Tel Aviv is the contrast between the old and the new. In 1909, a group of Jews left the millennia old town of Jaffa where they had resettled decades earlier after leaving their native Europe, in order to build a new city on what, at the time, were only sand dunes by the Mediterranean shores.
Tel Aviv, therefore, expresses the courage of a few—60-or-so Jewish families—to break out of the status quo, to take the risk and follow a vision with fearless courage; leaving behind the comfort of the known, of the established, to create something out of nothing. Jaffa is unique with its cobblestone streets and its ancient homes built to face the 100 degree humid weather of the summer months, the eroding power of the salty assaults of the winds from the sea and the sands of the desert around it. Building a new “suburb” to Jaffa (as Tel Aviv was originally called) on these sand dunes was a feat of untold bravery and dedication to an incredible ideal. Such commitment helps us touch, for a moment, that part of self that is reflected in the courage of these 6o families. We are moved by their story because it is our story. It reminds us that we, too, are capable of breaking through old patterns of habits and comfort; that within us are soul-energies that move us beyond our ego-bound complacency and acceptance of the status-quo, to stir us to evolve and grow beyond the rampart of our own inner old-city.
There is also a part of the story of Tel Aviv’s beginnings that sets the tone for the future of Israel. What these Jewish families did in 1909 was taking a clear stand as to what their vision was for the Jewish presence and settlement in the land of their ancestors. They moved out of Jaffa, moved out of this integrated town where Jews and Arabs lived together, to create a Jewish-only settlement. This was a clear statement of exclusion and of separation. They had a vision of a future Jewish city. They not only let go of the old in Jaffa, they let go of the idea that these two people would be able to live together in the same place. Perhaps they had already come to the conclusion that this was the sole reasonalble path to take. Whatever the case, this was an extremely powerful proclamation. The Jews were no longer willing to participate, with the local Arabs, in building together the next step in the region’s organic evolution; they were going to build something radical and new on their own. They did not see Jaffa as a potential model to create an evolutionary vision for the Middle-East wherein all its peoples would mutually benefit; they plopped-in the Western-Europe they knew (and came from) that was to be exclusively for Europeans Jews. They were recreating Europe for themselves and not creating a new Middle-East for everyone.
And if you take a panoramic glance at Tel Aviv today—a mere 100 years later—from atop the hill on which Jaffa is built, these Jews have indeed succeeded beyond their wildest dream. Tel Aviv is a prosperous international metropolis that rivals the greatest cities of the Western world. But at what cost? If Tel Aviv is to be celebrated as the symbol of the tremendous achievement of the Jews who built the State of Israel as it is today, of the success story that is the Jewish state; it is also to be appreciated as the icon of the exclusionary decisions of the Jews that (regardless of the rationale for them) have contributed to the tremendous failure in building peaceful relationships with their Arab neighbors. This is perhaps a metaphor for our own personal evolution as well. A recognition that causes us to wonder what parts of self we have rejected or failed to integrate in our own life-journey that are now the cause of tremendous inner conflict and dis-ease.
Whatever it is, Israel is definitely the kind of place that stirs within us those deep emotional connections that move us at the soul level and call us to an inwardness perhaps not available otherwise.