The Independence Trail in Tel Aviv
The Independence Trail will introduce you to the 100-year history of Tel Aviv and the visions of its founders. There are 10 stations illustrating aspects of Tel Aviv’s early history, and the trail ends at Independence Hall where the declaration of Independence was read in May 1949. The trail is indicated on the walkway by brass strips. (Independence Hall is currently undergoing renovations and cannot be visited).
Tel Aviv started with more than just houses on an expanse of sand. It was also a vision in the minds of its founders, dreams which eventually came to fruition. This is why Tel Aviv became the cultural, economic, and technological center of Israel.
Tel Aviv is now one of the most vibrant cities in the Middle East and has become internationally recognized for its innovation, nightlife and beautiful beaches. It also the most expensive city in the world to live in after New York and Singapore - which also tells us something.
Directions, parking and starting point: Enter into Waze “Independence Trail” and click on “שביל העצמאות Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv-Yafo.” This will take you to parking by Migdal Shalom. There is also parking in the Rothschild Parking Lot adjacent to the first station on the trail. The trail starts at the corner of Sderot Rothschild and Herzl St. There are signs adjacent to each of the stations with information about them. However, the directions in which to go on the brass trail are not intuitive.
For public transport enter “Museum of Philistine Culture” into Moovit.
Time: Allow half a day if you intend visiting the display in the Sholom Tower, the Haganah Museum and Bank of Israel’s Visitor Center.
Distance: Approximately 1 Km.
Type of walk: Circular.
Public transport: Enter “Independence trail” into Moovit and click on “שביל העצמאות Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv-Yafo.” If the bus takes you to Migdal Shalom, walk down Herzl St to Rothschild Boulevard.
The home of Akiva Weiss on Ahad HaAm St.
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Station 1 is Tel Aviv’s first kiosk. This kiosk was erected in 1910. By the 1920s it was one of about 100 kiosks in the city. It offered an Israeli version of soda. But tastes change with time. It is now an espresso bar.
Station 2, the Nahum Gutman Mosaic Fountain, is just off Rothschild Boulevard in the direction of the underground parking lot.
Nahum Gutman was a prominent Israeli artist who developed a distinct Israeli artistic style that captured the spirit and vitality of the emerging Israeli nation. He fused modern art with vividly colored, erotic, fantastic views that reflected the concept of Jewish national revival in the Land of Israel. Together with others he sought to establish an artistic language for Zionist projects. This mosaic called “Little Tel Aviv” was commissioned in 1971 and initially stood in Bialik Square.
His other mosaic works are displayed in a number of public buildings in Tel Aviv.
He called this work “Little Tel Aviv” and in his words it “illustrates to visitors and city dwellers the figures and impressions of Tel Aviv as I have known it from its inception.” It depicts life in historical Jaffa until early Tel Aviv.
Proceed between the buildings, passing a statue and tribute to Captain Dreyfus. Turn right onto Ahad HaAm St.
Captain Dreyfus was falsely accused of treason in the Dreyfus trial in France in 1894. He was not exonerated until 1906 after years of legal battles by those convinced of his innocence.
Station #3 is the original home of Akiva Arieh Weiss and is at the corner of Ahad HaAm. Weiss was the founder of the new neighborhood of Tel Aviv. You should be able to see the seashell inlays in the bricks of his home.
The cornerstone of this house was laid in 1909 and it was number 2 Herzl Street. Initially single-storied, the second floor was added in the 1920s. The building was renovated between 1996 to 2011. More details about the vision of Akiva Weiss are described in the essay below.
The cornerstone of this house was laid in 1909 and was number 2 Herzl Street. It was initially single-storied and the second floor was added in the 1920s. The building was renovated between 1996 to 2011. More details about the vision of Akiva Weiss are described below.
The next stop #4 does not exist here anymore. It was the site of the first Hebrew-speaking high school, the Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium. However, it was demolished in 1962 for the construction of the Shalom Tower. This was then the tallest building in Tel Aviv.
Amongst other things, the Shalom Towers contained a department store and a wax museum. There is an exhibit on the first floor showing some highlights in the development of Tel Aviv., including about this high school. Some of the explanations are in English. It also includes some of the wax figures from the wax museum.
The Herzliya Hebrew Gymnasium or Herzliya High School was not just any old high school. It was established in Jaffa in 1905 and was designed to provide a modern and comprehensive education for Jewish students in Palestine. It promoted the use of Hebrew and emphasized the Jewish people’s historical heritage and its strong connection to the land of Israel. It had a notable influence on the development of Israeli society and Zionist ideals. It was one of the first buildings built in Tel Aviv, at the top of Herzl Street. It subsequently moved to Jabotinsky St. where it is housed today.
The Great Synagogue is stop #5. Continue along Ahad HaAm until Allenby St., which is the second turning on your left. A bit along this street you will see the front of the Great Synagogue.
