Postcard from ... Tel Aviv
9 April 2010
This postcard is from the city that never sleeps - New York, you ask? No - Tel Aviv! I came here for a month and never left.
Politics, terrorism and ethnic strife – probably the three concepts Israel conjures up to the uninitiated. True, these may exist to a certain extent, just as they do in most corners of the globe, but there is way more than these to living and working in Tel Aviv, the city I fell in love with the day I arrived just under 10 months ago. My colleagues are not all Hassidic Jews and I don’t board public transport in fear of my life, nor do I ride to work on a camel. No, Tel Aviv is a far cry from the place you might have imagined. It’s an eclectic, vibrant, diverse Mediterranean city with effervescent 24/7 life coursing through its veins – let me share it with you.
Initially, I came for a month, seconded from a London law firm. But seduced by the June sunshine and the exciting work, I simply could not refuse an almost-immediate opportunity to work as in-house counsel at William Hill Online.
Tel Aviv is where our marketing and advertising ops are based. As the only element of our legal team out here, I work alongside my Tel Aviv colleagues advising on a range of issues. At the office, I’m surrounded by a plethora of nationalities reflecting the truly cosmopolitan fabric of Tel Aviv, the country’s business and pleasure hub. Work culture takes on a different meaning to anything I’ve ever known, with loud excited voices and a familial atmosphere pervading the office. Festivals and birthdays are celebrated in true style, our recent ‘Purim’ fancy dress party being a testament to this if there ever was one.
Every day, as I walk the 40 minutes from my beachfront apartment to my spectacular office on the 32nd floor of the Azrieli Towers - the skyscrapers that have come to symbolise the city on every postcard and tourist brochure - I bask in the sun and take in the smell of bakeries and shwarma, watching Israelis young and old bustle about on their mopeds and pushbikes or clambering onto Sherut taxis, the communal yellow minibuses, a halfway alternative to buses and taxis. Café culture is big over here and the coffee shops overflow with people easing into their day. While that day may be long - the average Tel Avivian works at least a 45-hour week Sunday to Thursday - TLV residents are party people and they know that when the working day ends, a whole new fun day lies ahead.
Thanks to the warm and sunny year-round climate, the place is energetic and home to conspicuous health-freaks. The city’s beaches are awash with toned, olive-skinned joggers, Matkot (bat and ball) players, cyclists, gym-goers (public open-air gyms are aplenty) and dancers salsa-ing away beneath the towering rows of hotels. When not exercising on Tel Aviv’s beaches, you’ll find people doing Nike sponsored night runs in the city’s gorgeous Park Hayarkon, racing up skyscrapers (guilty! Peer pressure encouraged me to race up 1,144 steps with my colleagues to reach a music and drinks filled helipad with stunning panoramic views of the town), doing triathlons in Eilat down south or swimming across the Kineret lake up north. The bug just hits you and the atmosphere is indescribable.
Weekends begin on a Thursday night with the street parties, restaurants and nightclubs filled throughout the night. The nightlife is unsurpassed and personal safety is a worry left behind in my London past.
People tend to stick to what they know best and my favourite food places include the mouthwatering Onami Japanese restaurant at Harbaa Street, Bugsy, the trendy young music bistro in downtown Florentin, and Shtupak, a locals’ fish and seafood place on Ben Yehuda.
Despite the things I miss back in London, namely my friends, my family, salt and vinegar crisps and Cadbury’s cream eggs, I would not swap Tel Aviv for anywhere else. Don’t get me wrong, as with all societies and locations, not all the clouds are lined with sliver but one thing’s for sure as I hope you’ll have gleaned from my postcard, the pros far outweigh any cons! This is THE place to be!
Natalie Seeff is legal counsel at William Hill online in Tel Aviv.