Tour Locations | The Trail of Independence: Tracing the origins of modern Tel Aviv
Stop in front of the statue on your right. We’ll spend a few moments here and then walk towards the brown colored house behind the statue.
This statue is a tribute to Captain Alfred Dreyfus. In the 19th century, European countries started to emancipate Jews. For many, this was the opportunity to climb up the career ladder, an opportunity for which they had been waiting for generations. Dreyfus embodied the high hopes that Jews had for the emancipation in Europe, and also - its disastrous failure. Dreyfus was wrongly accused of delivering state secrets to the Germans, betraying the French nation. The statue depicts him holding his sword that was shattered in ceremonial humiliation after he was found guilty of treason. Little did he know that he was about to give life to a national movement which will revolutionize Jewish identity.
A young correspondent for a Viennese newspaper, Theodor Hertzl was sent to Paris to report on the Dreyfus affair. He was himself a symbol of the rise and fall of Jewish emancipation - he completed a rigorous doctoral program in law only to discover that no university will offer him an academic position due to his Jewish ancestry. Hertzl was appalled by the injustice that Dreyfus suffered and witnessed how onlookers shouted at him “death to the Jew”. He needed to find a solution to antisemitism, hatred towards Jews. A few months later, Hertzl published a short manuscript titled “The Jewish State”. Quite simply, he called to Jews to re-establish Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Some thought he had gone mad, but in the years to come, he headed the Zionist movement and gave new hope for many Jews across the world.
Now, continue to the brown colored house behind the statue.
One of Hertzl’s admirers was Akiva Aryeh Weiss - a Jewish clockmaker, from the Polish city of Łódź, Weiss was on a business trip when he learned that Hertzl surprisingly passed away at the age of 44. Weiss bravely decided to manifest Hertzl’s vision by moving to the Land of Israel. After a few weeks at sea, he finally arrived at the Jaffa port. Upon his arrival, he convened all the Jews in Jaffa to propose an idea - to establish a new city, a Jewish city, the first to be established in the modern era. In 1909, the dream had come true and the city of Tel Aviv was established. One of the first houses in Tel Aviv was this house, built by Akiva Aryeh Weiss.
Notice the cement bricks that make up the walls of the house. Houses in Jaffa were built from a local stone that only the Arab masons were familiar with. Weiss wanted Tel Aviv to be built for Jews and by Jews. For that reason, he used modern cement bricks in the construction process. Even inexperienced Jewish workers were able to work with these bricks. You can spot shattered seashells inside the cement. They were collected from the sandy beach not far from here and added to the mixture to strengthen the bricks. This is a symbolic reminder of how Tel Aviv was constructed next to the sandy beach of the Mediterranean Sea and in a sense was “born out of the sea”.
Now, the wall of the house that is closest to the statue has a kind of curved facade. Go over for a closer look.
It has a mural showing photographs from the beginning of the 20th century. You can see Jewish construction workers pushing wheelbarrows filled with sands, as they were levelling out the land to start building the first houses of Tel Aviv. Behind them, you can see the elaborate building that housed the first school in Tel Aviv. This elaborate building is no longer visible, but you can see where it stood. Just turn around.
See the skyscraper with the Hebrew inscription on top? This is Migdal Shalom - the Shalom Meir Tower. In 1959, almost half a century after its construction, the first school of Tel Aviv was demolished. Amazingly, the contractors who demolished it were two brothers who graduated at that very school. One can only imagine how they must have felt, tearing down their old school. On top of its ruins, they built the first skyscraper in Tel Aviv and named it after their father, Shalom Meir. For a short time, it was the tallest building in the Middle East! It was also the tallest building in Israel for more than three decades. Some admired the Shalom Tower as a symbol of modernization, specifically in Tel Aviv and generally in Israel, but others grieved for the loss of a historic landmark. Since then, a new appreciation of heritage sites in Israel has risen and Tel Aviv now has a preservation plan. For example, the house of Akiva Aryeh Weiss is one of the buildings designated for preservation. You will see more of them on our tour today.
Now, turn right and walk towards the intersection.