Jerusalem may have the gravitas, but Tel Aviv has the fun. This Mediterranean city—a.k.a. The Bubble—is remaking itself as a hub of progressive art, ambitious cuisine, high-end shopping and matkot by the sea.
Author Joe Keohane Photography Ronen Goldman
THEY CALL TEL AVIV “The Bubble”—though, typically, no one seems able to agree on what that means. Some Israelis use it as a pejorative, implying that Tel Avivians are a bit flighty and that their success is built on less than solid foundations. The residents of this cosmopolitan Mediterranean city, meanwhile, tend to embrace the moniker, arguing that the Middle East could use a little levity. “Sometimes we feel like we’re in the mouth of a volcano,” says Guy Sharett, a local linguist and tour guide, “and sometimes we want to drink and dance.”
Founded in 1909 by 66 Jewish families fleeing overcrowding in the ancient port city of Jaffa, Tel Aviv grew quickly, outlasting the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate and, in 1948, serving as the staging ground for Israeli independence. All the while it attracted immigrants from around the globe: the Jewish architects escaping Nazi Germany who gave it the highest concentration of Bauhaus buildings on earth (the hue of which earned Tel Aviv the nickname “The White City”), the artists who gave it its culture and the entrepreneurs who gave it its cash.
Today, Tel Aviv is the cultural and economic heart of Israel, but for all its weighty history it is perhaps best known as a riotous good time—which, as visitors soon learn, should not be confused with frivolity.
Well, not entirely.