An eclectic mix of religious, secular, young and old. Neve Tzedek, Jaffo, cafés, innovation and the famous tayelet. This vibrant city, full of life and so much hypocrisy. That is Tel Aviv in my eyes. A city like no other.
Given COVID-19, we were so lucky that we squeezed in a fantastic trip to Israel last year. Travelling overseas just seems unthinkable right now. When my husband and I were planning our holiday, I had butterflies in my stomach as I thought about how our 3 children would be exposed to our rich Jewish history. I also could not wait to show them all my favourite haunts in Tel Aviv. I became familiar with this fascinating city when I lived there for 6.5 years. Well before I got married. I will always treasure it as one of the most exciting chapters of my life.
I felt very connected to Israel from a young age. I remember as a high school student I used to close my eyes when I sang the Hatikvah, always with a sense of pride. I have vivid memories of reciting it at the closure of school assemblies in the large, Rose Hall at school (Mt. Scopus).
At that age, I also recall being at so many Yom Ha’atzmaut performances and Yom HaShoah memorial nights after school. I loved singing along to the Israeli songs and felt a moral responsibility to commemorate the Holocaust. My dear uncle who just recently passed away was a survivor. He was a Buchenwald boy. Even as a little girl I needed to understand what the numbers on his arm meant. I was an avid reader of Ellie Wiesel and other Holocaust books. I adored my uncle. He was the most special human being. You just wanted to be around him. Everybody did.
When I left school, I was not a Habo or Bnei girl, but I always gravitated towards Israelis. I always seemed to meet them at someone’s Shabbat table or I would find them down in Acland St. Those Israeli travellers who had arrived from south east Asia after they completed their national army service. They wanted to improve their English and hear about Australia while I was coming from an opposite angle, desperate to hear about Israel and wanting to practice my Hebrew.
Sometimes there are certain people who influence your life or authors that impact you in a certain way. For me, it was Paulo Coelho who had some enormously powerful messages of pursuing your dreams in his novel, The Alchemist. In my 20’s I decided to change the direction of my life and I moved to Tel Aviv. The year was 1998.
As we strolled down the beautiful Rothschild Boulevard on our trip last year, I stopped the kids and Adam (my husband) at the corner of Sheinkin and said, this is it. The pink building on the corner is where I used to live. It had graffiti sprawled across the front and looked somewhat neglected but when I was there, it was in much better condition. I have so many fond memories. I used to spend so much time on my balcony which was on the second floor, in some ways as a voyeur. All walks of life would come past. Plenty of people strolling with their dogs, religious men, women and children, people on bicycles, mothers with their babies, sleep outs were in protest and there were plenty of games of chess. Even if I was living alone, I always felt completely alive.
The day I moved into the building I immediately befriended the couple who lived in the penthouse. An English girl who had made aliyah and her Israeli boyfriend. We would have meals together, go on walks and at the time Sex and the City nights was the big thing. We had Sex and the City gatherings at my place.
That was a perfect introduction to how life is in Israel. You always meet people everywhere you go. It doesn’t matter if it’s just while you are getting something to drink from the little kiosk, you are down at the beach, walking alone down the street or there were many occasions when I was waiting for a doctor’s appointment.
The first time for me was a real experience. I did not realise that having an appointment does not mean anything at all. If someone in the waiting room says they have a more urgent timeframe they will just push in front of you. Israeli ‘chutzpah’. If I did not learn to adopt this type of mentality in all other situations, I was never going to survive in Israeli society.
Beautiful friendships can develop in the most random situations in Israel. There is this false feeling of trust with everyone you come across. I was doing a technical writing course and I asked one of the participants for a lift back to Tel Aviv. From there I exchanged my life story with this stranger, and we formed a beautiful friendship. I think I was lucky. This type of situation happened often during my years in Israel.
It is such a melting pot. A mix of nationalities, religions, and ethnicities. That is why I loved living in Israel. I love talking to people and there was no shortage of opportunities. You always feel alive, no matter where you are or what time of day. There is a constant buzz. There were complications, I was there during a second Intifada, suicide bombings, 9/11 and so much more.
We all continued to walk from the corner of Rothschild down Sheinkin street, but it looked like a ghost town. A stark contrast to how it was in when I arrived at the end of the 90’s. I tried to paint a picture of how it was. Sheinkin was the trendiest street in the city. Everyone came from all corners of the country to be seen right here where you are standing. It had the best collection of shops, cafes, juice stalls and a park for children to play. The most amazing scenes I will always remember were the Friday afternoons in summer when the whole street was blocked off. There was blaring trance music and the street was filled with a diverse mix of people. It was absolute ‘balagan’. You could not move, there were so many people. Everyone was so happy, dancing in the street. It was the end of the week; Shabbat was about to come in and there was a special feeling in the air.
Before leaving for Jerusalem we overloaded the kids with some visits to Israel’s most innovative museums. Initially they would have preferred to sit on Tel Aviv’s famous beach. There is so much happening with the Israeli game ‘matcot’, people playing volleyball, chairs laid out on the beach and plenty of people swimming. An incredible atmosphere. There is nothing finer than being in Tel Aviv on the beach in summer. Adam and I had a different agenda where we wanted to squeeze in some education about Israel’s history and Israeli society today. Each museum is more interactive and interesting than the next. They would never be able to learn this in their school classrooms.
To describe how I felt when we took our children to the Kotel for the first time is difficult to put down in words. We planned it so that we would we be there on a Friday afternoon before Shabbat starts. It was an extremely hot summer’s day; we walked down toward Damascus gate and made our way to the wall. There were so many people there, all praying and  placing tiny notes into the Kotel crevices, with tears of hope. It is strange to think that right now the Kotel would be almost empty because of the current COVID-19 restrictions.
My son, who is 10 years old, was beyond excited to get there. We split up, my husband to the left and I went to the women’s section with my 5 year old daughter and my 12 year old daughter. We all stood in front of this extraordinary piece of history with hundreds of other Jewish babies, girls and women, religious, and non-religious who may have come from all over the world like us. I felt so blessed that I could be there with my daughters. That I have 2 girls. Such an immensely powerful emotion. That I was back in Israel.
We regrouped and as we walked through the beautiful old city, my son said, don’t get me anything for my bar mitzvah, just bring me back. He has an old soul. A close connection to his Jewish identity. He was only 3 when he dressed himself every day for kinder in a shirt and tie, sometimes a blazer. People referred to him as a little rabbi or The Chairman. On a Friday, he would eagerly wait for Adam to come home so that he could go to shule. He loved it. Every week.  So when he asked to be at the Kotel for his bar mitzvah, it was no surprise. I told him that we would absolutely love to be in Jerusalem to celebrate such a special milestone in his life.
We want to honour his wishes to be in Israel in 3.5 years. Perhaps another family trip to Israel before then but we are hoping for a vaccine first for the virus. I am always an optimist.

Article by Author/s
Shelley Kline
Shelley Kline was on LaunchPad in 2015. This led to her involvement with the Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH). She is involved with the Foundation and she is a member of the President’s Fundraising Network and the Auxiliary Executive Committee (AEC). She is passionate about involving young children in new forms of philanthropy. For the last 3 years, Shelley has co-chaired the Mt. Scopus Annual Giving Appeal. She has 3 young children and is married to Adam.

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