Quick! Name a city in France. Name one in England, in the U.S.
If you’ve chosen Paris, London and New York, you’re not alone. Which is to say, in Israel, it’s all about Tel-Aviv. The city here is nicknamed the “Country of Tel-Aviv,” as if to say, there are two countries in Israel: Tel-Aviv and all the rest.
Urbanization is at an extreme pace in and around Tel-Aviv. People flock to it in numbers, for jobs, for a way of life. The young and the restless are willing to put up with rented apartments that are small even for pigeons, put up with leaky plumbing, peeling paint, no elevator, no parking, no privacy.
The city has a buzz. It’s where you live, work and play. The city’s not homogeneous; it has its rich sections and poor sections. Rothschild Blvd is the line in the sand. To the north of it: cafes, museums, theaters. To the south: slums.
But you’d be hard pressed to find a place to live, even in the south of Tel-Aviv. Competition is cut-throat. Put an online ad for an available apartment and there will be hundreds of applicants at the doorstep willing to bid up the rent.
Centralization has gone mad. Years ago Israel’s main population centers stretched from what was known as “From Gadera to Hadera, ” referring to “border towns” 25 miles south and north of Tel-Aviv. Today, it’s been reduced to about a 10 mile radius around Tel-Aviv.
Everyone’s climbing over each other’s back to get into Tel-Aviv. Skyscrapers, 40 and 50 stories high, are going up. Old, rundown neighborhoods are being gentrified with lots of new and old money.
Forbes Magazine in its Hebrew edition ran a survey of the 10 best cities in Israel.
Number 1? Tel Aviv.
All the remaining 9 are within spitting distance from Tel Aviv (Herzelia, Givataim, Ramat Gan, Raanana, Kfar Saba, Rishon Le Zion, Holon, Bat-Yam).
Forbes’ criteria was clear-cut: educational level, ratio of university graduates, centrality vs. the boondocks, access to art, green space, employment opportunities, income, longevity.
Towns and villages in Israel did not see kindly the results of the survey. ”What about the quality of life in the countryside?”
In 2011 my wife and I and two of my four daughters moved from Los Angeles to Israel, to Kfar Tavor, to Galilee. Even then, in the U.S., at the mention of Galilee, more so Kfar Tavor, the common response was: “Wow, what a quality community you’re moving to! Well done!”
Kfar Tavor evokes positive and emotional feelings far beyond its 4000 residents. It has history. It CREATED history, established in 1901 by European Jews who wanted to work the land.
Even here, even now, when I visit family and acquaintances in Bat-Yam ( 2 miles from Tel Aviv! ) — to them Kfar Tavor sounds romantic, rural, green, pure, the Old Country that was lost in 21st century Israel.
A national survey of Israel’s “Non-Metropolitan” communities shared the sentiment: it placed Kfar Tavor near the top of the pile.
Yet, as a resident and the owner of a nice home that overlooks the fields of Kfar Tavor, I sometimes question their judgment. And their taste.
Yes, Kfar Tavor is nice if you enjoy going for long walks among olive groves, almond orchards, vineyards. Kfar Tavor is nice if you want to explore great bike trails. It’s close to streams and rivers, to the mountains of Galilee. Around our home there are Jewish communities, kibbutzim, and Arab villages.
Kfar Tavor has celery, onion and parsley fields, olives, almonds, grapes, figs, irrigation pipes and sprinklers, a water treatment facility, a sports center, a soccer field, a swimming pool, a community center for performances, an elementary school, one library, one post-office, kindergartens, senior center, two clinics, two synagogues, a town hall, mini-market, one butcher, one kiosk, one gym, one pizza delivery joint, one Chinese Take-Out, one sit-down restaurant, one cafe, one winemaker and cellars, one hair salon for women (men walk bald), one clothing store for women (men walk naked), one-one-one-one, and lots of dogs doing their business wherever the hell they please.
Kfar Tavor IS the Tel-Aviv of the rural countryside.
Absurd, but true.
Jews and Arabs come to shop here. Kibbutzniks come to watch a play or a recital. Junior and adult basketball teams hold their tournaments here.
We’re on top of the pile.
Yet I itch for the allure of the big city. With Pnina, my wife, it’s worse. Her itch has developed into a skin rash. She craves the big city.
I want to see colors other than gray, the predominant color in people’s hair in Kfar Tavor.
I want to see styles of clothes that don’t resemble biblical sandals and Kibbutz overalls.
I want to see slick, fast cars, not John Deere tractors.
I want to hear languages other than Hebrew and Arabic.
I want to see summer dresses, bikinis, cleavage; I want to smell bus fumes (?), perfume, aftershave, salt air, the sea.
And I don’t want to drive two hours one-way to Tel-Aviv to get my fill of the big city. And yet we do. We book a hotel night once a month, go with the girls, see the city, cringe at the noise, jaywalk, drink a beer at a cafe, savor a great cup of coffee, try the many dishes, run in the sand on the beach. And when it’s all done, we pile into the car, drive the two-hour ride through coastal highways, through vast meadows and hillsides, through Arab towns and villages until we see the dome of Mt. Tavor.
We got our lungs full with Tel-Aviv oxygen. Until next month.
It’s nighttime in Kfar Tavor.
Millions of stars.
Crickets, any one?
Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teen-age daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.
He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at Amazon.com or BN.com.