Tel Aviv Celebrates / 100 Years of Sanity

Here in Kikar Rabin, we played soccer as kids. It wasn't 100 years ago, just a bit less, but it was a long time ago. Even the tamarisk tree that served as a goalpost has been replaced by an olive tree, and the gravel lot of yore has become a smooth stone plaza.

If the "protests of 400,000" of 27 years ago to condemn the Sabra and Chatila massacres indeed drew 400,000 people, it seems last night the crowd was even greater. But this time they came not to protest but to celebrate. There were no organized shuttles, no political placards. This was a holiday for normality and sanity, whether real or imagined.

Even the heavy security - you couldn't even bring in a bike - already seems "normal." Tel Aviv's adopted resident Zubin Mehta conducted the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and before he laid down his baton, a recording was played of another adopted hometown boy, Aris San, singing, "Tel Aviv, Tel Aviv, blue sea - you're my everything, Tel Aviv" in his heavy Greek accent.

Even the MC, Mayor Ron Huldai, like many of his predecessors was not born in the city, but on Kibbutz Hulda, whose name he bears. Even he seemed truly moved. Rumor has it that he was determined to be reelected last year so he could preside over the city's centennial celebrations.

Many others in attendance last night were not born in Tel Aviv. They do not know which gate hides the mulberry tree, whose leaves we kids used to pluck and feed to pet silkworms we raised in shoeboxes, before we watched them embark on that most magical of biological journeys and emerge as moths.

The municipality building, with its unsightly communist architecture, was never particularly handsome, but last night it looked glorious as it breathed smoke and fire, launching fireworks into the night sky.

This was a polished celebration - never mind the populist discourse of profligate spending. This was a top-quality spectacle, with wonderful songs and wonderfully few speeches, a celebration shorn of history and pathos. It isn't difficult to imagine how a similar celebration would have been played out in Jerusalem, for example.

Haim Ramon walked around without bodyguards and Huldai was without his entourage, perhaps the last accessible politician we have left.

"I have sympathy for those who do their best in Tel Aviv, I have sympathy for those who struggle in Tel Aviv, I have sympathy for those who feel in Tel Aviv," wrote the pioneering Hebrew poet Meir Wieseltier.

Last night I was moved in Tel Aviv. A villa in the jungle is our beloved city, Israel's only island of normality and liberalism - call it a bubble if you like.