jaffa is the opposite of this. The air is light and the vibe is upbeat and positive. It is fun and carefree, the people are young and healthy looking. People engage me when I am shopping, not pushy, but polite. It is a high energy level there. It feels like a cool beach town in the Middle East.
The Jewish population is secular with a few religious people here and there, but I feel like I am part of the majority, not the minority. Jaffa is in my opinion, Israel’s best-kept secret. It is coexistence, minus coexistence propaganda. The shared life is organic there, not forced and no one talks it to death. Yeah, I get the political difference between East Jerusalem and Jaffa- believe me, I live it and don’t need a lecture. Yet the fact that no one shows hourly feeds of Jaffa or for that matter, Haifa (ultimate city of coexistence) attracts me even more. There is no Hasbara (fancy name for Israel advocacy where you explain Israel- WTF…). People are just simply living their lives and are not really cognizant of an organized attempt to sell the success of authentic peace to the world. I dig it.
I remember thinking that if Jerusalem is the heart of the land of Israel, then Tel Aviv is the mind. I no longer see it that way at all. Where I live, UN employees driving their paid for SUV’s surround me. I have EU members in my hood, meddlesome Christian NGO’s who whisper soft, delicate anti-Semitism and thousands of tourists. All the while, the peace industry swarms here like flies to shit. They are so busy solving the issue that isn’t theirs to solve (I am not even sure it needs solving, but that’s a different blog). These groups I have just identified wouldn’t know peace if it was staring at them in the face. We do have a version of peace here. It simply is not a Western style of peace, it is uniquely our peace. There is peaceful existence all over this country between Jews and Arabs. Just because Area C and Jerusalem is the core of the conflict, the world thinks greater Israel is at war. This is so false.
I honestly think that if the peace industry would vacate Jerusalem, things would be better here for everyone. I’m not 100% sure I am leaving Jerusalem because of the Haredim’s judging eyes, the Rabbinate foothold, the Palestinians resentment, the know-it-all NGO’s, the soft spoken anti-Semitic European Christians or the UN. Collectively though- I am spent.
I gave up on activism many months ago. It’s weird when I run into someone who recognizes me and asks why I’ve quit. I still run my 1jewess blog, I just don’t do activism, and I don’t do hasbara. I do Israel. Imagine for a moment if we just started doing Israel. This means people have quit reading my blog since it’s not so political anymore- says a shit ton, eh?
I used to get invited to peace conferences and people would consult me for my opinion (lol). No one seeks me out as much and it’s interesting because I think that what I do now is so much more valuable and fulfilling.
All I know is that when I am in Jaffa, it’s like 10 tons have lifted off me. If the world really gave a shit about a decent peace model here, they’d go to these other cities and see that we already have it.