By Miri -
For a Middle Eastern country Israel is as Western as it gets and Tel Aviv is probably the queen of Westernness. And yet, for a person who sets her/his foot for the first time into this place, it can get quite confusing. Shimrit Elisar took it on herself to ease this experience by publishing a very special guide to the city, DIY Tel Aviv, the Alternative City Guide.
On her website she emphasises her being conscious of Israel doing a whole lot of “nasty stuff”, and that by pointing out the good stuff, she's not aiming to whitewash all that is wrong in this country, but rather to put a spotlight on those people and on those spots that are remarkable and special. While not being an explicitly political project, Shimrit however points you to places, activities, people and groups that do not fit the Israeli mainstream and that may be hard or even impossible to find, if you don't have any previous knowledge or contacts in the city. Consequently, the guide is especially (but by no means exclusively) useful for people identifying with a particular subculture or group, be it members of the LGBTQ community, vegans, bike fanatics, or hipsters.
DIY Tel Aviv is above all a personal project, and apart from practical information, such as cheap accomodation, including private rooms, transport etc. as well as useful explanations about what Shimrit calls the “quirks” of Israel, such as questions of security (a section entitled with “Will I get blown up?”), the Kashrut (the Jewish dietary rules), as well as religious and national holidays, the author focusses on those questions she poses herself whenever she visits a new place:
“When I travel I’m always looking for those little surreal and magical moments that make every long journey worthwhile. I hope this guide will help you find some of your own magical moments during your stay in Tel Aviv, or at the very least point you in the direction of places that don’t suck.”
Obviously it's a matter of taste what you consider to be constituting a magical moment, but as far as I'm concerned, Shimrit shows great taste, whether it's about hang-outs, bars, restaurants, cafés, shopping, art venues, clubs and everything underground in Tel Aviv, and I can assure you that a whole lot of experienced Tel Avivians, including myself, also frequently follow the daily updated recommendations given on her blog or facebook site.
Apart from the huge amount of useful information and great recommendations, DIY Tel Aviv is captivating in its humorous language and its sincerity. Shimrit surely doesn't mince matters, whether it's about the tendency of Israeli men to have sex without using condoms or the fact that most cheap bikes you can get in the city are “usually either shit or stolen (or both)”. At the same time, through her explanations, advice and descriptions, the author manages to show you a glimpse at urban Israeli society within the specific context of Tel Aviv.
Last but not least, Shimrit also included a section in the guide that points visitors to possibilities to find out more about and/or engage with political issues in Israel, covering a whole range of themes, including animal rights, feminist issues, anti-Occupation etc. The section includes a useful list of info shops, activist hang outs, possibilities to volunteer, NGOs and activist groups and of course political tours, including Green Olive Tours.
Within the politically charged climate of Palestine/Israel, DIY Tel Aviv is a rare example of a guide to the “bubble”, one of the many nicknames of the city, that neither tries to stay neutral, nor is condemnatory of the fact that the population of Tel Aviv not only tries to get on with their lives, but also manages to create beautiful and magical spaces and moments. It is written by a sensitive person who truly knows and loves her city, but nevertheless remains critical and conscious of its negative sides, as well as of the overall context within which it is located.
Last but not least, the guide is ridiculously cheap, especially if weighed against the love and care that Shimrit obviously put into the work. It is downloadable as pdf here for only £5/$8/€6, including free monthly updates, and soon also available as an actual book.
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