The aim of the Great Synagogue was to be the spiritual center of Tel Aviv where all residents could engage in ceremonies and events within a single religious framework. In keeping with its vision, it has a grandiose exterior design, although because it is made of concrete it can hardly be called beautiful. Until its discovery by the British, the Lehi organization had a secret arms cache in its basement.
The Haganah Museum is station #6. It is located in the historic home of Eliyahu Golomb. Go back along Allenby St. Turn right onto Sderot Rothschild and you will see it on your right.
This is an important museum since much of the history of the state is about its responses to conflicts. The Haganah and its offshoots the Palmach and Israel Defense Forces were the chief players in these conflicts (see the essay below). The museum is interesting and easy to follow. An audio guide is available in English. The museum is open Sunday to Thursday 8.00 a.m. to 4.00 p.m. Their phone number is 03 560-8624. This is their website.
The Bank of Israel is station #7 and is located at 37 Lillenblum at the corner with Nahalat Binyamin St. From the Haganah Museum turn back onto Sderot Rothschild and turn right onto Nahalat Binyamin St. The Visitor Center presents the history of the financial system in Israel and has an extensive exhibition of banknotes and coins from the pre-state times to the present. Now return to Sderot Rothschild.
Station #8 is the Tel-Aviv Founders Monument on Sderot Rothschild. It was erected in 1949 on the 40th anniversary of the city’s first water tower and was designed by who else? Nahum Gutman.
Station #9 is the statue of Meir Dizengoff. He was one of the founders of Tel Aviv and its first mayor, a role he held for 25 years. The statue is in front of his home. This is actually how he used to go around Tel Aviv, on his horse. After his wife’s death he donated his home to the city for Tel Aviv’s Museum of Art. It later served as Independence Hall.
Meir Diezengoff (1861-1936) was active in the Hovevei Zion movement and founded a branch of the movement in Kishinev. He studied chemical engineering at the Sorbonne in Paris. While in Paris he met Edmond de Rothschild and was sent by him to Palestine to run a new glass bottle factory near Dror. However, this venture failed as it was not financially viable and the glass was of poor quality because of the sand that was used and he returned to Kishinev. He came back to Palestine in 1904 and joined Akiva Weiss to form his new, modern Jewish quarter. He formed a partnership with the Ahuzat Bayit company for the selling of parcels of land. He was also among the 66 families who gathered on the sandy shores when they parceled out by lottery the land they had already purchased.
He became head of town planning in 1911 and when Tel Aviv was recognized as a city, he was elected its mayor. In this role he was intimately involved in the development of the city, including carrying out daily inspections – often on his horse. His efforts to promote education, infrastructure and cultural growth left an enduring impression on the city.
Independence Hall is the last station #10. This is where David Ben-Gurion read out the Declaration of Independence on the very last day of the British Mandate on May 14, 1948. The War of Independence was still underway, and because Jerusalem was still under siege, this hall served as the meeting place for the Provisional State Council for several months. It is currently undergoing renovations and cannot be visited.
The Great Synagogue
Meir Dizengoff on his horse in front of his former home, now Independence Hall
Station 2, the Nahum Gutman Mosaic Fountain.
The Haganah Museum is located in the former home of its commander Eliyahu Golomb.
Who invented Tel Aviv?
Nothing in Israel is quite like the city of Tel Aviv - dynamic, futuristic, commercially buzzing, a global center for high tech, a city with a nightlife that does not stop at midnight, and a home to a large LGBT community. With its many skyscrapers, Tel Aviv looks like any thriving European city, except that its Jewish. But Jewish in a secular, cultural way, although it is currently experiencing a bit of a religious revival.
How did it get to this point?
The old, walled, predominantly Arab city of Jaffa was bursting at its seams. To meet the housing demand arising from the First Aliya, Jewish suburbs were formed around the city. The first of these was Neve Tzedek founded in 1887 by Mizrachi Jews. Other neighborhoods followed.
The Second Aliya brought more Jews to the country and in 1906 a building society or Ahuyzat Bayit was set up for a new settlement on the sand dunes north of Jaffa.
This was to be very different from crowded Jaffa with its narrow, windy streets. Located at Rothschild Boulevard and Herzl Street, this new settlement was planned with wide streets, street lights and running water for each home.
Two individuals, in particular, stand out as responsible for the initial development of Tel Aviv. One was its founder, Akiva Aryeh Weiss, and the other its first mayor, Meir Diezengoff.
Other than his home on the Independence Trail there is next to nothing in Israel that recalls the role of Akiva Weiss in promoting a vision of a futuristic city. There are no statues in Tel Aviv. Not even a street name. Nevertheless, he was the one who laid out the ideas for these sand dunes. This housing project was to be a European garden city, spacious and modern. Quoting him: "just like the city of New York marks the main gateway to America, we must perfect our city, so that sometime in the future it will become the New York of the Land of Israel."
