Just Above Sunset
July 2, 2006 - The House of Justice

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A new photo essay from Our Man in Tel-Aviv - Sylvain Ubersfeld - a visit to a place time forgot, and should not have forgotten. Seven high-resolution photos follow the text.

Since the days of David against Goliath, the world Justice has been an important part of Judaism.  Tzedakka (the action of obeying God's command by always doing things in a "rightful" fashion) is a word with meaning, especially in observing neighborhoods in which "shnorrers" (professional beggars) would always find a "tzaddik" (a rightful person) to provide him or her with a few coins, regardless of the era and the place and the country ,from Poland to Hungary, from Saragosse to Thessaloniki.  To convince oneself of the importance of Justice, one can take a quick look at the buildings located in the center of Tel Aviv along Ibn Gvirol street, just to have a look at the shining copper plates screwed on the walls and bearing the names of hundred of lawyers.  Each "man of the law" has its own specialized field of competence ranging from divorce to claims against municipal services (a sure winner in the state of Israel!) and religious matters.  Of course in Israel, like anywhere in the world, there are tribunals, court-cases, justice halls humming with life and arguments, there are people getting divorced (it takes a hell of a long time here because marriages are religious and religion still bears a heavy weight on the life of non-observant people), and there are also people getting sentenced to jail, just as in Capetown, Paris or London.


But "my" house of Justice, the one I love the best, is not where people get into fights or where lawyers appear in court in an attempt to defend their clients.  It is an other one, located in the south of Tel Aviv, far away from noise and agitation - Neve Tzeddek - where time has stopped, where the soul can rest and the eyes take pleasure in watching testimonies of time definitely gone by.  It is a few acres still protected from madness, where life goes on at a slow pace.


Neve Tzeddek (The House of Justice) is an expensive although partially derelict neighborhood. No one would ever dream of buying a house there for at least three good reasons - it is far too expensive, there is nothing for sale, there is no way that one can park a car.  However, there are at the same time at least six good reason why anyone with the right soul and the proper frame of mind (and of course a fat bank account) would want to buy a house in one of the Neve Tzedekk small streets:


1) It is so incredibly quiet that one can forget one lives in a major capital.

2) There is a flavor of times gone by.

3) There are plenty of cats sleeping under the sun.

4) There are fantastic small restaurants where one can experience unexpected encounters of the fourth kind (what can it be?).

5) It is located very close to "Nanouchka"- a Georgian bar known for alcoholic debauchery and wild women especially on Sunday nights (once of these wild women held my hand in her hand while I was lighting up her cigarette!).

6) There are small plazas where silence becomes a real blessing and a true medication for both mind and body. 


Neve Tzeddek is suspended in time.  We know that there was a "before", we do not want even to speak about an "after" for fear of what will certainly happen - old houses are bound to be destroyed and fortunes will be made by a selected few in the trading of land; new and fake "old houses" will certainly rise from the ground while the "old stones," the ones impregnated with sweet memories, will end up in the sea as waves break a few yards away from the Tel-Aviv shore line! (*)  The very idea of these changes is definitely a distressing thought.  There is definitely a specific style in Neve Tzeddek, a style which belong only to that very part Tel Aviv, a style than cannot be fully described because the words do not exist in books of architecture, a style that only the heart can understand for each house, in each street corner loaded with emotions. Far from the "Bauhaus" type of housing, the buildings of Neve Tzeddek bear their own unique style - Neve Tzeddakian!


Neve Tzeddek is home to small shops selling expensive stuff catering to the selected few with enough money to afford shopping there, but this little "village within the town" has managed to  stay away from the traditional tourist paths.  Neve Tzeddek is not a place that you can discover, even on your own, unless you have put enough effort and time to love the old houses and the dusty narrow streets.  Unless your heart is fully available to take all the emotions floating in the old streets, unless you eyes are wide open and ready to look at things rather than just watch, you will not be able to fully grasp "what goes on" there . Neve Tzeddek is like a bride and one needs to be like a bridegroom - ready for the encounter, ready for the emotion of a unique discovery.   Neve Tzeddek is a magic place but it requires a special  key to enter that magic kingdom.   One cannot enter the neighborhood in luxury leather shoes, expensive outfits and wearing gold jewels.  One can only enter the area in sneakers, short pants, a short-sleeve shirt and with an open heart.  Unless one follows these simple instructions, Neve Tzeddek will close itself up and one will simply pass by its narrow streets without feeling anything.


