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.

Mamilla architecture

July 1, 2008 - 9:38 PM by · 4 Comments
Filed under: A New Reality, General, History and Culture 

The best underground parking lot in Jerusalem, possibly the entire country, is underneath the Mamilla pedestrian mall, part of the $400 million complex that was in dispute for many years, but is finally near completion. Large, spacious and with smooth cement floors that may very well be cleaner than those in my own home, I’m thinking of moving in there.

But despite the luxuriousness of the parking lot, that probably isn’t the most striking architectural feature of the complex, which features several dozen boutiques, several cafes and other businesses in the pedestrian-only shopping district along Rehov Mamilla. The stores are also fine, natch, a fairly interesting combo of local and foreign shops that offer some decent options for Malcha Mall-weary Jerusalemites.

What is worth checking out are some of the mall’s reassembled buildings from the turn of the century. The Stern House, for example, was where Theodor Herzl slept when he visited Jerusalem in 1898, and now houses the Mamilla Steimatzky bookstore and an outdoor cafe. What’s cool is that in order to move and reassemble the building, each stone of the facade was carefully numbered in order to reassemble it in its new location and with more modern construction behind the walls. Given that the original structures themselves were demolished, preservationists poo-poo the practice as ‘facadism.’

But, still, it offers the Mamilla project a more layered, architecturally interesting look to have preserved buildings on site, and if the Stern House hosted Herzl, why not Steimatzky?


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