Nostalgia Sunday – Herzl’s 150th

Tel Aviv is celebrating Theodor Herzl’s 150th birthday tonight on, you guessed it, Herzl Street. Blogger Tel Aviv Rooftop reports that “there’s not much celebrating going on,” aside from a few young men dressed as the founder of the Zionist movement and handing out flyers. He’s also posted some nice background information and some truly excellent pictures that illustrate how Herzl’s visage continues to inspire artists, including graffiti artists.

Back in the day, art nouveau artist Ephraim Moses Lilien was a key figure in the creation of Herzl iconography. Lilien may be best known for his photograph of Herzl looking out over the balcony, and he often portrayed Herzl as a modern-day Moses delivering his people to the Promised Land.

These days, someone has been running around the city for months now, spray-painting and stenciling the following message under Herzl’s face, “lo rotsim, lo tsarikh”, (If you don’t want it you don’t have to have it). Much is lost in translation but take it from me, it’s a very witty if negative restatement of both Herzl’s famous statement, “If you will it, it is no dream,” and something that Israeli parents tell their insolent little children.

Herzl is everywhere you look. Why, only a few weeks ago, we purchased a shirt at the Tel Aviv T-Market emblazoned with a Rastafarian version of Herzl and the word, “Uganda!”, in reference to Herzl’s 1903 proposal that the British colony in Africa serve as a temporary refuge for the Jews of Russia.

He’s up on a water tower on the side of the highway as you enter the Herzliya municipal boundaries. Herzliya, of course, is named for him and the city’s seal features seven golden stars, Herzl’s proposed flag for the Jewish State: “the seven golden hours of our working day.” And no, his vision did not include the Seven Stars mall.

Or did it? After all, Herzl envisioned a modern industrialized Jewish state where factories would produce goods round-the-clock,a state that would “make it possible for our unfortunate people to live a life of industry for it is by steady work alone that we hope for our physical and moral rehabilitation.”

He also envisioned a pluralistic society, “founded on the ideas which are a common product of all civilized nations… It would be immoral if we would exclude anyone, whatever his origin, his descent, or his religion, from participating in our achievements. For we stand on the shoulders of other civilized peoples. … What we own we owe to the preparatory work of other peoples. Therefore, we have to repay our debt. There is only one way to do it, the highest tolerance. Our motto must therefore be, now and ever: ‘Man, you are my brother.’”

It’s worth bearing in mind that in addition to his careers as a playwright, journalist and latecomer visionary politician, Herzl was a Utopian novelist. And the name of his book, Altneuland, Old New Land, was translated in Hebrew to “Tel Aviv”, which became the name of the first modern Hebrew city.

One good place to learn about the man that got it all started is the Herzl Museum in Jerusalem, a modern educational center that uses audio-visual and online technology to convey Herzl’s story and vision in a meaningful way. The website includes a timeline of events, a photo gallery and a collection of postcards featuring Herzl’s image.

It is no legend

September 12, 2008 - 7:33 AM by · 2 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, Environment, General, Israeliness, Movies, Politics 

Urban Legend TV seriesTheodor Herzl’s enduring emblematic soundbyte, “If you will it, it is no legend,” takes on new meaning in today’s ecologically conscious age. Nowadays it seems like building a future that is truly sustainable yet still viable in an urban context comes down to priorities more than anything else – valuing natural resources over the big business lobby and valuing morality over maximized profits. So it’s especially apt that Channel 10 journalist Nitzan Horovitz’s new series The Next World features an episode called “Urban Legend,” dedicated to examining the ins and outs of a green, utopian megalopolis of tomorrow through the prism of improvement measures cities around the world are taking today.

At a recent Tel Aviv Cinematheque screening of the episode, a panel discussion led by Horovitz allowed audience members to challenge urban planning officials from Haifa, Netanya and Tel Aviv, asking them what they are doing to make their cities friendlier to residents and to Mother Earth. Luckily, local eco-blogger Green Prophet was there:

Anyone who has ever walked, jogged, driven, biked, rollerbladed or seqwayed down the streets of Tel Aviv knows that the biggest obstacle to providing Tel Avivians with a higher quality of life is the traffic jams and the lack of a good mass transit alternative. So after traveling to Curitiba and exploring the wonders of sustainable urban design and transportation there, Horowitz invites [former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil and urban planning guru] Jaime Lerner to Tel Aviv, where Lerner (a Jew with relatives in Israel) discusses how his planning philosophy, which he calls “urban acupuncture,” could be put into action in Tel Aviv.

….Lerner, while riding one of his city’s iconic buses, turns to the camera and says, “Please mayors from Israel, make dedicated lanes for public transport, please, bivakesha.”

But apparently the Tel Aviv municipal representatives didn’t take well to the challenges posed to him, vehemently defending the status quo.

As Horowitz opened up the discussion, all eyes were on Hezi Berkowitz, the Tel Aviv’s municipality’s official city planner. Berkowitz, not an exciting speaker even at his best, proceeded to advocated for the status quo.

Berkowitz opened by stating that things in metropolitan Tel Aviv are improving. The proof of this, he noted, is that people want to move to the cities in the center of the country.

….This was not the first time that Berkowitz was confronted with the Curitiba model. In fact, the southern Brazilian town’s name comes up quite often in his public appearances, and is usually brought up by residents and activists as an example of what Tel Aviv could be doing. In a neighborhood event in June hosted by the SPNI, entitled “Northern Exposure,” Berkowitz proclaimed: “What people don’t realize about Curitiba is that their mass transit system is based on buses. Just buses, not light rail, not subway… Give me 20 minutes and I’ll rip the Curitiba model to pieces.”

Tel Avivians have the opportunity to bring new, greener blood into power this November with refreshingly opinionated Knesset member Dr. Dov Khenin appearing on the ballot. If they don’t elect him, then efficient urban existence may remain nothing but a legend.


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