Rothschild Boulevard - Aviad Bar-Nes
Tel Aviv's Rothschild Boulevard. Photo by Aviad Bar-Nes
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At the end of his visit to Israel in 1927, Sholem Asch, a leading Yiddish writer, wrote his impressions of Tel Aviv. "When you walk on the street, a Jew is walking in front of you; a Jew is walking behind you. Wherever you don't look, Jewish eyes are watching you. It is a strange feeling you experience while walking the streets of Tel Aviv knowing that from one end of the city to the other, you are surrounded by Jews, like in a synagogue or a beit midrash (house of study); it is like a synagogue on the street. You can do anything, say anything. I swear I myself had the urge to utter the slur Zhid (Jew boy)."

Tel Aviv may be known as the first Hebrew city, whose residents often struggled with the language of Eastern European Jews, but from its early days, a glorious Yiddish culture thrived there. Yaad Biran, a researcher of Yiddish culture and a tour guide calls the city "a forgotten city, Jewish and cosmopolitan, exciting and entertaining."

On May 4, Biran will lead "Between Yiddish-land and Alte-neue Land," a new tour of Tel Aviv under the auspices of the Discover Tel Aviv Center. Biran explains, "We will see the city together with the Yiddish writers who visited or lived there and wrote about it with wisdom and humor in their mother tongue." The tour will feature writers such as Sholem Asch and Hayyim Nachman Bialik, and Jewish organizations such as the Bund and Poalei Zion, as well as the Schund Theater and the satirical performances of the Yiddish comic duo of Dzigan and Shumacher. The meeting place is the founders' monument on Rothschild Street at 10:00.

Yiddish writers who came to Palestine in the early 20th century, either to visit or to live, left behind a treasure trove of Yiddish travel journals. The young and vibrant city left a deep impression on them, but also gave them an odd feeling; they were not accustomed to being in a city that offers Jewish life outside a closed religious community. Their stories, which will be presented on the new tour, describe Tel Aviv from a fresh perspective.

One such writer was Der Tunkeler (Yosef Tunkel ). In 1931, after visiting Tel Aviv, he wrote, "The knowledge that the city is yours and its residents are Jews, and that you can speak simple Yiddish with everyone, makes you feel at home. The pharmacist, the dentist, the maid, the ticket taker, the police commander, the bank manager, even the waiter or the barber or the girl working in the little grocery store ... speak to you in Yiddish."

Biran notes that the Yiddish writers who visited Tel Aviv wrote in their native language for the general public. This was in contrast to Hebrew writing, whose readership was fairly limited beyond Israel. "While Hebrew writing served the Zionist ideology, Yiddish writers who came from diverse backgrounds spoke more freely about the good and bad things in the Zionist enterprise, and they reveal to us a bit of the complex history and of the different aspects of the long and contradictory process in which Jews turned into Israelis," says Biran.