Tel Aviv is known as the “White City” and “The City That Never Stops”. Not only is Tel Aviv the metropolitan and capitalist hub of Israel, but it is also rich in history and serves as the pinnacle of Zionist achievements. If Jerusalem is the renewed, yet ancient Jewish capital of Israel, Tel Aviv is its metropolis, Israel’s own Hong Kong.
A Conglomeration of Neighborhoods
The construction of Tel Aviv was the result of a broad demographic phenomenon that took place in Israel during the 19th century called “leaving of the walls.” The phrase “leaving of the walls” refers to the old walls of the Old City of Jerusalem, Jaffa and Haifa. With the increased security and economic prosperity provided by the Ottoman authorities and Western trade, Jews, Christians, and Muslims began to leave the confines of the walled area of these cities. The city residents who left the walls established neighborhoods, businesses, and institutions in new, cleaner areas, and thus began to enjoy an overall better quality of life.
In Jaffa, the first Jewish neighborhoods that were established outside the walls included Neve Tzedek and Neve Shalom. In 1909, the neighborhood Achuzat Bayit was established north of the city of Jaffa. This neighborhood was initially meant to provide a comfortable and relaxing area for Jaffa residents, just outside the city, with houses, parks, and trees.However, there were a number of residents of Achuzat Bayit who had an agenda for the neighborhood that went beyond its relaxing environment. They envisioned Achuzat Bayit growing into a full-fledged metropolis that would become the “Jewish New York”, a 100% Hebrew or Jewish city. That meant that the population would be overwhelmingly Jewish, and Hebrew would be infused into the culture and would serve as the city’s spoken language.
In 1910, the name of the neighborhood was changed to Tel Aviv, “Tel” meaning an archaeological mound and “Aviv” meaning spring. The name Tel Aviv was based off of the book “Old-New Land” written by Zionist leader Theodor Herzl. Herzl’s book envisioned Israel as a modernized country that would be brought to life by an ancient Jewish people. Some of the founders of Tel Aviv saw this city as having a similar future.
Although Tel Aviv was not yet an independently functioning city before World War One, many other Jewish neighborhoods established themselves outside the walls of ancient Jaffa, and linked themselves to the Tel Aviv municipality. Although Tel Aviv was very much dependent on Jaffa for all critical means such as commerce, taxes, and municipal services, the population of Tel Aviv still grew substantially.
Tel Aviv during this time was not the bustling city it would become in subsequent decades. Many poets and residents who lived in Tel Aviv before World War One referred to the Tel Aviv of this time as “Little Tel Aviv” as opposed to the “Big Tel Aviv” that they envisioned would emerge later on. The most historically significant feature of “Little Tel Aviv” was the Gymnasia Herzlia, Israel’s first Hebrew gymnasium (high school) established in 1905.
The Jewish Cultural, Economic And Political Hub, or Tel Aviv Takes Off
When the British overtook the land of Israel from the Ottomans at the end of World War One, Tel Aviv was still just a part of the city of Jaffa. The area of Tel Aviv had practically no autonomous commerce and or legal activity. Jaffa served as the city where residents of these neighborhoods would come to conduct their necessary business.
In 1921, The British Mandate changed the status of Tel Aviv when the city was given partial independence and became legally recognized as a “township”. Then, in 1934, Tel Aviv was granted official recognition as a municipal city. Tel Aviv could now charge its own taxes, provide its own services, and conduct its own business, independent of Jaffa.
The establishment of Tel Aviv as an independent municipality had very positive repercussions on the city’s growth. Tens of thousands of middle and upper class Jews moved to Tel Aviv and established businesses within the city. As a result, the population of Tel Aviv grew exponentially from 3,600 in 1914 to 120,000 in 1936.
From 1918 to 1948, Tel Aviv grew to become the second most populated city in Israel after Jerusalem. Many of Israel’s major banks and political and commercial newspapers established headquarters in Tel Aviv. Industry, places of leisure, and coffee houses grew all over the city of Tel Aviv as well. Tel Aviv’s architecture also enjoyed a renaissance, as a number of residential buildings were built in the popular Bauhaus style – white block buildings with simple shapes. These Bauhaus buildings earned Tel Aviv the name the ‘white city’ and Tel Aviv received international cultural recognition from UNESCO in 2003.
Tel Aviv became an important political center as well. Many Zionist political parties established branches within the city, including the Zionist labor union and the main Jewish militia – the Haganah. Tel Aviv’s most important political moment occurred on May 14th, 1948 when David Ben-Gurion read Israel’s Declaration of Independence in Tel Aviv, signifying the official establishment of the State of Israel.
A Cosmopolitan Center
Tel Aviv’s cultural and commercial life continued to grow after the establishment of the State of Israel. In the 1950s, a number of important museums were constructed in Tel Aviv such as the Land of Israel Museum and the Tel Aviv Museum. Furthermore, Tel Aviv became a major academic hub when Tel Aviv University was founded in 1959. Today, Tel Aviv University has the highest number of students out of any other university in Israel.
Between the 1950s and 1980s, the demographics of Tel Aviv shifted. Younger people began to leave the city to live elsewhere. To stop this outflow, Tel Aviv began to remake itself and appeal to a younger population. In 1989, Tel Aviv took on the name “the city that never stops”. Office building were converted into rentable apartments, more places of leisure were established, and Tel Aviv quickly gained international reputation as a city of leisure. Young people and couples started moving back into the city which reversed the city’s population decline.
Today, Tel Aviv continues to hold its reputation as an international hot spot, with beaches, pubs and a wide variety of cultural events. It has certainly fulfilled its founder’s dreams which were to create a “Hebrew New York”—a city that never stops.