The youngest teenage son mentioned some time ago that he would like to do a graffiti tour in Tel Aviv. He's at that lovely age when everything I ever suggest is "boring", so I was more than happy to arrange this during the recent Chanukah break. My only rule was that he was only allowed to use his phone for photos during the tour. In the end that wasn't an issue. The tour was so engaging that he wasn't distracted by his phone (a rare thing!) and was interested to hear what the guide had to say.
Florentin (or "Florentine-oosh" as it is affectionately known by the locals) is a neighbourhood in the southern part of Tel Aviv, named for David Florentin, a Greek Jew who purchased the land in the late 1920s. At the time anti-Semitism was on the rise in Greece and the Jewish quarter in Thessaloniki, the second-largest city in Greece, had been destroyed by fire, leaving over 53,000 Jews homeless. Due to Ottoman land laws, building in the area was held up until 1933, then development sped up due to its proximity to the Jaffa–Jerusalem railway. The Jaffa Municipality allowed shops and light industries to be opened on the ground floors of the new residential buildings, providing a source of income for the wave of immigrants settling in Palestine at the time.
As with much of Southern Tel Aviv, for many decades the area of Florentin then suffered from urban decay and poverty. Today it is a combination of industrial zone, garment district, marketplace and assembly point for foreign workers looking for jobs. Most of the residents are young and Florentin is now becoming known as a hip, "cool" place to be in Tel Aviv, with coffeehouses, markets, bars, galleries and parties. Street artists such as Dede, an artist from Holland, Klone and many others have made the neighbourhood their home, along with new immigrants from France and elsewhere.
Florentin was the setting for a popular TV series in the late 1990s called Florentin. The area's hip/trendy atmosphere has led to comparisons with SoHo and the Lower East Side in New York City.
The Florentin Urban Culture and Graffiti Tour is run by Guy Sharett, a linguaphile who lives in the neighbourhood and runs StreetWise Hebrew, an innovative method of Hebrew language instruction combining the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of Tel Aviv. He also happens to be the grandnephew of Moshe Sharett, Israel’s second prime minister.
Guy originally started the tours in the summer of 2011, during the Social Justice protest in Tel Aviv, as a way of explaining some of the political and social commentary that was perhaps beyond the grasp of the Hebrew beginner. Besides the graffiti course, he offers a tour of the city’s Levinsky market ("Wake up and smell the Zatar"); a tour of the historic Trumpeldor Cemetery; an "American Idol" Israeli-style tour; and a tour of Jaffa Port, located just south of Tel Aviv.
We started our tour outside the City Cafe on the corner of Herzl and Florentin Street. Guy immediately began to show us street signs and graffiti filled with Hebrew gems and insights. He pointed out hidden messages and art pieces that we would have otherwise missed, and showed us where to look for the ever-present eggplants! Nearly every building is covered with art. Guy zeroes in on specific pieces and artists, turning the walls from simple graffiti to fabulous pieces of individual art, poetry, philosophy and subversion. It was fascinating. Stops included hidden alleyways, a nearly century-old Synagogue, and gritty workshops where beautiful handmade furniture is still being created.
My son and I are both Hebrew speakers yet we learned a few new tweaks and nuances (me more than him!). Guy has spent time contacting the graffiti artists behind the art and provided details that you would never find out yourself - not just about the art, but about the area and the way it is changing as it goes through the drawn-out process of gentrification. New aspects of Tel Aviv ("the Viv") were revealed, social and political issues were raised, as well as interesting linguistic quirks. It was a great tour for visitors and veteran Israelis alike, and I now have more of an appreciation for even the littlest of graffiti work.
Guy has a series of "Streetwise Hebrew" podcasts. For those of you who aren't able to participate in a tour and would like to learn more, have a listen on itunes and android.
Ro'i likes the idea of parkour jumping. His Mum isn't so keen. She didn't want me to show her son jumping between buildings, so together they decided on a picture of him climbing a tree instead. Apparently he climbs on everything!
Mum also suggested that I show him wearing a grey hoodie, and she asked me to add his favourite football team Chelsea F.C.'s badge too. He's a big fan!
When Mum received the card she messaged me to say "I love it! It looks just like him. Thanks!", then on Ro'i's birthday she sent me this fabulous photo. Looks like he was happy to receive his card.
Some of my customers send me a list of two or three hobbies when they order a customised card. Others keep it really simple and ask for just one theme. This lovely customer sent me a great long list of things that her son enjoys and, though I knew there was a lot to fit in, I enjoy a challenge!
My customer wanted a special card for her son who was shortly going to become Bar Mitzvah. She already knew how I work and sent me some pictures of the young man, along with photos of some of the things that he likes. These included his newest toy, a DapoStar, a picture of his saxophone and a picture of the stuffed dog he has had for years. He is a fan of the Hapoel Jerusalem basketball team, she told me, he loves riding his skateboard and playing table tennis, and he has a big collection of military stuff. There was more, she said, but thought that this was perhaps enough. Um, yes it was!
I have shown the blue-eyed Bar Mitzvah boy wearing a red Hapoel Jerusalem scarf around his neck. He has his DapoStar in one hand and his saxophone in the other. His biggest dream is to have a dog, Mum told me, so I put a dream bubble above his head... with a little picture of the stuffed dog he has had for years in it. I think Mum was teasing him.
He loves riding his skate board so I added a picture of his red Pro-Tec Classic Spitfire helmet, along with a table tennis bat and ball. Finally, I cut out some tiny swords and some of the military badges he collects. It took some juggling, but I got everything in there!
