Every city has at least as many stories as it has residents. Tel Aviv has a particularly strong and problematic relation to storytelling, given that the city was, in a sense, first envisioned in fiction, in Theodore Herzl's Altneuland, published before the founding of Achusat Bayit (Tel Aviv's first neighborhood) in 1909. Nachum Sokolov's 1902 Hebrew translation of Herzl's utopian futuristic novel was called Tel Aviv,2 and this title was the inspiration behind Sheinken's suggestion for the town's new name in 1910. Writing about Tel Aviv, it seems, has always been haunted by the city's origins as a fictional construct. Nonetheless, Tel Aviv exists quite palpably and in increasingly diverse and noisy fashion; it has, in many ways, left fiction behind.
My own reading of Tel Aviv is an attempt to formulate a descriptive poetics which both respects the presence of the past in the city's physical plane, and pays attention to its contemporary cultural and social landscape. My essay will focus on Rothschild Boulevard and the surrounding neighborhood of Achusat Bayit. It is structured as a kind of visual walking tour of sites and episodes in the city's history, as represented in fiction, photography, painting, guidebooks and public art. I first introduce elements of the city's offcial history. I then offer several examples that I believe counter or correct that history with a more nuanced appreciation, both of Tel Aviv's ambivalence toward its own origins, as well as the enormous variety of cultural expression in the city.
As the “first Hebrew city, ” writers, painters, photographers and city planners created an image of Tel Aviv as new, clean and modern—everything the crowded neighborhoods of Jaffa were not—a____________________