What goes on there?  No one really knows and why should one care?  But one has to discover it according to one's own personality and one's soul.  In Neve Tzeddek, even houses speak.  Some of the derelict places tell stories such as the one of these Hungarian Jews who left their country hidden in a cart loaded with bails of hay and managed to reach Venice and board a steamer loaded with sheep going to Beyrouth in 1938 - or that of this young couple who ended up in Shabazi street five and a half weeks after escaping a raid by the Gestapo in Paris - they had saved their lives by hiding into a bordello near the Madeleine church in the center of the French Capital.  The houses also speak of the immigration of the Jews from North Africa, those French speaking Jews who enjoyed settling in the quiet area of Neve Tzeddek, far away from the center of Tel Aviv.


Under the baking sun, stray cats do not have to worry about their daily food.  There will certainly be one or two "tzaddiks" or some old grandmother to cater for their appetite.  In return for the "mitzvoths" (plural of Mitzvah, a command by God ), the cats of Neve Tzeddek have sworn they'll never leave the area, and this is good news as without  the cats, Neve Tzeddek would loose a bit of its soul.  


The little village talks to the heart of the newlyweds.  Several times a week, freshly married couples come to the area to have their pictures or their video taken by one of the professional agencies catering to special occasions of this kind, but although their bodies are standing up near "Restaurant Suzanah," their soul is somewhere else .  In the entire Tel Aviv area, space is a scarcity.  Luxury hotels do not have any free parking areas, streets are packed with cars, and even private parking areas under your own building may be used by people foreign to your area.  Space in Tel Aviv is a luxury, and expensive one that is.  But for some reason no one really cares about space in Neve Tzeddek - the place itself does not relate to our time or our era.  Knowing the dangers of the unprotected crossroads, Tel Aviv drivers appear more careful and tolerant when crossing the village.  Pedestrians are slow to walk as they enjoy the stroll in the area.  Every now and then one can hear the sound of a radio somewhere in a backyard.  The baking sun of the early afternoon puts everyone to sleep, including cats and dogs - it is the right time for lovers to meet behind the closed wooden shutters of an old Neve Tzeddek house.  Across the Suzane Delal center (**), the ice cream parlor is deserted.  The landlord is annoyed at the emptiness of the shop during siesta time.  But don't worry, his shop will soon fill up with the young kids from the neighboring French school Marc Chagall (***).  In that House of Justice all comes timely to those who wait.





(*) Located on the most eastern part of the Mediterranean, the Tel Aviv shoreline is known for its unpredictable waves, especially in winter season.  The municipality has poured hundreds of tons of rocks about 300 meters from the shore at selected locations, to protect swimmers and beachgoers from the seasonal seven foot waves and in an effort to reduce the drastic effect of currents.  Each year several kids drown along the Israeli coast.


(**) The Suzanne DELAL center, located in the heart of Neve Tzeddek is a center for dance and culture.


(***) The College Marc Chagall is the French school of Tel Aviv.  It is operated in close cooperation with the French embassy.  There, no more than one hundred French kids share their time between learning, pigging out during breaks in neighboring sandwich places, and surfing at Chinky beach right after school.


The Gallery -


A cat on guard duty in front of a house being rebuilt -

Cat - Neve Tzeddek - Israel

A derelict place worth a lot in Neve Tzeddek -

A derelict place worth a lot in Neve Tzeddek -

A typical view of Neve Tzeddek with its unique style -

A typical view of Neve Tzeddek ...

Learning Hebrew is optional at the French school -

Learning Hebrew is optional at the French school -

Lovers behind closed shutters at siesta time -

Lovers behind closed shutters at siesta time -

Moroccan art shop in Neve Tzeddek, for the wealthy -

Moroccan art shop in Neve Tzeddek, for the wealthy

Remnants of time gone by, old houses are being destroyed -

Remnants of time gone by, old houses ...

Photos and Text, Copyright 2006 - Sylvain Ubersfeld

Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik

The inclusion of any text from others is quotation for the purpose of illustration and commentary, as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law.  See the Legal Notice Regarding Fair Use for the relevant citation.
Timestamp for this version of this issue below (Pacific Time) -

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