The Jewish Story of Jaffa
Jaffa is hailed as being one of the oldest operating ports in Israel and a center of connection between the Jewish and Arab Israeli communities. The entire area is packed with mosques, knafeh, art, history, hummus, clothes, and the most gorgeous stretches of beaches along the blue Mediterranean waters. It is also one of the only areas that stays open on Shabbat. On Saturdays the port is where Tel Avivians head for some light shopping, drinking with friends, and some of the best food outside of the local Tel Aviv area.
The History of Jaffa
Archaeological evidence emerged in both Israel and Egypt that date the establishment of the area before the 15th century BCE. The area was first inhabited solely by Canaanite communities and later conquered by the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III. After a few thousand years of comings and goings, many nations have left their distinct mark on the city and its cultural life. Jaffa has hosted scores of Jews, Muslims, and Christians. In 1909, the entire city of Tel Aviv was established as a Jewish suburb of Jaffa. Before that there were only two small Jewish neighborhoods, Neve Zedek and Neve Shalom. Both of these areas hosted Jewish immigrant populations that came over from Europe when the concept of Zionism was first being birthed.
At the turn of the century, when Tel Aviv was established, Jaffa hosted a distinctly Arab population. The city has retained its Arab population and roots up until this very day, and one can hear the call to prayer loud and clear five times a day from anywhere in Yaffo. The first half of the 20th century was marked by a shift of power between the Turkish holders of the city and the encroachment of British forces, and Jaffa was won by the Haganah forces of the Israeli army in 1948 during the War of Independence. Today, it is a hotspot for culture, art, and cuisine and is one of the best examples of where the old world of Israel meets the new horizons of the future of Israel.
Visiting Jaffa Today
Exploring all that Jaffa has to offer would take anyone at least the better part of a year. However, there are a few iconic sites that should be right at the top of your list. The first thing you will notice when entering the city is the ginormous Clock Tower that overlooks the sea. This tower was constructed over a century ago to honor the Ottoman conquerors of Israel and their vast empire. It is one of seven that can be found throughout former Ottoman territories. In 1948, a plaque was added to the facade of the tower to commemorate the Jewish Israeli soldiers that fought in Israel’s War of independence. Today the clock tower maintains its landmark status as a central point for community gatherings of all kinds, including Christmas parades, markets, and celebrations.
Just a short walking distance from the Clock Tower is the Suspended Orange Tree. Israeli artist, Ron Morin, installed the orange tree in 1993 as a commentary on the urban environment’s relationship to the natural world. The roots are encased in an earthenware vessel with the trunk of the tree growing from a crack in the top. The entire installation is suspended a foot off the ground and today, the tree still bears fruit. Jaffa has a healthy artistic life, from the suspended orange tree to the Ilana Goor Museum.
Goor is considered to be an international multidisciplinary artist as her artwork borders on functionality and surrealism. Some of the permanent exhibitions include works from other renowned Israeli modern artists and of course works by Ilana herself, all housed in a 280 year old building, a work of art in itself. The final stop on the list is the Old Port of Jaffa (Namal Yaffo). The port is still active with a few fishermen heading off to fish in the Mediterranean every night. However, many of the old fishing hangers have since been converted into restaurants, photography exhibitions, and gallery boutiques. There are also tons of gift shops and even a farmers market on Friday mornings.
Jaffa is a world unto itself, a very classic example of the hybrid nature that is Israeli culture. There are healthy doses of every sort of artistic expression from clothes to high art and even household furniture. Expression, color, and life is what visitors can expect to find in the narrow streets of Jaffa. Around every corner is a new aspect of the city, waiting to be discovered.