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Open House Tel Aviv tours offer a taste of local architecture

This year’s Batim Mibifnim event will focus on Jaffa and South Tel Aviv, with design gems opening their doors to the public June 17-19

Jessica Steinberg covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center.

A refurbished Jaffa well house, part of the tours being given for Batim Mibifnim, taking place June 17-19, 2021 (Courtesy Amit Herman)
A refurbished Jaffa well house, part of the tours being given for Batim Mibifnim, taking place June 17-19, 2021 (Courtesy Amit Herman)

After more than a year of having to stick close to home, Tel Aviv is celebrating other people’s houses June 17-19 with Batim Mibifnim, the urban Open House event of architecture and design.

Hundreds of the city’s more intriguing homes, historical buildings, gardens and public spaces will be opened to the public free of charge, although some do require pre-registration.

Held in partnership with the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, Batim Mibifnim, or Houses from Within, is part of the circuit of Open House events that take place in cities around the world.

This year, the event will focus on the architecture, communities and stories of Jaffa and neighborhoods of South Tel Aviv, a decision made prior to the recent upheaval and violence that took place in early May in Jaffa as well as other Israeli cities.

“We felt that we could move forward, and work with the anger and despondency that came out during those days,” said Aviva Levinson, who runs Batim Mibifnim. “It’s a kind of opportunity to be part of the dialogue. We don’t have to agree about everything, but if we’re neighbors, we have to live together.”

An Ajami palace in Jaffa, part of the Batim Mibifnim house tours taking place June 17-19, 2021 (Courtesy Alina Yavtushenko)

The houses and buildings being viewed during Batim Mibifnim include a number of buildings originally constructed to hold wells, bringing water to agricultural structures that were built along the with farming neighborhoods and orchards of Jaffa, and which have since been converted into homes, restaurants and entertainment spaces.

Another tour is to one of Ajami’s palaces, once the most luxurious buildings in Jaffa’s Ajami neighborhood. One of the palaces is the former home of Alphonse and Alfred Rock, a Christian Arab family who owned large citrus groves in Jaffa. The building is now a public facility.

One of the Jaffa tours will be led by Ramzi Taleb, an Ajami neighborhood leader and activist who will be speaking about the gentrification process that has been taking place in Jaffa and the Ajami neighborhood that became home to many of the area’s original Arab families.

Doors will also be open at the Scottish House and English Hospital, the luxurious and intriguing compound that includes the Mission Hospital built in 1886. The compound includes an original water well structure, and two other hospital buildings.

The open house at the Anglo-Palestine Bank offers a glimpse of the first branch of the bank that was the precursor to Bank Leumi. The historic bank helped finance the construction of the first 60 homes in Ahuzat Bayit, the neighborhood outside Jaffa that subsequently became the city of Tel Aviv. The building was intended to be a private residence and was decorated with frescos, marble floors and elegantly crafted carpentry.

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