Considered a quack by some people and a miracle worker by others, Russian-born Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984) was an engineer, a physicist and an expert in judo who suffered from debilitating pain in one of his knees. After experimenting on himself, and utilizing everything he could learn about human movement and brain activity, he came up with a revolutionary system of treating pain.
Sometime in the early 1950s, Feldenkrais began working as a scientist for the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). At about the same time, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion began suffering from back pain so severe that he was hospitalized several times. Finally, when his doctors couldn’t help him, the prime minister turned to Feldenkrais for relief.
As part of his treatment, which actually cured the prime minister’s agonizing pain, Ben-Gurion was told to stand on his head for a few minutes each day to get his blood pumping. Sometimes, he did it at home. More often, he would stand on his head at the beach.
A few years ago, a statue of Ben-Gurion standing on his head appeared on the newly renovated Tel Aviv Sea Promenade. And although it may not have been exactly at this spot that Ben-Gurion did his Feldenkrais exercises, he lived so close to the beach that it very well could have been.
The modest house where Ben-Gurion lived for four decades, off and on, is located at the western end of Ben Gurion Boulevard only one or two minutes from the water. Thus, any time of day Ben-Gurion could exit his little dwelling, look to the right, and enjoy a wonderful view of the sparkling Mediterranean Sea.
The boulevard begins at Kikar Atarim, a plaza planned as a combination parking lot and shopping mall situated on the beach. Erected in 1975, the project – which would have completely blocked Ben-Gurion’s view were he still a resident of the boulevard — turned out to be a disaster. Criminal elements took over the site, honest citizens stopped frequenting the area, and the buildings were abandoned.
The intended fate of Kikar Atarimin is unknown, since plans calling for covering it with towers that are dozens of stories high are vehemently opposed by Tel Avivians. In the meantime, a few of the existing structures were razed, so that from the western edge of the plaza there is a beautiful view of the sea, and the yachts moored in the bay. Also below, and no matter how cold it is outside, you can watch swimmers bathe in the legendary Gordon Pool. Opened in 1956, it is filled with salt water dug up from underground springs.
Most of the houses along the boulevard date back to the fifth Aliya. That particular group of immigrants consisted mainly of Germans fleeing Hitler in the 1930s and their homes were built in Bauhaus, or International, style. Their homes and apartment buildings were purely functional, and featured clean lines, balconies whose floors served as roofs for the balcony immediately beneath, a vertical series of windows to provide light on the stairwells, and flat tops for hanging laundry and having get-togethers.
Tel Aviv is internationally recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for its Bauhaus architecture. Yet few of the houses on this boulevard are pure Bauhaus. Indeed, their architects studied in such a variety of European countries, and adapted to Middle Eastern requirements as well, so that almost all of them combine several different styles.
Ben-Gurion’s home, at #17, was completely different. It was very simple – for our first prime minister considered himself to be one of the people, an unassuming laborer. Not surprising, he and his wife Paula left their humble home to the State of Israel, and it has been restored with almost everything exactly as it was. Indeed, breakfast has even been laid out for Ben-Gurion’s pleasure.
Just as it was in the past, the boulevard’s first kiosks are still selling food. But charming coffee shops and healthy juice enterprises have joined the kiosks, which once sold only hot dogs and sandwiches.
Like the architectural styles, foliage on the boulevard is a jumble as well. Here sycamore, olive, ficus and tamarisk trees thrive together while palm trees standing in front of some of the houses add charm to the original design.
One sculpture along the boulevard, made of bronze and stainless steel and created by Gideon Graetz, is called Gordon’s Knot, It is based on a legend in which Alexander the Great heard about a knot which no one could untangle. Thinking outside of the box, he simply cut through with his sword. Some might say this is the way that the Israelis often behave in order to survive. . .
Northern Tel Aviv has always been considered the most prestigious area of the city. For instance, the Yarden Suites began as a very elegant hotel that eventually ended up in the hands of Bank Leumi. And just as they did in Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, here, too, the bank destroyed the building’s original look. Fortunately, after UNESCO bestowed its umbrella on Tel Aviv, it was restored, and now serves as an apartment hotel for short term lease.
Just past the junction with Dizengoff Street, a little hut was beautified by Rami Meir. Meir is a Tel Aviv artist whose paintings on exterior walls have brightened up the city.
You can’t miss the bright green bicycles that are racked up the boulevard. Called Tel O Fun, they are rent free for the first 30 minutes of your ride. The municipality adopted the racks’ attractive design from bike racks used at Tel Aviv University.
A one-story house called Beit Hannah is located just before the junction with Reiness Street. It was named for Hannah Chisik, who established a training farm for young women here in 1926.
The house itself, which served as a shop for the farm’s produce, was built in 1935 by Jacob Pinkerfeld, one of four architects killed by Arab terrorists on September 23, 1956, during a visit to kibbutz Ramat Rahel in Jerusalem. In accordance with Tel Aviv by-laws, in order to build the tall structure behind Beit Hannah, contractors restored the original edifice in the 1990s. It soon became a popular coffee shop.
On March 21, 1997, terrorists launched an attack on the coffee shop in which three women – one of them pregnant – were murdered. The memorial in front of you, shaped vaguely like a woman’s body, or perhaps a tree with leaves on top on bottom, has nothing in the middle.
Past the European style WC on the boulevard, and an unusual graffiti-covered hut, is a building that once held two well-known Israeli artists. Singer/actor Yosef Goland lived here with his wife Mia Arbatova, a pioneer of classical ballet in Israel.
At the junction of Ben Gurion Boulevard and Shlomo Hamelech (King Solomon) Street there is a lovely memorial park. Dedicated to tens of thousands of gentiles who risked (and often lost) their lives while saving Jews during the Holocaust, it is filled with waterfalls, quiet corners, and well-behaved dogs.
Righteous Gentiles’ Park was once the site of Tel Aviv’s first and only zoo, which originated in a pet store on Shenkin Street. After residents complained loudly about the noise and smell, it was moved to HaYarkon Street. Here the zoo owner added wild animals – including lions.
In 1940, the zoo relocated to this site. We remember it from the 70s – and a pretty sad zoo it was. Fortunately for the animals, the zoo closed down after the Ramat Gan Safari opened in 1980.
From the upper level of the park there is a view of Malchei Israel (Israeli Kings) Square, built next to City Hall in the 1960s. It is here that prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated on November 4, 1995, and a memorial stands on the spot. Made of basalt stone from the Golan Heights, it looks much like the headstone atop Rabin’s grave on Mount Herzl. The plaza was renamed for the prime minister soon after his assassination. Once a popular site for meeting friends and folk dancing, today it hosts massive demonstrations against just about everything.
Ben-Gurion’s little house is open from 8:00-15:00 Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, 8:00-17:00 on Mondays, 8:00-13:00 on Fridays and from 11:00-14:00 on Saturdays. Entrance is free.
Aviva Bar-Am is the author of seven English-language guides to Israel.
Shmuel Bar-Am is a licensed tour guide who provides private, customized tours in Israel for individuals, families and small groups.