There is a small area of Tel Aviv just outside the walls of Jaffa and within a stone’s throw of the sea which is saturated with the recent history of the Holy Land. It is here that names like Mark Twain, Gustav Eiffel, the German Kaiser, Herzl, Rothschild, Peter Ustinov’s grandfather and Thomas Cook can be linked together.
Neve Tzedek ("Oasis of Justice") is the first Jewish neighborhood of Tel Aviv. It was founded in 1887 by Aharon Shlush, a businessman who wanted to escape the crowded Jaffa, 22 years before the city of Tel Aviv was founded.
The neighborhood retained much of its old charm, although is has gone yuppie in the past years and became one of the most expensive areas of the city. Neve Tzedek is a cultural and culinary center located next to southern part of the Tel Aviv beach. Each spot of this renovated area is a gem, and a tour of the narrow lanes and winding streets, through its restored homes and shops, is a great experience.
Many intellectuals and artists chose to dwell and to create here. The Nobel Prize winning author and poet Shmuel Yosef Agnon, his fellow writer Haim Brener and Nahum Gutman, a famous Tel Aviv artist who captured the spirit of its early days, were all residents, and the works of Gutman can be found in the Gutman Museum in the neighborhood..
One of the most interesting spots in Neve Zedek is the famous Suzanne Dellal Center, one of the most important Tel Aviv theatrical and cultural centers. Suzanne Dellal is the home for Israel’s famous BatSheva Dance Company and BatSheva Ensemble, and catching a dance there is always recommended.
There are many small decorative cafes, bars and restaurants in Neve Zedek. Suzanna Café is a restaurant with a nice terrace near the Suzanne Dellal Center. In Michelle bar you will find nice breakfast in the morning and friendly atmosphere, occasionally accompanied by live acts in the evening. Nina is a vegetarian café that has a nice corner location and appetizing organic food and sandwiches. Another dining option is Bellini, a great Italian restaurant with an open kitchen and nice views.
The story begins in 1866 when a group of 35 families from the Church of the Messiah in Jonesport in the State of Maine in the United States followed their leader George Adams to establish the Jaffa American Colony. They had arrived on the three-masted sailing barque Nellie Chapin and unloaded their prefabricated wooden houses onto the sea shore. There was a small hill nearby, and it is here that they erected their dwellings ‘to take the lead in developing its great resources’. When they arrived, they discovered that Adams drank heavily and that his claims of rich lands and prosperity were untrue. The colony Mark Twain remarked on a visit in 1967 was ‘a complete fiasco’. Many left and Adams disappeared, but the colony lived on and amazingly some of the houses still stand to this day. Much of their real estate was sold to the newly arriving German Templars in 1869 and the property became known as the German Colony.
An Israeli documentary film made about 15 years ago got many of the descendants to open up about their family history and begin to take pride in it. In 2002 Jean and Reed Holmes saved one of the wooden houses from destruction, restored it and opened the Maine Friendship House and Museum. Nearby is the house in which lived Naftali Herz Inber, the composer of Hatikvah. Rolla Floyd who had arrived in Jaffa with a stage coach and opened a branch of Thomas Cook also stayed here. The American Colony is now undergoing some serious gentrification with The Village development nearby constructed in the style of the original dwellings.
Maine Friendship House Tel Aviv dating from 1866
Next to the Museum on Auerbach Street stands the Immanuel Church. The building dates back to 1904 and its first Protestant congregation to 1858. The strongly built sandstone building is noted for its fine blue and white stained glass windows and fine organ.
Over the road, a mission outpost was established which later became an infirmary and a school. Many of the sick Maine colonists were treated there. Plato Ustinov a Russian aristocrat came to Jaffa and established his palace and the Hotel du Park nearby where he housed the German Emperor Kaiser Wilhelm II with his wife Augusta Victoria and it was here in 1898 that he met Theodore Herzl. Baron Rothschild was also a guest in the Hotel du Park. Shai Agnon came here looking for work. Ustinov’s son Jonas is the father of actor Peter Ustinov. The building still stands next to the guest house and heritage centre known as Beit Immanuel. A botanical park was established with Bengali ficus trees, which is still there and under whose shade we sheltered. One of the photographs in the hostel shows orange groves surrounding the colony with the adjacent sea shore and the town of Jaffa nearby.
Crossing Rehov Eilat we entered the Tachanah. Hidden for many years behind overgrown trees, the area was rediscovered in 2001 and has undergone a profound restoration prompted by strong support from mayor Huldai. The site was once the Mediterranean terminus of the Jaffa to Jerusalem Railway, the first railway in the Middle East. It was opened to much fanfare in 1892 and immediately proved a success and was a powerful stimulus for the growth of Jerusalem conveying much needed building materials. The 49 acre complex consists of 22 buildings including the historic train station, freight yard, railway tracks and the Templar Wieland’s factory and home. Two of the original carriages stand on the tracks. Careful examination inside the station building designed by Gustav Eiffel reveals an inscription ‘Waiting Room’ in French and outside ironwork inscribed ‘Made in Paris’. The area now combines a mixture of history, commerce and culture, with a good selection of restaurants and bars, boutiques and art. The centre is now a major tourist attraction, and there are plans afoot for significant extensions which will link it to the German Colony nearby.
Down the road the is the Susan Dellal Dance Center established on the site of the Alliance, Yechiel and Lewinski school buildings. The main square has orange trees, palms and the original old narrow water channels.
A mural with three sections on the wall of the Center shows characters from the past including
Chief Rabbi HaKohen Kook, Rav Kook's exceptional appeal to all sectors of the city may be seen in the picturesque testimony of the painter Nachum Gutman (1898-1980). Gutman, known as 'the artist of early Tel Aviv,' arrived in Jaffa in 1905, and spent his childhood close to Rav Kook's home in the Neve Tzedek neighborhood.
"Rav Kook's house was a few hundred steps from our home. His house was enclosed with a whitewashed fence. There was a gate to the courtyard, a small garden inside, and a well of water. Just the sight of the house conveyed an atmosphere of serenity and celebration. Through the open windows of the house, we could hear the sounds of Jews studying Torah. And when the figure of Rav Kook would appear in the opening of the gate, as he readied himself to walk to synagogue — this image at the gate would always take my breath away."
"As a child I adored him, because of his beauty, his noble serenity, and his unwavering poise. His persona fascinated me so much, that I would literally follow after him, placing my feet in the footprints that he left in the sand. ... I never met another man like that, a rabbi who knew how to attract people from all sectors and factions. What a figure he was!"
Yosef Haim Brenner and
Aharon Chelouche, the founder of Neve Tzedek, and the Herzlia Gymnasium. He bought land at the north east side of Jaffa known today as Neve Tzedek.