I can't remember the last time the Sunday travel section of The New York Times considered Israel as a destination for intrepid tourists. It was definitely years ago, perhaps in the 1990s sometime, once the Oslo Accords had been signed and the world seemed to ease up on Israel a little.
In fact, I can count on the fingers of one hand the occasions in the last 10 years when the paper, in any of its many sections, whether the daily incarnation or the massive Sunday edition, has spoken favorably in any way about Israel. In fact, I might not even be able to use up all the fingers on that one hand.
But something positive did appear in the Nov. 5 travel section. It was just a small item on page four, a quirky little piece about a quirky little neighborhood in Tel Aviv called Neve Tzedek, which can be found behind the city's beachfront hotels.
The author, Sarah Wildman, noted that until the late 1990s, Israelis had little reason to visit "the crooked back streets" of Neve Tzedek, a "humble quarter" that was "the first to rise on the sand dunes near Jaffa" as Tel Aviv began taking shape as an urban center. But Neve Tzedek's significance waned as the 20th century wore on.
"Quirky terra-cotta buildings, once home to writers and artists, crumbled in the salty Mediterranean air. Bright yellow signs dotted the streets, admonishing visitors to keep the Sabbath holy, signs of the quiet Orthodox Jewish population that settled there."
But in recent years, according to Wildman, the neighborhood has seen a return to its bohemian roots, as a century of neglect has been replaced by a thriving artists' enclave. "Spurred by the 1989 opening of the Suzanne Dallal Center for Dance and Theater … ever hipper restaurants and boutiques began popping up along streets barely wide enough for cars to pass, creating an oasis of tranquility in the midst of a frenetic and often stressful city.
"The heart of Neve Tzedek's new scene," continued the author, "revolves around winding Shabazi Street, where paint still peels in strips from unretouched walls. Spanish-style red-tiled roofs give visitors the feeling of having stumbled upon a village — albeit one where everyone looks like a choreographer or dancer, in tight tank tops and loose-fitting pants."
Wildman listed some of the cafes, clubs and shops that dot the narrow streets, providing the attendant addresses and phone numbers, then returned to describing what makes the area distinctive.
"These businesses first catered to dancers, painters and potters, but other Israelis, tired of the Miami-style clubs and restaurants throughout the city, soon arrived. 'It's become more posh, and more popular for Israelis from outside Tel Aviv,' " said Yotam Cohen, manager at Tazza D'Oro," one of the popular espresso bars in Neve Tzedek.
The author suggested that the best way to experience the neighborhood is to return at night, "when the streets pulsate with performancegoers, bar-hoppers and diners."