Last Thursday annual White Night festivities gave Tel Aviv residents the chance to celebrate and promote their various communities, from high-end cuisine and chic fashion in the more elegant environs of Rothschild Boulevard to urban theater at the gritty Central Bus Station.
Early in the evening, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai mingled with European diplomats on the Institut Francais’ balcony overlooking Rothschild Boulevard and the sun setting over the Mediterranean Sea. The well-dressed Israeli and European crowd quaffed sparkling wine cocktails and nibbled black caviar hors d’oeuvres. Paparazzi were on hand too, photographing the fashion show unfolding on the boulevard below.
The event, called “White Night Europa,” focused on Israeli-European cultural relations and was held in cooperation with the European Union.
“It’s White Night with a special European flavor,” Huldai said. “I’m sure the result will be spectacular.”
Tel Aviv’s White Night became an annual event after UNESCO declared Tel Aviv a World Heritage Site in 2003, recognizing the city center as the world’s largest concentration of Bauhaus-style architecture. The municipality now marks the event, which lasts from the early evening into the wee hours, with cultural events across the city.
This year’s White Night focused on promoting Israel’s cultural ties with the European Union amid increasing tension between Israel and Europe. Huldai made a brief statement at the Institut Francais with French ambassador Patrick Maisonnave and Lars Faaborg-Andersen, head of the European Union’s delegation to Israel.
“Europeans are not a bunch of anti-Semites,” Maisonnave said. “We love your country, especially when it is so lovable,” he said, referring to Tel Aviv’s unique vibe.
The “DeliShow” fashion and food show held below the Institut Francais featured a runway and open kitchen showcasing collaborations between Israeli and European chefs and designers. Food stands sold fish and chips, crepes, wurst and poffertjes, a kind of Dutch pancake. European flags hung from streetlights and a light show beamed a huge European Union flag onto the white facades of the surrounding Bauhaus buildings.
Over in the city’s south, lights shone at a very different kind of event.
Images of trees and flocks of birds flickered across the hulking concrete exterior of the Central Bus Station. Strings of lights were draped from telephone poles circling the usually derelict space, and acrobats in bright costumes rappelled from the roof of the station. Outside the station, children sat on a swing hanging from a tree and local residents relaxed in plastic recliners, listening to a jazz performance.
Called the “Pop Up Park,” the space was organized by locals Ivry Baumgarten and Yasha Rozov. The bus station, located between the lower-income neighborhoods of Shapira and Neve Sha’anan, split the community when construction started over 30 years ago, said Baumgarten, who lives in Neve Sha’anan.
“It has created a real rupture in the urban fabric of the neighborhood itself. It brought all the prices down due to pollution and noise and how it looks,” Rozov said. “There’s nothing you can do about the structure, but we thought we could maybe change the perception.”
The acrobatic performers hanging from the roof of the station were meant to symbolically conquer the structure, said Rozov, an artist who rappelled down the side of the structure.
“This area, really especially the Central Bus Station, is being looked at as a hazard,” Baumgarten said. “It was very important to show the area could be an attraction.”
The event was held in an abandoned seven-acre lot at the corner of Salame and Hashalechet streets, abutting the bus station. It was meant to be an alternative to the White Night events happening in central Tel Aviv, said Rozov.
People from 43 different countries live in the neighborhood, Rozov said. He estimates that about 1,500 people came to the event throughout the night, and guessed that one-half to two-thirds were from the area.
“The reason for the event was basically to outline the potential of this place to become a park,” Rozov said. “It’s taking a place which is not regarded as functional and turning it into a place that is useful for the community and is aesthetically beautiful. It’s kind of an urban intervention through art and culture.”
The organizers and artists of Pop-Up Park arranged activities that would normally happen at a park, but with an artistic twist, Rozov said. There was croquet, balloons, music, picnic-themed performance art and minigolf. Neighborhood children made “seed bombs” during a “guerrilla gardening” lesson to plant and help beautify the area. Danny Tavori, a circus performer who used to live in the neighborhood, did an aerial rope routine hanging from a tree.
“This is one of the sleaziest, darkest places in Tel Aviv,” Tavori said. “All day during the preparation you saw the immigrant children having fun here. Finally there’s some excitement in this neighborhood.”
The organizers wanted to include neighborhood residents, many of whom are foreign workers and African refugees, along with native Israelis from central Tel Aviv who don’t often come to the area, Baumgarten said. Attendees danced to the sounds of Darfur Star, a band from Sudan that performed at the bottom corner of the park, abutting the walls of the bus station.
A series of clear plastic windows with markers attached was set up along Salame street and labeled “Possible futures #1-6.” On one window someone drew a picture of a man in a wheelchair and a couple holding hands and wrote, “Spaceships are our future.” On another someone wrote, “We deserve to be loved too.”
“Everybody who lives in the neighborhood is sharing the same fate,” said Rozov. “This area has been neglected for many years. It doesn’t matter who lives here, they’re not going to have the same municipal resources and care you see in Rothschild and places like that in the center of Tel Aviv.”
Rozov painted several tree stumps in the park bright gold. They will stay there after the event, he said, to remind people that the space could become something positive for the community.
By the early morning, the sun was coming up over the roofs of the White City, casting shadows on the flags and lights still hanging from the night before. The cafes opened for business on Rothschild and the buses moved in and out of the central bus station, as the city went back to its regular routine.