A Tour of Tel Aviv's Storied Neve Tzedek Neighborhood

Literary giants, avant-garde films and culinary delights await in the narrow alleyways of this historic and colorful place.

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Opposite the Eden cinema is the famous and story-filled Rokach Street. Apart from its narrow-street charm, the road has important Israeli cultural sites. The first is the house of Shimon Rokach, who established Ezrat Israel, founded public institutions and even purchased the land for the Trumpeldor cemetery. This building, at Rokach 36, was built in 1887 as part of the original homes in the neighborhood, and over the years it expanded to a second floor topped by a copper dome.

Rokach's sons were public activists and his granddaughter, the sculptress Leah Majaro-Mintz, bought the home in 1984 and renovated it on her own. At present, it serves as a showcase for her work and other displays related to the history of the family and the neighborhood.

The Nachum Gutman Museum in Neve Tzedek. Credit: David Bachar

At the corner of Rokach and Chelouche streets is Beit Abulafia, which served as a cultural institution of sorts. Shlomo Abulafia, who was an authority on Arabic and customs of the East and was the representative of the Jews in Jaffa, passed away before the land could be parceled up, and his wife Rivka Abulafia moved into the home with their eight children.

Following her husband's death, she fired the Arab worker who was employed in their home, but permitted him to use the family name. Following his dismissal, he founded the Abulafia bakery, a success story to this day.

In 1909, Rivka rented her attic to Shmuel Czaczkes, who became friendly with the men of letters of the neighborhood, and amused himself by trying his hand at Hebrew literature. For a long while, he courted Margalit, a granddaughter of Aharon Chelouche. But the old jewelry maker refused to let the two meet, as Czaczkes had given the impression of being the poor, struggling artist, and the pairing would have crossed ethnic lines. Czaczkes was left brokenhearted, and went on to write a book about unrequited love, entitled "And the Crooked Shall Be Made Straight," which gained him the reputation of bona fide Hebrew author. In the same attic, he also wrote the book "Agunot," from which he derived his Hebrew name – Agnon.

Rokach House, Shimon Rokach 36, Neve Tzedek. Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10:00-16:00, Friday and Saturday 10:00-14:00. Guiding for groups available upon prior arrangement.

Israeli avant-garde in southern Tel Aviv

The next stop on the tour is situated in a building that was once called "Writer's House," at Rokach 21. In this building lived the writers Brenner, Yosef Aharonovitz and Dvora Baron, cultural collaborators in the creation of Tel Aviv. In this building they ran the editorial office of Hapoel Hatzair, which constituted the literary focal point of the new city.

Dvora, who suffered from the trauma of the expulsion from Jaffa , closeted herself in her apartment for 40 years, and asked that upon her death all of her writings be burned. Brenner was murdered in the bloody riots of 1921.

Over the years, the building was neglected, until in 1992 the family of Nachum Gutman, in collaboration with the Jewish National Fund, decided to dedicate the building to the painter's memory. In 2008, a new wing was added to the building, doubling its floor space. This permitted the addition of workshops for children, a book and gift shop, a lecture hall and more display space.

The Eden Cinema in Neve Tzedek. Credit: Eyal Toueg

Now showing in the western wing of the Nachum Gutman Museum is an exhibition entitled "The Third Eye: Jacques Katmor Is Wishing You a Good Death." Katmor immigrated to Israel in 1960, bringing with him influences from the French avant-garde culture, including poetry, literature, abstract and surrealistic painting, literalist cinema, experimental cinema and abundant European spirit. Along with the photographer Amnon Salomon, he created an exhibition that combines photographic extracts, what would now be called video art, and together they created the first Israeli film to be accepted at the Venice Film Festival – "Mikreh Isha."

Years later, Ann Tochmeyer, Katmor's second wife, initiated him to the world of drugs and free sex, and together the couple formed around them a group of artists that would evolve into a quasi-commune, quasi-cult that would be called The Third Eye. They disconnected themselves from mainstream Israeli society, and immersed into a flower-children lifestyle that mainly comprised art and drugs.

Following the Yom Kippur War, the artists' group splintered and scattered around the world. Katmor is to this day considered a provocative artist, a subversive outsider who never succeeded in fitting in. Nor did receive much acceptance or appreciation.

The exhibition presents a broad variety of the works of Katmor and The Third Eye, which includes famous works of art such as 'Mikreh Isha' and 'The Fools.' Similarly, the exhibition will feature photographs, works never before seen, journals, installations that survived, drawings, paintings, comics and collages.

The exhibition, which combines numerous media, reveals that during this period of time they were part of something that extended beyond the Zionist enterprise; they engaged in a creative life based on a different sort of presence, one that was fascinating and replete with contradiction.

Katmor's works show a great deal of nudity and emotion, death and acceptance, abstract psychedelic drawings, precise art and pop art, all the while offering a studied glimpse of a fractured Israeli society. His cinema was subversive, experimental and ground-breaking, a hyper-surrealistic psychedelic cinema with documentary technique.

The exhibition attempts to cast a light on the enigma that surrounds Katmor, to explore the paths of self-destruction and the creative oeuvre that emerged from them, and the mythology around his artwork. It restores the first inter-disciplinary artist in Israel to our consciousness.

"The Third Eye: Jacques Katmor Is Wishing You a Good Death," until May 19. Nachum Gutman Museum, Shimon Rokach 21, Tel Aviv. Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10:00-16:00, Friday 10:00-14:00. No admission charge, Saturday 10:00-15:00.

And after an exhibition about hallucinatory drugs and sex organs, there is nothing better than finishing with a good meal. Most of the establishments in Neve Tzedek offering themselves to urban ramblers are found in the beautiful alleys that lead to Suzanne Dellal; an expansive space that is inviting and pleasant, around which are found numerous places catering to the hungry. Clinging to the fact that clichés exist simply because they are right, it is worthwhile to quell those hunger pangs at the legendary Suzanna, at Shabazi 9.

If by chance you haven't yet had the opportunity, Suzanna is a Mediterranean bistro restaurant that offers a selection of delicious food that is perfect for the winter: kubbeh soups, a selections of cold and hot appetizers, stuffed vegetables, stews, grilled dishes, salads and sweets. You can also spare yourself the wasted time of making the tough menu decisions – lots of people come to Suzanna for the kubbeh in pumpkin soup.

Should your hunger be more modest, you can address it at the Dellal Bakery, at Kol Yisrael Haverim 7, a bakery that takes Israeli nostalgia and whips it through a delicious European process. If only for the aroma alone, it is worth stopping by for a visit. It is also possible to sample from the finest fresh breads baked on-site, the hot cakes and pastries, the pies and sandwiches and savory items. On Fridays, one can also purchase challot.

Suzanna, Shabazi 9, Neve Tzedek. Hours: Sunday-Saturday 10:00 to 02:00.

Read this article in Hebrew