New in Haifa, Tel Aviv Hipsters 'Live a Life of Coexistence'

Despite Haifa’s dull image as a city of retirees and blue-collar workers, some of the new immigrants are satisfied, citing the lower rents, the social life, the views and the business opportunities.

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A Haifa beach.
A Haifa beach.Credit: Hagai Frid

Although Haifans no longer “go to bed at 10 P.M. sharp because they don’t want to waste electricity,” as city native David Broza sang (in an album from 1982) to Jonathan Geffen’s lyrics, to many the song still seems to capture the character of the city.

But despite Haifa’s dull image as a city of retirees and blue-collar workers, some of the new immigrants are satisfied. They mostly cite the lower rents, the social life, the views and the business opportunities.

“At first I really wanted to bring Tel Aviv to Haifa. Today I understand that Haifa has magic I’d like to bring to Tel Aviv,” says Issar Ariel (Tennenbaum), 50-something and a former drummer in Rockfour, who moved to Haifa three years ago. The view of Mount Carmel makes him feel as though he’s abroad, he says.

“Here I’m creating here in a forest, instead of among brothels and drug addicts,” he says. He organized the Rock 100 Live festival, which was held this year for the third time, and set up a music school, Rock City. He’s also working on a solo album.

“People think everyone loves Tel Aviv, but that’s not true,” says Noga Veiman, 32. “Some people have fled from Tel Aviv, but don’t talk about it because it’s supposed to be so cool.” She studied in Haifa, moved to Tel Aviv, returned to Haifa and a year ago was forced to go back to Tel Aviv for work. “If I could I’d stay in Haifa,” she says. “There’s something much more relaxed about it.”

Young residents of Tel Aviv gather to discuss moving to Haifa, September 2016.Credit: David Bachar

For example, Masada Street, in Hadar, is two blocks from an Arab neighborhood on one side and an ultra-Orthodox Jewish one on the other. Her partner, Yotam Ronen, who recently moved to Tel Aviv, says Haifa is his favorite city in the world, after London. “We had everything at our doorstep — government offices, pubs, cafes.”

Central Bureau of Statistics’ figures show that while 4,419 people aged 20 to 45 moved to Haifa last year, 5,305 people left, continuing a recent trend.

Bar Karti, a musician, 28, returned to Tel Aviv two weeks ago spending two years in Haifa. “At first I had a really good time there. Masada Street has a kibbutz atmosphere of friends and music, performances and street parties,” he says. It was also easier for him to make a living in Haifa. But he thinks Tel Aviv offers more opportunities and admits Haifa bored him a little.

Employment is a major problem in Haifa, and many of the new residents work in Tel Aviv or elsewhere. Assaf Ironi and his wife Na’ama, both lawyers, moved to Haifa with their children in July, after 11 years in Herzliya. Assaf’s law firm has offices in Tel Aviv and Haifa, and twice a week he takes the train to Tel Aviv. Na’ama works in Tel Aviv. They bought an apartment in Neot Peres, a new neighborhood in south Haifa, “near the railway station, close to work,” says Assaf. “Even the Tel Aviv hipsters could find their place downtown or in Hadar,” he says. The neighborhood is mixed, with young newcomers, older people who traded their homes on Mount Carmel for a seaside apartment, Jews and Arabs.

Assaf Ironi. 'Even the Tel Aviv hipsters could find their place.'Credit: Rami Shllush

“In Tel Aviv they like to talk about differences and accepting everyone,” says Adi Zur, 39, who moved to Haifa six years ago after 13 years in Tel Aviv. A graduate student at the University of Haifa, she teaches at a city high schools. “I have Druze, Russians and Ethiopians in my class — some from good neighborhoods and some from bad.”

In Haifa “you don’t speak of coexistence, you live in coexistence,” she says. You can sit in a café and hear Arab music “and it’s the most natural thing in the world. Haifa is like a sleeping beauty, full of hidden corners.”

Adi Zur. 'I have Druze, Russians and Ethiopians in my class – some from good neighborhoods and some from bad.'Credit: Rami Shllush

Sharon Ben David, 34, who returned to Haifa about two years ago after a decade in Tel Aviv, talks of the variety of people living together in mutual respect. “The Gerre community is two streets down from me and they wish me Shabbat Shalom when I pass. You can live in a sane way here.”

And yet in some respects Haifa still lags behind its big sister. Zur misses Israeli designers’ shops. “Even if there’s a branch of something Tel Avivian, it’s a small one and I’m used to the main one that has everything,” she says.

A 30-something woman who has lived in Haifa for three years says she’s worried less about the culture than she is about Haifa’s air pollution. “I don’t need studies to prove the petrochemical industry shouldn’t be near a residential area,” she says. “Once the air here is clean the whole state will want to move here.”

Ben Riftin, 33, moved to Haifa four years ago and opened Syrup, a bar with live music that quickly became an institution. He closed it a year ago and is opening a new place. He also owns Pizza Linga. “If you do something good in Haifa it works. In Tel Aviv it may not work,” he says, adding, “people who want to spend money on food still go to Tel Aviv.”

Ben Riftin. 'If you do something good in Haifa it works.'Credit: Rami Shllush

Yael Nahum, a designer, 36, lives in Shikmona, a mainly Arab area by the beach. She moved to Haifa five years ago, after several years in Tel Aviv, and remembers the move as traumatic. “Without a car it’s hard to manage in this neighborhood,” she says.

Haifa is still blue-collar town, she says. “Even when the city sponsors events, at 11:30 P.M. they fold up the chairs.” Still, she has no intention of returning to Tel Aviv. “I’m in a different place today,” she says. “But I do miss the lifestyle I had there, which is impossible in Haifa.”