Bet haTfutzot (Museum of the Diaspora)
We’re starting to get the hang of life in Tel Aviv. We found our way to the correct bus stop and purchased two all-day passes. Then it was a quick ride up to Ramat Aviv and the campus of Tel Aviv University where I spent a full academic year (1973/4). I’m afraid I see more and more evidence that I have aged, but it is striking to me when I arrive somewhere I should know and nothing looks familiar. I did remember the street on which I had rented a room in an apartment–Brodetzky. Its perhaps not surprising that I don’t recall much of the campus since there has been quite a few changes there.
On the campus of the University stands Bet haTfutzot, the Museum of the Diaspora. I had seen it once before when it was brand new and something of a technological marvel. It’s a museum without any original exhibits–everything is either audio/visual, facsimile or recreations. A few of the religious artifacts may be authentic, but most are not. In spite of the artificiality, this is a moving and vibrant museum. As I viewed it this time, I realized that the Internet has replaced some of the need. The slide shows and short films that were so marvelous to me back in the day could now be placed on the Net to good purpose and there would be no need to see these things in the museum. The recreations and facsimiles, on the other hand, retain their existential power. It is still better to see a scale model of the complex of buildings used by the Vilna Gaon than it is to see a slide or a film of the same scene. Some of the scenes are half scale, and a few are full scale recreations. Due to my interest in model trains, I found the level of craftsmanship and detail of these buildings nothing short of marvelous.
The other thing that is a bit odd about Bet haTfutzot is that it is actually a museum of everything that is not Israel. The term “Diaspora” refers to the Jewish communities of the world, not Israel. So this is a museum where you can discover the medieval communities of Algiers and Colchin (India), view a scale model of the Frank Lloyd Wright synagogue of Elkins Park, Pennsylvania, or listen to Jewish music from just about everywhere except Israel!
Terri and I spent 5 hours exploring the museum and we finally had to leave without seeing all that we thought might be worth seeing.
A short trek across campus took us to a student restaurant. The place features discounted food for enrolled students–unfortunately I had left my 1973 student ID card back in Ann Arbor–it might have been worth a laugh to present it to our waitress who probably wasn’t born until 10 years after that. Terri had a delicious qinoa with roasted vegetables and I had what was labeled a chicken sandwich. My sandwich came with fresh home made whole grain bread, a delicious red pepper sauce and a fresh green salad. The prices were a little high, but I guess no worse than what I’m used to on the Ann Arbor campus and the food was better.
Exploring Old Tel Aviv
After a brief return home during which Terri whipped up a dinner of eggs and veggies we decided to take a walking tour of nighttime Tel Aviv. Back on the same 25 bus that started from Ramat Aviv and we were soon at the intersection of Allenby and Rothschild. Another couple of blocks along Rothschild took us to Hertzl Street where we met our guide Doron. Doron was a fount of information on the buildings in the area. He took us first to the old Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neve Tzedeq, showed us the site of the first all-Hebrew school in the country and spun tales of the days of the founders of the city. Unlike other areas of Israel, practically nothing in Tel Aviv antedates 1909 so the history lessons are a bit shorter and more colorful than they are in other places. We learned a lot about the Bauhaus and eclectic architectural styles and the importance of facing balconies to the west to catch the cool summer breezes. We also heard a bit about a character who made multiple sex changes and probably more gender shifts, a wealthy prominent citizen whose beloved took two years to convert to Judaism only to lose her life to a bee sting a few months after marriage, and a woman who confessed to stealing 250 million something–I couldn’t quite catch what unit of currency.
After the talk and walk concluded, we caught the number 4 bus back to our part of the city and ate ice cream at an outdoor cafe watching the many people still out and about close to 11pm.
Yes, we’re starting to get the hang of living in Tel Aviv!