Tel Aviv’s Young Internationals Struggle to Keep the Party Going

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An Iron Dome missile flies through the sky above Tel Aviv to intercept a missile fired from Gaza, July 12, 2014.Credit: David Bachar

Every Tuesday night, Tel Aviv’s trendiest boutique hotel hosts a pop-up gallery to acquaint the city’s young international community with local artists. Until recently, this weekly happening at the Brown TLV also included a party, complete with bar specials and a disc jockey.

Two weeks ago, Tel Aviv Arts Council, the non-profit that runs “Art*Star Tuesdays,” decided to skip the partying and stick just to art. “It didn’t feel right with everything going on,” explains Ari Fruchter, a former New Yorker active in the organization. “So we got rid of the DJ for now.”

For the 20,000 or so young internationals who call Tel Aviv home, the city’s world-renowned nightlife is a key draw. But many, like Fruchter, are simply not in the mood to party with the sounds of sirens wailing in the background and the death toll rising by the hour in Israel’s latest war in Gaza.

Athena Karp, a 28-year-old former Philadelphian who runs her own startup in the city, says her usually very active social life has slowed down in recent weeks, but especially since the Israeli ground incursion, when it began affecting her friends, colleagues and employees more directly. “We were supposed to have a going away party for a friend who was leaving the country, and we decided to cancel it,” reports Karp, who moved to Tel Aviv two years ago. “A few of my friends also had birthdays, but we didn’t throw any parties for them. We just felt this wasn’t a time for celebrations.”

In recent years, Tel Aviv has replaced Jerusalem as the main hub for young internationals on extended stays in Israel, the overwhelming majority of them English-speakers. Many are drawn by the employment opportunities available at high-tech companies located in and around the city. Others have come to study in the growing list of English-language programs offered by its institutes of higher education. Still others are lured by its spectacular beaches, restaurants and clubs.

Most of them did not envision living under rocket fire as part of the deal. Nor did they consider the possibility that newly made friends would suddenly be whisked away to dangerous combat zones.

Which is why the close-knit community they’ve created for themselves has become especially valuable these days, says Jay Schultz, the founder and director of TLV Internationals, an umbrella organization for several nonprofits that target the growing community of internationals, organizing for its members events as diverse as Shabbat dinners, lectures on politics and culture and off-the-record conversations with government leaders.

“When we first created this organization, the idea was to give all these newcomers to the city a support system and sense of community, since many of them are here on their own with no family,” he notes. “At times like this, that becomes even more important.”

Often referred to as the “other mayor” of Tel Aviv, Schultz says he’s not aware of any members of the city’s international community picking up and leaving in wake of the war. Nor has his organization canceled any of its scheduled events. “In fact, we’ve added extra ones,” he says. “People keep asking me what they can do to help. So one thing we’ve been doing is organizing buses to take people to the funerals of the lone soldiers who were killed and also to visit the lone soldiers injured and in hospitals. We’ve also started collecting toys for children in the kibbutzim on the border.”

Eytan Schwartz, a senior adviser on international affairs to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, says he’s impressed with how the community has been holding up. “They seem to be as alert and calm as veteran Israelis,” he notes, “the one exception being that veteran Israelis are already used to sirens, and for many of these internationals, this is the first time they’ve experienced such a thing.”

Ross Belfer, a 28-year-old public relations executive from New York, is considered by many in the international community to be a leading connoisseur of Tel Aviv nightlife. Last night, he reports, he attended a party with a live DJ at Kuli Alma, a new popular club in town, which was still packed when he left at 1:30.

“To be frank, it’s difficult to go out and party after you hear that soldiers have died,” he says, “but on the other hand, people are looking for ways to escape the reality of the situation.”

He did notice, he says, that last night for the first time, there were fewer people out and about in town. “That might be because there aren’t the usual number of tourists around this time of year. And that could explain why about 75 percent of the people at the club last night were Israelis, whereas usually it’s half Israeli and half internationals.”

Because he has no family in Israel, Belfer says he is especially inclined these days to seek out the company of other internationals. “We find respite together,” he notes.

Fruchter concurs. “Because many of us don’t have family here, we kind of feel lost and are trying to figure things out,” he says. “While going out and partying doesn’t quite feel like the right thing to do, on the flip side, it’s important for the economy that we get out, and it also gives people like us a sense of community.”

Karp believes that Americans like her who have a wide network of Israeli connections cope better with the situation. “There’s very little fear among the Israelis, and I find their resilience almost inspiring,” she says.

The most recent recruit at her startup, which employs mainly Israelis, is Ryan Daniels, a 22-year-old graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, who arrived in Israel a week before the latest hostilities erupted. “At first it was scary when the sirens sounded, but when I saw how unfazed the Israelis were, it changed my mood and I haven’t felt unsafe since,” he says.

Daniels says he isn’t allowing the war to stop him from enjoying the Tel Aviv nightlife. “Sometimes it seems not the right thing to do, to be going out, but I just follow what my Israeli friends are doing, and they seem OK with it,” he notes.

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