Today started out cloudy and gray but turned into a beautiful, sunny day! We left Haifa this morning and were in traffic pretty much all the way to Tel Aviv! The sights and sounds of Tel Aviv are that of a big city -- skyscrapers, traffic jams, crowded sidewalks, buses, trains and lots and lots of people - mostly young.
Tel Aviv is a major city by any standards. It has many different "personalities." There is the high-tech sector, the university students, the international influence, and the many start-ups that are thriving in the city of Tel Aviv. But there is another, softer side of Tel Aviv, too: the gorgeous beach next to the sparkling water of the Mediterranean Sea, the Bauhaus style architecture that was the building trend when Tel Aviv was being established between 1920-1940 - even before the establishment of the State of Israel. It has a very European feel to it, too: outdoor cafes, restaurants, shops, coffee houses, boutiques, parks, and a few fabulous boulevards with walkways built in the middle of these wide streets so that people could stroll up and down the newly established streets and roads and look at the beautiful new homes. So, there are cultural reminders in Tel Aviv that one is in the Middle East, but also that it is a city of immigrants from all over the world.
We started our day at Tel Aviv University, an international university of 30,000 students in total, and Israel's number 1 research university. The campus is large and very modern. We were met by Hagit's (one of the Israeli teachers) daughter, Gal, and her boyfriend, Itamar. They are both students at Tel Aviv University. They took us to a new photography exhibition in one of the galleries at the University. It is entitled "Defense Lines" and is about different "fortification lines" and the messages that they convey -- fences, walls, border, bunkers, enemy lines -- and it is a study of the way in which people and the natural landscape work together or resist one another in creating human memories. It was an interesting perspective for our times.
We were introduced to the Tel Aviv University campus by a young woman who has been studying here in Israel and whose family is from New Jersey. She gave the students information about herself and the many programs Tel Aviv University offers students -- both Israelis and the many international students who come to Tel Aviv University as well. She pointed out the Hillel House and synagogue on campus, and spoke about the many different types of religious events, services, and activities that take place for students and for the public as well.
On the University campus are other museums, exhibitions, and cultural arts as well. One of the oldest and most well-known museums in the State of Israel is called Beit Hatefusot (Home of the Diasporas): The Museum of the Jewish People. Its hands-on, innovative exhibits tell the story of the Jewish people in a creative and engaging way for children as well as adults. Today, our students had the opportunity to learn independently and with each other about a variety of selected topics in a way that was accessible, fun and interactive for the students.
Thanks to Itay's father, we had lunch on the top floor of the Azrieli Building in Tel Aviv!!! What an amazing panoramic view of Tel Aviv. After lunch, we went to the center of Tel Aviv -- to Rothschild avenue -- for a walking tour of the city. Though we did have a guide, we actually tried something new: we had a self-guided walking tour that actually made use of tablets/ipads and that enhanced the walking tour with all kinds of interesting facts, maps, games, trivia, etc. The weather in Tel Aviv improved over the course of the day, so by the end of day, at sunset, we enjoyed some beautiful natural colors as the sun went down over the Mediterranean.
Our final stop today was Jaffa, the predecessor of Tel Aviv, and one of the most important ports in the Middle East. For a long time, Jaffa was was a predominantly Arab city. But now, it has a growing population of Israeli Jews, too. Many of the newer residents of Jaffa are people in their 20s and early 30s and would like the idea of co-existence with other peoples, nationalities and religions. Jaffa has wonderful art galleries, studios, amazing food, baked goods, and just about everything one could possibly need. We saw an unusual but very fun film introducing Jaffa and its history to the audience through a virtual reality experience that included glasses and chairs that moved in accordance with the action in the film, that helped tell the story of Jaffa. We had a few minutes to walk around the famous clock-tower at Jaffa, grab a coffee or ice cream, and get back on the bus for the 1.75 hour ride back to Haifa!!!
Tomorrow we meet and are hosted by some very unusual residents of Israel known as Druze or Druzim -- and we will visit two very special Druze villages that make very positive contributions to the life of the State of Israel.
We are having a great time and hoping that everyone at home is well and happy, too!
Rabbi Lisa Eiduson