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From Ahuzat Bait to Tel Aviv, a story of seashells

Throughout the 19th century, the city of Jaffa served as the main entry point to the land of Israel for Jews from around the world returning to the Land of Israel.


Later in the century, during the 1880s, new neighborhoods started to emerge outside Jaffa like Neve Tzedek, Neve Shalom, Ohel Moshe, and Kerem Hataimanim.


The turning point of today's Tel Aviv was in 1909 when a new neighborhood called “Ahuzat Bayit” was created.


On 11 April 1909, 60 Jewish families gathered on a desolate sand dune and parceled out the land by a lottery system using seashells. This gathering is considered the official date of the establishment of Tel Aviv. The lottery was organized by Akiva Aryeh Weiss, an architect, and city planner.

The 66 families, members of the "Ahuzat Bayit" house building association, drawing lots for the 60 plots on which to build, on the piece of land the association had acquired. Photo by Avraham Soskin, April 1909.

Within a year, Herzl, Ahad Ha’am, Yehuda Halevi, Lilienblum, and Rothschild streets were built; a water system was installed, and 66 houses were completed.


In 1910, the first shop (a kiosk) was built. This shop still exists today at the same location.


The same year, the neighborhood’s name was changed to "Tel Aviv" according to Sokolov's translation of Herzl's book "Altneuland".


Sokolov, who was looking for a fitting Hebrew translation for the book's title, which literally means "old-new land", found it in the name Tel Aviv, the Spring Hill.


The people of Ahuzat Beit also found the name "Tel Aviv" an appropriate expression for their ambition to establish a Hebrew city in the spirit of modern European cities on the historical homeland of the Jews.


Menachem Sheinkin, who proposed the new name, justified it by saying :

"With this name, our leader Herzl expressed the hope in our future in the Land of Israel. The name Tel Aviv has a local, Arab tone, and all the inhabitants of the country will soon get used to it."

The desire to combine the old with the new and integrate into the region while maintaining cultural differentiation (and perhaps, some would say while maintaining the European roots), is the leading motif in the story of Tel Aviv's establishment.


The first building erected in the city was the "Herzliya Gymnasium" (under the influence of Borgrashov and Sheinkin), built in 1909 at the northern end of Herzl Street, the first street in the city. The building was then destroyed in 1959, and replaced by today’s Shalom Meir tower.


Many immigrants from the middle class arrived in the city in the 1920s and 1930s, duplicating the way of life they were familiar with like drinking coffee and eating strudels in cafes, having a leisurely walk by the sea, or watching movies.


This is how the "Tel Avivi" lifestyle began to develop, characterized by a leisure culture of sitting in cafes and cinemas. During the beginning of the 20th century, the new expanding city absorbed the previous quarters.


In 1934, Tel Aviv was granted the status of an independent municipality by the British, separate from Jaffa. After the War of Independence in 1947/1949, the city started to annex parts of Jaffa. In 1950, the city was officially renamed Tel Aviv -Yafo.


On the following link, you can see the construction of Tel Aviv (starting at 08:00) in the early 20th century. On this link and this one, you have some testimonies of the first people who lived in Ahuzat Bait and the early days of Tel Aviv.


Here is our special map of Tel Aviv, with the street-names explanations.


Herzliya Gymnasium building, view from Herzl Street, 1912. Source: http://www.zionistarchives.org.il/

The Herbert Samuel promenade in the late 30’s. Source: http://www.zionistarchives.org.il/

Herzl Street and the Herzliya Gymnasium building. Source: http://www.zionistarchives.org.il/


Same Kiosk from a Google Maps perspective

Meir Dizengoff and his wife Zina were among the first 66 families to Establish in Ahuzat Bait.


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