Heartbreak in Tel Aviv
Israel's most alive city is under fire
I have this memory. I must have been 23 or 24. I was in Tel Aviv, visiting a former flatmate from London who had made aliyah (moved to Israel). She was living on Geula St, by the beach, in a typically Tel Avivian dilapidated shithole, on the third or fourth floor. They had shawls for windows, and plastic plates for crockery. The couch was the one from downstairs – as in, from the street. Tel Aviv's streets are lined with furniture for others to take, as the generations of immigrants graduate to give way to the new. My friend had found a dining table chair outside her building. It was nothing to look at. She was an artist; a painter, and a textile worker. She had a can of gold spray paint. We were out on her balcony, trying not to cut or stab ourselves on the exteriors, and she had a genius idea. “Let's make the chair gold!” And that's what she did. Spraying away, turning someone else's junk into her newest prized possession.
I spent a few days with her, sharing a mattress, praying that the temperature would give some way at night to let our skin breathe a little better. We would get up in the morning, and go to the shuk to get tomatoes and cucumbers, a sprig of mint leaves, some lemons, and a bottle of tahini. We'd make Israeli salad, and it would last three meals. We were both waifs. In the afternoon we'd head to the beach to play volleyball or Matkot; Israeli paddleball. Anyone who knows Tel Aviv's beaches will be familiar with the sensation of closing your eyes, feeling the heat burn your face, and hearing nothing but the wooden popping that accompanies people playing Matkot. We'd gather with friends – young, young chancers – from all over the world, of all political persuasions, students of all types of disciplines, and of all sexualities and interests, and we'd send one person off for Arak and limoncello, and get day drunk on the shots. As the sun went in, we'd watch the sky play with the surf, growing closer in orange and purple hues, and we'd wander further south to the city of Jaffa, where partiers would revel on the cliffs at the edge of the beach, raving to psytrance and EDM. Along the way or much later, there might be a falafel, or perhaps a pitstop somewhere around Dizengoff to sit outside at a 24/7 cafe, and order champagne and shakshuka; which is the breakfast/lunch/dinner of champions.
One evening we went to a club. I say club, I mean basement den. I remember it was body on body. No room. No space. Just as together as togetherness can be. Israelis partying on top of Israelis, whether Jewish or not, just as throughout the land all aspects of life are thrillingly and dangerously close together. Some guy took my friend and I back to his apartment, speeding down the dead streets in his shitty car, us hanging out the windows. And after getting into a spot of bother at his place, we bolted for it on foot, running down Rothschild Boulevard at about five in the morning as the sun was coming up, and the birds were chirping, and I remember laughing. I remember laughing so hard from my belly to the tip of my head, and my friend was doing the same, and wow I've never felt more alive.
Why am I remembering this? I think most people don't have a clue what Tel Aviv is like, nevermind Israel. But more than that, I think there are too many people who don't want to know what Tel Aviv is like. Tel Aviv is a bohemian metropolis, a grid of Bauhaus architecture and modern monstrosities, adjacent to the most vibrant beach you've ever stepped foot on. It's a city for the youth, or for those who embody an energy that defies ageing. Tel Aviv is a place that is developing before your eyes, constantly growing, revolutionizing, dreaming and executing. It is a place of ideas and of dialogue, of intelligentsia and of hard labor, of study and of revelry. Tel Aviv is extreme hedonism, but it is also soul-rendering and spiritually uplifting. I can say with confidence that Tel Aviv is the coolest city on the planet.
Tonight we mourn the deaths of two people, and we pray for another eight innocent civilians who were attacked by a Palestinian terrorist during Israel's evening hours. As we mourn, Palestinians are throwing parties in downtown Ramallah and giving out candy. As we mourn, the West continues to popularize those who would like to see more of us dead, who would like to see Tel Aviv raized to the ground. And tonight I would like to address the anti-Israel crowd: the next time you say "Free Palestine", or sign a letter with BDS, or cancel a gig in Israel, I hope you know that you're on the side of evil. My family and friends will not die just so you can look cool.
It could have been any of us, sitting outside tonight at a bustling bar, suddenly witnesses or victims to a terror spree. So when the response to terror on the streets of Israel from Western media and pundits is "fuck Israel, Free Palestine", we respond with greater resilience, more defense, and all our love for am yisrael, from a Diaspora that is currently teeming in Jew hate. Jewish blood is not cheap. Israelis are us, and we are them. The hardest pill to swallow is to know that terrorists who murder Israelis can count supporters on our side of the globe in the most popular bands and pop stars and social media influencers. Doesn't make them right. It only makes them loud. Loud and ignorant and shills for fundamentalist Islamism.
At Duke University last week, keynote speaker Mohammed El-Kurd was asked what would happen to Israelis if Palestinians took all the land “from the river to the sea” and he replied “I don’t care. I truly, sincerely, don’t give a fuck.” The audience clapped and jeered. These are the democracies we live in. And by the way, did you see the terror attacks in Tel Aviv tonight on your local news? On your mainstream news? You didn’t, did you…
I don't know if it's time we start calling this a third intifada, but I do know that we're gearing up for more attacks. Israelis are living on a knife's edge with a new wave of violent incidents. I know which side I'm on; the side of peace; the side of no more bloodshed; the side of security in a Jewish nation state - the only Jewish nation state.
Sidenote: today I'm very proud to appear on this week's cover of the Jewish Journal. You're welcome to read the feature by journalist Kylie Ora Lobell here: https://jewishjournal.com/cover_story/346697/a-fearless-millennial-defending-israel-and-the-jewish-people/
Tonight I am praying for the victims. Holding onto hope for peace. But most importantly, never cowering to the popular slogans of bigots and cowards.
I use to be a "Defend Palestine! BDS!" person. Not anymore. I was missing a lot of important information & adopting knee jerk opinions.
Praying for the people of Israel today.
You are a gift in terrible times.