Jewish Neighborhoods: Tel Aviv

Stories of Jewish life in Tel Aviv, from Our Wexler Oral History Project Collection

Founded in 1909 as a Jewish neighborhood outside Jaffa, Tel Aviv has grown into a cultural hub of Israel. While some Yiddish culture existed in Tel Aviv when it was part of Mandate Palestine, a wave of Yiddish-speaking immigrants arrived from around the world when the State of Israel was officially established in 1948. They brought with them Yiddish culture, even as it was suppressed both legally and socially as the young nation-state forged a new identity focused on Hebrew language and culture.

As the city grew, more institutions were founded in support of Yiddish language and culture. The Yiddish writers’ union was based in the city, and left-wing political parties distributed the Yiddish newspapers Die Woch and Israel Shtime. Set on finding Yiddish a home in Tel Aviv, Holocaust poet Avrom Sutzkever established the Yiddish literary magazine Di Goldene Keyt. Restrictions on Yiddish culture had lifted enough for a permanent Yiddish theater to establish itself; Yiddishpeil Theater company opened its doors in 1987 in Tel Aviv and continues to produce new plays to this day. Many prominent Yiddish actors have performed on its stage, including Lea Koenig, Mariam Zohar, Yaakov Alperin, Anabella, and Uri Ayalon-Kowalski.

By the latter part of the 20th century and early 21st century, Tel Aviv has seen a revival of interest in Yiddish language and culture among secular Israelis—an initiative spearheaded by younger generations. Performer Mendy Cahan founded the organization YUNG YiDiSH to preserve and transmit the culture to future generations. Its location in Tel Aviv has developed into a living Yiddish museum. Younger generations of Israelis bring new energy to the revival and take Yiddish classes at university. Today, Tel Aviv has a robust Yiddish culture found in the arts, literature, and education. 

Enjoy the clips below, and for more stories like these, you can browse our YouTube playlist of Tel Aviv stories.

The Tel Aviv I Grew Up In

Israel Bartal—professor of Jewish history at Hebrew University—explains how his parents settled in Palestine before World War II and describes the vivid presence of Eastern European culture and language in his childhood.

Yiddish with the In-Laws, Hebrew on the Streets

Miriam Beckerman, award-winning Yiddish literary translator, reflects on the languages she used while living in Israel in the late 1940s.

“A Spirit I’m Not Sure Exists Anywhere Else”

Ber Kotlerman, native Yiddish speaker from Birobidzhan and professor of Yiddish language and literature at Bar-Ilan University, speaks about his experience in the Yiddish writers’ union in Israel.

Hebrew or Yiddish? Acting in Israel

Lea Koenig-Stolper—Hebrew and Yiddish actress and Israel Prize recipient—talks about the beginning of her acting career in Israel.

Historical Memory vs. Experienced Reality

When asked about the historical suppression of Yiddish language in Tel Aviv, Jewish theater expert Edna Nahshon counters this narrative with the reality she experienced.