The History of Tel Aviv

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Tel Aviv-Jaffa

One hundred years ago Tel Aviv was a sand dune. Then in 1910 David ben Gurion and other Jews founded the new city next to the old city of Jaffa and called it Ahuyat Bayit. Jaffa means beautiful. It may well be the oldest city in Israel, for legend has it that it founded by Japheth, one of the three sons of Noah. (His other sons were Ham and Sem. Hence the phrase “anti-Semite”, meaning an opponent of the Jews, who are all reputedly the descendants of Sem.)

Jaffa was the port used by King Solomon to bring the cedars of Lebanon to Israel for constructing the first Temple.

If you are acquainted with the book of Jonah, which we read on Yom Kippur, you will recall that the prophet Jonah sailed from Jaffa, only to be tossed overboard and swallowed by a whale. (True story.)

Not far from Jaffa is Caesarea, named after the Roman emperors who took the name of Julius Caesar and used it as a title. Julius was the family name and Caesar the first name of the murdered dictator. The German Emperor also called himself Kaiser since the Latin C is pronounced K. The Czar of Russia also called himself Caesar as Czar is the Russian equivalent of Caesar. Caesarea was founded by the Jewish King Herod, who ruled at the whim of the Roman Emperor.

After the decline of the Roman Empire the Moslems and later European Crusaders revitalized Jaffa, which then declined until the 19th century when the Turks ruled there. From then on Jaffa increased its population dramatically, so that it was extremely crowded at the beginning of the 20th Century. It was then that the Jews of Jaffa decided to move to their own city next to Jaffa. They changed the name of that city from Ahuyat Bayit to Tel Aviv or Hill of Spring .

In 1916 the Turks who then ruled in Israel evacuated Tel Aviv. However, one year later the British invaded Israel after the Turks were defeated in the First World War on the side of the Germans. The Jews then returned to Tel Aviv. In 1921 the Arabs of Jaffa attacked the small Jewish community there so that all the Jaffa Jews moved to Tel Aviv. Consequently Tel Aviv achieved a population of 45,000. Twenty years later, in 1941, Tel Aviv had a population of 145,000, as refugees from Nazi occupied Europe increased the population of Israel generally.

In 1948 Tel Aviv was declared the capital of Israel when David ben Gurion proclaimed the re-establishment of Israeli independence on May 5 of that year. At that time, Tel Aviv had a population of 200,000. Then, in 1949, Israel returned to Jerusalem and the capital was moved to the city of David, which had been the capital of Israel for over 1000 years. One year later, in 1950, Tel Aviv and Jaffa were merged and became one municipality.  

Today, greater Tel Aviv includes a number of suburbs like Holon, PetachTikvah, Bat Yam, Bene Barak and Ramat Gan, so that the greater Tel Aviv community has 1.1 million people.

Tel Aviv has the highest standard of living of any city in Israel. It is the New York of Israel in that it is the commercial and financial center of the country. Tel Aviv is also the industrial center of Israel, where textiles, clothing, chemicals, metal working, motor vehicles and electronic equipment are produced.

Tel Aviv is also the seat of the Stock Exchange and the Diamond Exchange. The Israel Philharmonic Orchestra is at home in Tel Aviv as is the Habimah National Theater and the University of Tel Aviv. The Shalom Tower, built in 1957, is in Tel Aviv. It is Israel’s tallest building, with an observation deck at 433 feet. There are also several museums in Tel Aviv and the home of David ben Gurion is there. It contains a library of 20,000 volumes.

The home of Eliyahu Golomb, founder of the Haganah, is also in Tel Aviv. It contains an exhibit of weapons and other artifacts concerning the struggle for independence.

Most important is that Tel Aviv was the first all Jewish city in the world when it was founded. That meant that at its founding Jews governed themselves for the first time since the destruction of Israel by the Romans 1900 years before.

Be sure to spend some time in Tel Aviv on your next trip to Israel and take courage from all that the Jewish people have achieved there in just one century. Tel Aviv is a symbol of Jewish competence and Jewish endurance despite all enmity and all obstacles placed in our way.

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2002).

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