- A Place in History: Modernism, Tel Aviv and the Creation of Jewish Urban Space
Barbara E. Mann’s fascinating new book, A Place in History: Modernism, Tel Aviv and the Creation of Jewish Urban Space, is part of an increased interest in questions of space in cultural studies, a trend she notes at the beginning of her study (1). As Mann also points out, however, Israel in general and Tel Aviv in [End Page 105] particular have been neglected in this “spatial turn.” Through a wide-ranging analysis of the literature, painting, photography and architecture of Tel Aviv, Mann draws the reader’s attention to the unique place in the Jewish world that Tel Aviv occupies.
Mann’s greatest achievement is to point out the multiple spaces that make up the place that is Tel Aviv. This “exemplary ‘Jewish’ space” and “ ‘first Hebrew city’ ” became “the paradigmatic Israeli city” as the State of Israel was founded and as the population changed from mostly non-native born to a more equal mix between locals and non-locals (xi–xii). Yet Tel Aviv did not simply become an Israeli city. Mann demonstrates how the spaces of the city are, at times, Mediterranean, Eastern European, and even Arab. These various spatial and geographic levels are explicated on the basis of what Mann views as a half-dozen exemplary public and private spaces in Tel Aviv: The Old Cemetery, Rothschild Boulevard, balconies, the city’s edge, Rabin Square and Summayl.
After a brief overview of the theoretical models of space that inform her study (above all, the work of Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault and Anthony Vidler), Mann begins her discussion with the Old Cemetery on Trumpledor. The Old Cemetery predates the founding of Tel Aviv in 1909 and thus provides a link to the prehistory of the land that would become the city. Although discussed in different chapters, the Old Cemetery shares its pre-Tel Aviv founding with the former Arab village of Summayl, now incorporated into Tel Aviv and barely known today (246). By examining poetry about the Old Cemetery and investigating its grave markers, Mann argues convincingly that the Old Cemetery functions as “Tel Aviv’s foundational heterotopia,” a place of otherness present in—but nevertheless simultaneously outside—the city (24).
Unlike the Old Cemetery and Summayl, Rothschild Boulevard occupies a prominent place in Tel Aviv. The wide, tree-lined avenue became was to become representative of the new Hebrew city, a far cry from the often cramped streets in the Diaspora (97). Mann, however, delves into the history of the planning of Rothschild Boulevard and reveals that its creation was initially not solely a function of creating an exemplary street in Tel Aviv. Rather, it resulted from a far more banal consideration. The area has loose, sandy soil that cannot support the weight of large buildings (97; 99). Thus, as much out of necessity as because of careful planning, a symbol of the city was born. In addition to recounting the boulevard’s history, Mann examines its representation in the paintings of Nachum Gutman, the poetry of Natan Alterman and the photographs of Avraham Soskin.
The discussion of photography, not only with respect to Rothschild Boulevard, but also with respect to interior and exterior spaces, is among the most compelling moments of A Place in History. Architecturally, Tel Aviv is famous for its International Style. Indeed, this architecture led UNESCO to place the city on its list of World Heritage sites in 2003 (43). Examining interior photographs of apartments as well as portraits of early Tel Avivers [Tel Avivim], Mann shows how the Mediterranean flair of the city’s facades is subverted by [End Page 106] the often Central and Eastern European furnishings and apartment layouts of the city’s residents (cf. especially the picture on p. 128 and Mann’s discussion of it). Similarly, the subjects of Soskin’s portraits are typically clad in European-style clothing, with occasional exception made for those residents who had their pictures...