“אם אשכחך ירושלים, זה בגלל תל אביב,” (If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, it is because of Tel Aviv) read a magnet displayed at the bustling Nachalat Binyamin crafts fair in Tel Aviv. Seeing this on my recent trip to Israel, I laughed at the lighthearted adaptation of “אם אשכחך ירושלים, תשכח ימיני” (If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let me forget my right hand).
Remembering the quip later on, I realized that there is actually some truth to it. Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are the two most prominent cities in Israel, and yet they are completely different. Jerusalem is revered for its holiness, the home of the Kotel and the center of several religions. Tel Aviv is just the opposite—completely irreverent, with a plethora of non-kosher restaurants (almost unheard of in Jerusalem!) and an exciting nightlife. The buildings in Jerusalem are all made of the famous Jerusalem stone, whereas Tel Aviv is a center of Bauhaus architecture. Jerusalem is a city of old, while Tel Aviv is a city of new.
Jerusalem is a city of conflict, filled with political issues between the groups President Reuven Rivlin famously described as the “four tribes:” Arabs, national religious Jews, secular Jews and Charedim. Who can daven at the Kotel and how? Should embassies be in Jerusalem with government buildings? Who should control the Old City? On the other hand, Tel Aviv is a city of unity and the center of a vibrant Israeli community that shows the strength of the Jewish people. Tel Aviv is an almost entirely Jewish city with a large percentage of secular Jews, and young Israelis are increasingly choosing to live there.
Religiously, Jerusalem is the center of Zionism. The city is the holiest place in the world for the Jewish people, bursting with history. Jews constantly pray for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem.
I will never forget Jerusalem, but I will always remember Tel Aviv.
However, Zionism is not exclusively religious, it is also cultural. Zionism creates a home for every Jew, whether religious or not, creating a proud Jewish national identity. Personally, I feel this more in Tel Aviv than in Jerusalem. Before the state was established, chalutzim (Jewish pioneers) came to Israel and built the city, turning what was previously swampland into a beautiful city. Looking at the spotless beaches and bustling city, no one would guess what it looked like 110 years ago. Zionism is the idea that the Jewish people can build a country where we are independent and sovereign, protecting us from persecution and allowing us autonomy. Tel Aviv fulfills that goal, complete with a tourism industry, beach, cultural cuisine and “Silicon Wadi”—the Israeli Silicon Valley. The city is the peak of Jewish strength and unity.
Jerusalem will never cease to be important to the Jewish people, always remaining our religious capital of the world and holding our roots. However, in some ways, Tel Aviv is the future, the pulse of the country. I will never forget Jerusalem, but I will always remember Tel Aviv.
Josephine Schizer is a sophomore at Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan. She is also a member of the Fresh Ink for Teens’ Editorial Board.