Tel Aviv’s grace under fire

The famous Tel Aviv bubble burst at approximately 7 p.m. on Nov. 15. Suddenly the war being waged for years by the residents of southern Israel had come knocking on the doors of Rothschild and Ramat Aviv, Bavli and Bograshov. Although a far cry from what the residents of Beersheba and Sderot are experiencing, this is the first time since 1991 that Israel’s cultural and commercial heartland has been under rocket attack. 

The pro-Israel and antiwar brigades have certainly been busy. As many in the media have noted, the war for public opinion is being bitterly fought via social media. Twitter and Facebook are drowning in Israel Defense Forces-issued videos of surgical strikes and Iron Dome successes, amateur footage of singing soldiers, peace protests, fears of a ground offensive and many, many maps showing virtual rocket ranges for London, New York, Buenos Aires.  

And this time, it’s surprising which way some of my friends have jumped. A devout Deadhead has filled her Twitter feed with pro-army snippets; another, a staunch rightist in normal life, is praying for the safety of Gaza’s children; one of my most activist friends has declared her Facebook wall a neutral zone. And yet, it has all become one loud noise, drowned out every now and then by sounds of wailing and subsequent booms from outside my semi-subterranean apartment, where the mold on the walls now seems a small price to pay for living in a fully furnished almost-bomb shelter. 

Rafael Cohen, a 26-year-old fashion stylist and window designer living in the city, has declined his parents’ pleas to return to the family home in Haifa. 

“My parents tried to convince me to stay in Haifa with them, but I couldn’t leave my boyfriend here alone,” Cohen said, referring to his non-Israeli partner, who moved to Israel to be with him. 

“He didn’t take it seriously at first. But yesterday there were two attacks, and he said to me, ‘OK, it’s real.’ He understood that this is killing people, it’s not just a show.”

A devout party-goer, Cohen says he and his friends are staying home most nights. But, he adds, even in that, there is an upside. 

“The war has made a lot of people in Tel Aviv more creative. People are sitting at home working on new projects, thinking about all kinds of new ideas. So we are at home, with more time to think and to create. In a way, it’s a positive effect. Now we sit and do.”

He and his partner are hosting a house party at the weekend to lift their friends’ spirits. 

And having lunch at a hummus joint on a deserted downtown Tel Aviv street a couple of days ago, our table got talking to a Californian tourist visiting his son in Beersheba. It was his first visit to Israel. So, was he put off by the rockets? No way, he told us. In fact, he was about to change his flight home so could stay another three weeks in the greatest place he had ever visited.