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05/19/2020 06:02:39 PM


Michael Greenfield

Walk with me. Because to learn a city, you really need to walk its streets, and the story of Tel Aviv is written in its streets. It's a pre-COVID walk. The Nachalat Binyamin market is open. The Yemenite woman who makes the flatbread is there baking. If I had to guess, I'd say she's a bit older than the state, a bit younger than the city. I said Yemenite so you're going to want to tell me that her bread is malawach, but it's not. It's thinner. Thinner than a tortilla. It’s huge and it's hot and she folds it in quarters for you and you eat it and it's so unadorned and perfect that it changes your life like a baked koan of simplicity and wonder. Which should tide you over until we get where we're going.
Where we're going is Sabich Frishman. Or Falafel Frishman. I want sabich, but they're side by side on Frishman Street so get whichever you like. The street, by the way, is named for the writer David Frishman who wrote about Israel after visiting in 1911.
1911 is also the year that Meir Dizengoff became town planner of Tel Aviv, though he's probably more famous for having founded the city and for becoming its first mayor. In 1917, just 40 miles east, at the close of World War I, the Ottoman forces left Jerusalem in too much of a hurry to formally surrender to General Edmund Allenby. They wrote him a Dear John letter and disappeared into the night, but the Jews of the city welcomed him with hope for what might come next. The future King George was only 22 at the time (Tel Aviv was only 8), and it would be two more decades before George took the throne and became ruler of the British Mandate in Palestine (also King of England, I suppose). He was still king in 1948 when Ben Gurion declared Israel's independence in the former home of Mayor Meir, the building we now know as Independence Hall.
Sorry. You're hungry and I'm feeding you history. Let's walk. North from Nachalat Binyamin to King George St. and then north on Allenby St. If you see Hummus HaBayit on the right, you're going the right way. If you can't read Hebrew, that's okay - just look for an English sign that says, "2nd Best Hummus in Israel". Brilliant, if you ask me. Let everyone else argue over the #1 hummus, which is more or less the Israeli national pastime.
Back in the earlier days of the Mandate, the national pastime was poetry. When Shaul Tchernichovsky moved there from the Ukraine in 1933, he worked as a doctor in Tel Aviv which later became every Jewish mother's dream, but doctoring in early Tel Aviv was just a way to pay the bills. The prestige was definitely reserved for the poets. In "Oh, My Land! My Birthplace!" he finally got it. The final stanza reads,
Oh, heart-warming land!
The briers and the thorns.
A white-washed fountain, an orphaned spring.
In the sky, there is an eagle.
Rags of desert and of sand.
The road is sown with incense.
In a sea of light everything is sinking
And over everything, pale blue.
Anyway, we're turning right here on Tchernichovsky St., then we'll go left on Dizengoff St., through Dizengoff Square, named for Meir's wife, by the way, her name was Tzina, left on Frishman St. and you'll see it on the left. Falafel and sabich. Two shops. Side by side. One building. Funny story about that, by the way. Two guys owned the shop. It was a huge hit, but they couldn't get along. Argued. Fought. Couldn't resolve their differences. Finally built a wall down the middle of the restaurant and each took one side. Separate registers. Two sets of outdoor tables on either side of a fence. But even that didn't work. One of them finally left and started a new place a few blocks south on this street. Right over there, Sabich Tchernichovsky. See that tiny shop? As good or better than Frishman. But no tables. Just enough room to cook, and you can eat against that counter if you don't mind standing inches from the people still ordering. And if you want falafel, there's a place right over there, a few doors down, see that? Fantastic place. And they's like a fried potato cigar in the pita. What do you think? Eat here or keep going?
Stay connected to each other, stay connected to Israel, be well, make hummus, and let me know if there's anything I can do to help.
Fri, June 21 2024 15 Sivan 5784