Tel Aviv - Part 2, Founding and Early Years

Tel Aviv was founded just over 111 years ago in April of 1909. Part 1 of my Blog discussed what led up to its founding, as a separate entity from nearby Jaffa. The actual founding of the city was done in a very unique way – it involved seashells! On the beach 66 families had their names written on white seashells and a plot number on grey seashells. The shells were picked out of two bags and that’s how the first residents received their plots of land.

The original name of the city was Ahuzat Bayit which roughly translates to Homestead. Not the easiest name to pronounce. About a year later the town’s name was changed to Tel Aviv. Why was this name chosen? Theodore Herzl, the father of modern Zionism, wrote a book in German about the country called Altneuland which means old/new land. In Hebrew, Tel is an archaeological mound of various layers of ancient civilizations while Aviv means the spring season, signifying renewal. That’s just what Israel is- an old/new land and so Israel’s first modern Jewish city in its ancient dwelling was called Tel Aviv. Very apropos!

What distinguished Tel Aviv from Jaffa’s other Jewish neighborhoods such as Neveh Tzedek and Neveh Shalom? The answer is that Tel Aviv had its own water source and was totally disconnected from any of Jaffa’s municipal services. Eventually the other Jewish neighborhoods all connected to Tel Aviv’s water system, transforming the garden suburb into a small city. This explains why some of Tel Aviv’s neighborhoods are older than the city itself.

The original town plan had two perpendicular main streets – Herzl St and Rothschild Blvd and side streets where the first 66 families built their homes. At one end of Herzl St stood the Herzliya Gymnasium – the city’s school. Today Herzl St is a commercial area which is undergoing gentrification and Rothschild Blvd is the place to see and be seen.

The period of 1904 -1914 (until the outbreak of WWI) is considered the second aliyah, or wave of immigration to the Land of Israel. Most of the 35,000 immigrants worked in agriculture but some settled in the new city of Tel Aviv, increasing its original population many times over.

The Jews of Tel Aviv and Jaffa went through a very difficult time during WWI. Many Jewish immigrants never acquired Ottoman citizenship and during the war the Turks considered them enemy residents. About 6,000 Jews from Jaffa and Tel Aviv were deported to Egypt in 1914 at the beginning of the war.

In 1917 all of Tel Aviv’s and Jaffa’s 16,000 Jews were forced to evacuate the city by Djemal Pasha, the Turkish governor, turning Tel Aviv into a virtual ghost town. The Turks feared the population would help the British take over the city. Most of evacuees went to other Jewish settlements in central and northern Israel but some went as far as Damascus! Others were forced into open fields and during the harsh winter it is estimated that over 700 deportees died.

With the defeat of the Turks by the British the Jewish residents of Tel Aviv returned to their homes both from Egypt and within Israel. The British now controlled the Holy Land and that’s when the city of Tel Aviv really takes off. Find out how in Part 3.

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