He named his society “Ahuzat Bayit,” which means Homestead. He also presided over a lottery in 1909 in which 66 Jewish families drew lots for his about-to-be-established city. Numbers for the lots were written on sea shells. He also incidentally built the first textile factory in Israel and helped establish Israel’s diamond industry.
The name of his new intended city was changed to Tel Aviv the following year when the city was officially founded. This name was chosen because of its implication of a new chapter of Jewish settlement based on Biblical roots. The name Tel Abib is found as a place name in the Book of Ezekiel and means hill or mound of Spring. This name was also Nahum Sakolow’s title of his Hebrew translation of Theodor Herzl’s utopian book “Altneuland.” Sakalow wanted a name that encapsulated the new and the old together and he chose Tel Aviv because a tel signifies the old and aviv, which means spring, signifies rebirth.
The Jews of Jaffa and Tel Aviv were expelled to Alexandria in 1917, but they returned with the defeat of the Ottomans after World War I. The city began drawing an increasing number of immigrants attracted by its facilities, entertainment and restaurants.
When the British took over the country, Tel Aviv became part of the Jaffa Municipality, and it only gained independent status from Jaffa in 1934. The Port of Tel Aviv was established in the 1930s by the Jews of Tel Aviv. During the 1930’s there were Arab riots in Palestine and the Arab port authorities refused to handle Jewish business. Hence, a new port was established north of Jaffa. However, it only functioned for a few months. After the 1948 War of Independence, Jaffa was incorporated into Tel Aviv and they became one area Tel Aviv-Jaffa.
The port’s location subsequently became a center for the sale of kitchen fixtures, and there were several warehouses here. In the 1970s, it was recognized that it could become an area for leisure, particularly because of its wooden boardwalk, and nowadays there are many restaurants and other stores along the seafront.
The formative role of the Haganah
This museum is about the history of the response of the Jews in Palestine to the adversarial forces around them and how this led to the formation of small defense groups, then the Haganah, then a split off of the Jewish underground, and finally the unification of these para-military groups as the Israel Defense Forces. Haganah means “the defense” in Hebrew.
The Second Aliyah between 1904 to 1913 brought a different type of Jew to this country than during the First Aliyah. These immigrants, many of whom were socialists, believed in working the land and defending their settlements themselves rather than relying on Arabs. Small groups were responsible for forming the Bar-Giora movment and then Hashomer (The Watchman) to provide defense to Jewish settlements. Hashomer operated from 1909 until the British Mandate in 1920 although it never had more than 100 members. During World War I, the Zion Mule Corps and Jewish Legion fought as part of the British army.
It was Arab riots in 1920 and 1921 that made the Jewish leadership realize that the British were never going to seriously confront the Arab gangs perpetrating attacks and the farmers formed local defense units to protect their farms and kibbutzim. There was no centralized organization. However, this came after the 1929 riots, when the Haganah became much larger and encompassed almost all the youths and adults in the Jewish settlements. The Hagana began to become the melting pot for what would eventually transform itself into the Israel Defense Forces. During the revolts of 1936 to 1939, the British cooperated with the Haganah by forming the Jewish Settlement Police, Jewish Supernumerary Police and Special Night Squads, the latter being trained and led by Colonel Orde Wingate, although the British never officially recognized the Haganah. These forces provided valuable military training to the Jews, something that was not available to their Arab foes. Jewish forces also began to adopt more offensive capabilities.
When it became apparent that the British were pursuing partition, the planning department of the Haganah directed the building of “tower and stockade settlements” that were rapidly constructed to populate the Jewish areas. The issuance of the White Paper in 1939 restricting Jewish immigration was the impetus for the Haganah to organize illegal Jewish immigration to Palestine and about 100,000 Jews were brought to the country in this way.
Jewish Palestinians enlisted during the Second World War in the Jewish Brigade Group, which saw action in North Africa and Italy and some 30,000 men served in the British army. In 1941, when it seemed possible that the Axis powers would invade Palestine, the Haganah created the Palmach, an elite commando section. This was never more than 2,000 men, but it provided the leadership skills that enabled these men to take command positions in the future Israeli army.
Already by 1931 there were many who were frustrated by the restraint of the Haganah with respect to the British and they formed the “Irgun” or Irgun Tsva’i-Leumi (National Military Organization) whose aim was to compel the British to leave Palestine. After the world war, the Haganah did cooperate with the Irgun and another underground movement Lechi, but they became less active in this struggle in 1946 and concentrated on organizing illegal Jewish immigration which reached its peak between 1945 to 1948. They also secretly prepared for the war they knew would come after the British left Palestine by accumulating arms and developing a secret arms factory.
The Haganah came into the open during the civil war with the Palestinians after the adoption of the United Partitions Plan. Shortly after the beginning of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, David ben Gurion merged together all para military groups as the Israel Defense Forces.
This is the outline. The details are in the museum!