The Hebrew greeting on the card says " To Our Alloni, Congratulations on your Bar Mitzvah".
Mum was already sure that she was going to love the card. She had high expectations.
"Thanks very much. It's beautiful. I love it and I'm sure Allon will love it too" she wrote to me when she received the card.
The same customer asked me for a selection of smaller Bar Mitzvah cards, presumably for her son's friends. I created a mix of cards, some simply with the number 13 on them, the age a Jewish boy becomes Bar Mitzvah, and others with a Star of David, a Sefer Torah and tallit prayer shawl.
My favourite design for Bar Mitzvah cards, below centre, shows the tallit, a kippa (skullcap) and a Sefer Torah (a long scroll containing the entire text of the Five Books of Moses: the biblical books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). On the first Sabbath of his thirteenth year the Bar Mitzvah boy is called up to read the weekly portion from the Torah. He wears the tallit and kippa whilst reading, so I included all these elements on the Bar Mitzvah cards.
A customer asked me to make a birthday card for her Mummy. She wanted me to show a black cat sitting on a windowsill, looking out on to an English garden. This was a fun and slightly different brief for me, and it was a lovely card to create. My customer's husband rather liked the end result and messaged me to say "the card you made for P's mother was a real piece of art." That was most appreciated.
The same customer ordered a card from her sons too. This time I was asked to show "Bubbie's" (the name for a Jewish Grandmother) little white sporty car, a patchwork quilt, some flowers... and the same black cat.
Galia was turning 22. Her Mum mentioned hummus (she loves it!), working out, and going to see musicals at the theatre, as suggested themes for her birthday card. She had recently seen Billy Elliot and Les Misérables so I showed thumbnails of their show posters below some red stage curtains. I added a plate of hummus and some pita bread triangles, and placed a blue exercise mat in the foreground. Mum thanked me for the "great card".
Finally, a friend's daughter was celebrating her Bat Mitzvah. Sadly a trip to Perth, Australia was not on the cards for us, so a congratulations card was put in the post instead. From the lovely invitation we had received to the Bat Mitzvah girl's celebration, it was apparent that she is a fan of the colour purple. I created a purple-themed Bat Mitzvah card for her showing her age and wishing her Mazal Tov on the special occasion.
Happy New Year! When I started writing this blog back in 2008 I initially kept it as a blog purely about my papercut art. However, I soon found out that people were interested in reading a little more about me and my life here in Israel. Whilst I still don't write every single detail about myself here, I have opened up to you about my Jewish faith and many of the holidays we celebrate, and I have written about some of the beautiful places I have been fortunate to visit in Israel.
In a week's time I will be marking 22 years in Israel. It is incredible to think that I have spent almost half of my life here. Over the years I have enjoyed seeing and exploring my country, particularly when the kids were younger (they are now teens and less interested in coming out with Mum and Dad). We have been north, we have been south, east and west - though that's not so hard really since the country is so small! Along the way I have developed a knack for searching out off the beaten track places, so much so that rarely a week goes by without me getting a call or WhatsApp message from a friend asking for suggestions about what to do and where to go! I must admit, I quite enjoy my role as an unofficial tour guide.
2016 saw us visiting Be'ersheva in the South and the western Upper Galilee in the North. We went to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, spent a few days on a kibbutz and stayed closer to home to see the Rakefot(Persian Cyclamen) bloom. I have blogged about all of these places and more, but thought it would be fun to pick my top 10 of 2016. So, in no particular order, please click on the names above and enjoy exploring Israel with me!
1. Amitai and Gavriel 2. Made with Love 3. Gadi 4. Eden 5. Nadav 6. Daniel 7. Jack 8. 18 Years 9. Hanan 10. Richard
This year Chanukah, the Festival of Lights, is on Christmas. The first night (Jewish holidays begin at sunset) of the festival fell on Christmas Eve and the first day landed on Christmas Day. Chanukah celebrates the victory of the Maccabee brothers' rebel army over Greek King Antiochus IV during the 2nd century B.C. and the miracle that is said to have occurred when a small quantity of oil lasted for eight days in the rededicated Second Temple. You can read more about the holiday in my blog post here. The first night of Chanukah last fell on Christmas Day in 2005, but Chanukah has overlapped with Christmas or Christmas Eve as recently as 2011 and 2014. So, happy holidays to those of us celebrating Chanukah or Christmas, and best wishes from Israel! Thank you for all the support you have given me and my blogging adventure through another year.
As is common at this time of the year, I thought it would be fun to collect together some of my personal favourites from this past year and show them to you once again. 2016 has been a prolific year for me. I have made customised cards, albums and invitation designs for Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, new babies and more. A big thank you to those of you who have commented, liked, shared and bought what you've seen on my blog. Have you spotted your card or album amongst the collections above?
Of course, the biggest thing for my family this year was our youngest son's Bar Mitzvah and you can see all the paper goodies that I made for the event here, as well as the few "tasters" below.
I have also visited some interesting places in Israel, which I have shared with you as an occasional travel post. I'm saving my top 10 favourite places for another time. I have enjoyed composing each and every one of my blog posts, and hope you will continue to visit and enjoy them too in 2017, as I share the coming year's papercut designs and a few more of my adventures in Israel.
Don't forget that you can subscribe to my blog, and follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. Oh, and please pop by my shop now and then to see what is new there.
Wishing you a wonderful, happy and colourful Chanukah, Christmas and New Year, and a safe and exciting start to 2017!