Friday, August 3, 2012

Between ‘Little Harlem’ and ‘Little SOHO’

There is some resemblance between Tel Aviv and Manhattan: The energy you sense on the streets, the cafés, restaurants and bars, the art galleries, theatres and more. Both cities also carry a ‘melting pot’ atmosphere, with people of all races and color filling the streets along with sounds of many languages.

Yet there are other, less flattering parallels: Manhattan has its Harlem Ghetto in the north, and in sharp contrast - the fashionable SOHO district in the south.  Tel Aviv too has an African Ghetto next to its Central Bus Station, and a newly emerging fashionable area nicknamed ‘SOHO’ on the border of Jaffa.

African refugees in southern Tel Aviv
Last week I was in a police patrol car roaming the streets of southern Tel Aviv. What was I doing there? To make a long story short, I volunteered to assist the Israeli Traffic Police and found myself assigned to a police station that covers Southern Tel-Aviv and Jaffa.  As part of my training, I was asked to join a patrol car that was roaming the ‘Shapira Neighborhood’ (שכונת שפירא), located next to the Central Bus Station.

For those of you who may not know, Israel has been a ‘preferred destination’ for thousands of job seekers and refugees from Southern Sudan and Eritrea: two countries that have long suffered from civil wars and poverty.  I don’t want to get too much into the heated debate whether these people are legitimate refugees who should be given shelter, or illegal immigrants who should be deported. The bottom line is that there are tens of thousands of Africans living in a “Ghetto” in Tel Aviv. 

The patrol car I was in got a report of an African person who’s threatening to commit suicide. We went on a wild goose chase throughout the neighborhood, interviewing witnesses and eventually getting to the “home” (more like a hole in the wall) of the potential suicide victim. He wasn’t there. Apparently he has been fleeing from the Police for some time.

In the course of our chase we visited a few apartments with African residences. They ranged from ‘small and modest’ to ‘tinny and appalling’. It is hard to describe the nightly scene in that area of Tel Aviv. All I can say is that it somehow reminded me of the movie “Blade Runner” (a great Harrison Ford movie by the way).

Artist's loft in southern Tel Aviv
We finished our shift and returned to the police station. At that point I decided to join my wife, who has been on an ‘Architects Tour” in the so called SOHO area in southern Tel Aviv. When I called her she gave me the address her group was at. It was only a short distance away and I got there in less than 10min.

When I arrived at the building, I met my wife and her fellow architecture aficionados at a newly opened furniture gallery. They were enjoying a gourmet buffet and taking a peek at a selection of designer furniture.  We then took the elevator to the 11th floor to visit the studio of a musician.

The studio is actually a remodeled loft where the artist lives, works and hosts concerts. Turns out he is also very much into fashion, design and styling. Accordingly his apartment featured some of the hottest trends and items in interior design. We got a tour of the place, and an explanation his design/style preference and choices. The living area had an antique Steinway grand piano, and the view through the windows reminded me of the nightly scene in downtown Manhattan. Simply gorgeous!

Within a span of minutes, I was “teleported” between two starkly different worlds: from the cramped streets of ‘Little Harlem’ to the stylish and trendy spots of ‘Little SOHO’. The words of Neil Armstrong resonated in my head: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.   

We all “know” about the growing divide between the Haves and Have-nots. We read the statistics, the opinions in the papers, even watch some programs about it on TV. But it is hard to appreciate the gap between the “classes” until you see them side by side.

I am no communist or social activist at heart. But I tell you, this one is going to blow up one day...

1 comment:

  1. Yes, and possibly sooner rather than later. I worry most about the Maxist theory that nothing diverts discontent with the capitalist elite like war. I'm no Communist, but some of their early writings are depressingly prescient...

    “The statification of economic life against which liberal capitalism protested so much, is an accomplished fact. The return to free competition is henceforth impossible; we move inevitably to the domination of trusts, syndicates, and other capitalist octopuses."