Tel Aviv Travel Photos: The Bubble

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Welcome to Tel Aviv 6136798113 l 252x167 Tel Aviv Travel Photos: The Bubble

As I’ve written about in the past, my first visit to the state of Israel was less than charmed, most of it wasted at the northern border crossing with Jordan. The tension in the air there was palpable and lingered with me even as I traveled to and through the old city of Jerusalem.

I was clear before setting foot on Israeli soil a second time that I would only visit Tel Aviv, which would hopefully limit my exposure to the fearful, paranoid and ultimately unwelcoming reception I’d gotten during my previous trip. And it did, in spades.

Walking the streets of Tel Aviv, you’d never know there was a 5,000-year Holy War going on a few hours away. Tel Aviv is a bubble in that way. One on hand, it’s separate and enclosed; On the other, its thin veil makes it vulnerable and delicate.

To say it another way, I almost feel that the rest of Israel is something of a shield for the Tel Aviv bubble. And Tel Aviv is definitely a bubble worth shielding: It represents the the very best of what’s possible in the Middle East, the actions of Israel’s government notwithstanding.

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I immediately knew I was in for a different experience when the first Israeli soldier I encountered (if you don’t count the immigration staff at Ben Gurion Airport, that is) begged me to take her picture, rather than asking me if I’d visited Lebanon and if so, why. This encounter, which occurred literally within hours of my landing in Tel Aviv, seemed to foreshadow a second Israel experience devoid of detention and questioning.

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What I found funny as my first day back in Israel progressed was that in spite of there being less outward nervousness or animosity in Tel Aviv — in fact, there seemed to be almost none — Israeli national fervor was incredibly conspicuous. This began before I even arrived in the center of the city. Itay, a sexy 20-something I’d met on the flight inbound from Athens, informed me that the cross of David he wore around his neck wasn’t there for religious reasons. “Being Israeli is all I have,” he said. “It’s all we have. We’re surrounded by people who’ve wanted our destruction for 5,000 years. I am eternally proud of being Israeli.”

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I spent my second day in Tel Aviv exploring the most touristy part of the city with my friend Assaf, whom I’d met in South America earlier that year. The first stop was Benedict, a breakfast eatery on Rothschild Boulevard, where housing protests from the early summer were still raging. More interesting to me than people living in tents in the median of Israel’s answer to Fifth Avenue was the obvious discord between the city’s present and future the street embodied. Skyscrapers were rising up everywhere, casting their shadows on the quaint cafés and quirky Bahaus architecture that sets Tel Aviv apart from the concrete jungles of the rest of the developed world. As Assaf informed me, “Most of the people who are going to be living in these buildings are wealthy foreign Jews — they aren’t even Israelis.”

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Seeing Israelis having fun in Israel was also a novelty to me. After all, my experiences at the border area and even in Jerusalem had mostly been with armed, expressionless soldiers and other foreign tourists. Be it their love for pets (as seen above) or the city’s wild nightlife, people in Tel Aviv know how to have a good time — and they make it a point to do so. As a friend so eloquently noted, “The day a bomb falls on the street of Tel Aviv, it’s all over anyway. So we live our lives as if we’re not afraid.” Carpe diem!

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Another interesting aspect of Tel Aviv was the interspersing of Orthodox Jews there. Prior to visiting, I’d assumed that they would be both unwelcome and out of place in liberal, forward-thinking Tel Aviv. To be sure, I only ran into them rounding the occasional street corner and at places like this pomegranate stand at Carmel Market. To a non-Hebrew speaker (such as myself, and probably you), this may look like little more than a pretty picture with some pretty Hebrew writing. Its message is also pretty, religious overtones notwithstanding. “Who you are, how you are, the one who is holy loves you truly.”

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Isn’t it beautiful? At the end of the day, one of the things I appreciate most about Tel Aviv is how incredibly pretty is it — architecture, people, its being situated right on the Mediterranean, everything. The abject beauty of Tel Aviv alone was enough to make me feel at peace the entire time I was there. It’s almost eerie to think that a massive war is being waged a couple hours down the coast from here in Gaza.

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One of Tel Aviv’s highlights for tourists and locals alike is the old Arab city of Jaffa, located near the southern extremity of the city’s Mediterranean coast. Jaffa’s architecture notwithstanding, the neighborhood was inspiring me to because of the fact that Jews and Arabs live side by side there, presumably entirely at peace with one another. Indeed, I almost never encountered conflict of any kind in Tel Aviv, which seems so strange when you consider the endless stalemate that exists between Israel and all of its neighbors. If cities in the Middle East can’t aspire to be like Tel Aviv itself, then I think Jaffa is a good model to follow.

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When all was said and done, I was extremely sad to leave Tel Aviv. It wasn’t just the beach or the boys or the colorful streets and homes that made me feel that way, although the city was definitely tops in all those categories. In fact, I felt that I had perfectly fulfilled my mission of returning to Israel for a second time; I had gotten the “other side of the story.” My first time there had exposed me to the very worst Israel and the Israelis had to offers; Tel Aviv is the very best. I wish images like the ones I’ve shared with you today were the picture not only that Israel’s enemies could see, but also that Israel itself would use market its mission statement for the Middle East — which, I think, is an ultimately beneficial one — to the rest of the world.

Robert Schrader
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.
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