A group of young adults filled the living room of an apartment in Tel Aviv’s old northside Thursday evening. The apartment, spacious for one belonging to a young tenant in the city, filled up very quickly. Ziv de Paz, who rents the apartment and was hosting the meeting, had hooked a small speaker to her cellphone and was playing a song about Haifa. Officially people had been invited who are interested in moving to Haifa. But three young people standing by the refreshment table, near the potato chips, Goldstar beer and arak-spiked grapefruit juice, talked about European passports.
De Paz, originally from a moshav and a Tel Aviv resident for the past eight years, is moving to Haifa soon with her partner. She said it was something she decided for ideological reasons and now she wants others to join her.
“It’s been cooking for seven years,” she says, adding that there’s a political element too; in recent years she has tended more to the right. “But before settling the hills,” she says, referring to the West Bank, people should settle outside of Tel Aviv. “It’s dangerous for all the young people to concentrate in the ‘state of Tel Aviv,’” she says. “It’s a bit pretentious, but we can call it ‘pioneering.’”
Pioneering? Yes, she says. “It’s leaving your comfort zone. Taking responsibility and not complaining. Not waiting for the state. We’re the state. The 20-somethings and 30-somethings, we are the backbone of the next leadership. So we don’t have swamps to drain or cholera to cure, but we have other challenges.” De Paz opens the meeting with a piece that she wrote, beginning with a poem of praise to Tel Aviv and then describing all the bad things in it. She read out the calculation of what she spends annually on rent (65,000 shekels, or $17,211) and asks “in the name of what?” She then points to her walls and says, “In the name of an illusion.”
She says Haifa is a city where one can live free from the rat race, and when she finished her presentation she played another song about the green of Mount Carmel on which Haifa sits.
A member of the opposition on the Haifa City Council, Dr. Einat Kalish Rotem, who came to the meeting to encourage the movement, couldn’t help herself. “Pretty soon the green mountain will turn into concrete,” she mutters But then she comes to her senses and tells everyone, “If there’s still a place in Israel that can turn into the next city, it’s Haifa.”
Kalish Rotem talked a lot about the architecture. She talked about cities she visited as an architect and city planner, and added the comparison so obvious in a meeting like this: “Haifa is really our country’s opportunity to create Berlin.”
The meeting went along a bit sleepily until a young guy, a new Haifa resident, said he paid 850 shekels for a room in an apartment with roommates. People perked up. “We’re a generation of homeless people. This apartment, as much as it’s falling apart, is worth 2.5 million shekels.” Kalish Rotem said there are apartments in Haifa that cost one fifth of that.
The 'creative class'
To their credit, the participants were not so blinded by the housing costs that they were willing to give up on other things. They raised the issue of pollution in Haifa, employment, the high municipal taxes, and of course, the image. People talked about the “creative class” (which they see themselves a part of) as a class that could define the character of the city. That is, not poor workers and not the wealthy. Attempts to discover what exactly they created brought up mainly graffiti.
After all the issues were covered, conversation turned to an obvious heavy topic: Could the best hummus in the country be found in Haifa? A short debate produced the conclusion that Haifa has “some of the best” hummus but Haifa’s shawarma is definitely the best.
Despite the culinary advantage, by the end of the evening it didn’t seem the masses were ready to stream to Haifa. Revital and Avihai Goldstein said they were moving to Hod Hasharon, though Avihai had just finished his master’s at the University of Haifa and he said the city was “very nice.” Revital, a former Haifaite living in Tel Aviv for the past nine years, said maybe in the future. But only after saying Haifa was a sleepy city where you can’t get around without a car.
Dana Michaelson, also originally from Haifa, six years in Tel Aviv, said growing up in Haifa was “amazing,” but added, “Maybe for somebody who’s not from Haifa it’s easier to move there. If you grew up there, you know everything.” Talk of European passports attracted her more.
Two Jerusalemites at the meeting, Michal Ahrak Wine and Mor Barazani, said they would consider the move. Ahrak Wine said the meeting got her interested, but the pollution and the employment situation scared here. Barazani said Haifa might be “the next city for idealistic young people, instead of going to a development town.”
Kalish Rotem said she had received more requests for a meeting in Tel Aviv and De Paz said she was planning more meetings. When she moves to Haifa, “We’ll wake up the city,” she says. Her plan includes painting “Fireman Sam” graffiti on Haifa’s Sami Ofer Stadium and graffiti on the shell of the unfinished Bat Galim casino. “A little fun, liven things up,” she said.
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