Jaffa is the ancient port out of which modern day Tel Aviv has grown. The Ajami neighborhood of Jaffa is located south of the Old City and Port of Jaffa, and rose to international fame in 2009 as the name of a film set here which won international awards and was nominated for an Oscar. The film explored life in the neighborhood, which remains largely Arab in population, and is one of the first Israeli films to be created largely in Arabic.
This part of Jaffa is often glossed over by tourists as it falls further south than the majority of the ‘tourist sites’ in the Old City, Port, and Flea Market areas. With a bit of local knowledge, however, Ajami offers a unique cultural experience, and thanks to Samy D., an ex-Ajami local, we are able to present below some of the sites, sounds, and people that make this special part of Jaffa what it is. This article is more than just a tourist guide, it is a glimpse into the life and world of a local, picking on a few features of life here which make this place special and unique:
Falafel on Saturday morning. Right across the corner from where we used to live there are 2 families making homemade Falafel on Saturday mornings (one on Emmunim Street, the other on Even-Sinna Street you can just follow the smell, it’s delicious). Fresh pita, sliced tomato and falafel balls (more of a patty than the usual ball) full of flavor. The good life, the good life in a pita.
Um- Ali. The neighborhood’s greengrocer, a lovely and tolerant lady. Aside from pears, tomatoes and any other familiar vegetables she has many herbs and roots that I did not know even exist. Some would say that her pricing is correlated to the car you park on the curve in front, some would say that the brown part of the banana is not rotten but ‘Baladi’ (the local version of organic), but there is no one like Um-Ali when it comes to choosing the best watermelon or for the best olives (she sells them by the cashier).
Stuffed Grape leaves. Jaffa for the advanced. Personally, I know those of Noel (from Kedem Street) but she is not the only one. You give her an empty pot in any size and color and two days later you get it back full of grape leaves stuffed with rice rolled perfectly, with an accuracy of a Buddhist monk on Ritalin.
Hamidron Park (“the slope park”). It is true that once it was a neighborhood, it is true that in the 80’s the place turned to be a construction waste site, it is also true that the development of the park was accelerated when many Israeli Jews moved to Jaffa – but the bottom line is that it is very very beautiful.
I followed the different stages of the new park’s development. In the beginning, the hills of construction waste were made out of colorful tiles, ceramic electric fuses and even everyday’s household items which cried out the story of the obliterated neighborhood. The time passing, the salty air and giant grinding machines transformed the broken pieces of life to high hills of sand and gravel. From one weekend to another the hills moved and slid to their final position of curvaceous slopes having an abundance of intimate hideaways and vast public spaces. There is even one spot in which Tel Aviv from one side and Bat-Yam on the other are hidden from the eye and all one can see is more than 180 degrees of blue touching blue.
Derech-Hagouf (Jaffa-Chic Wellness Center). In a small turn from Kedem Street (3 Menuha Street) you can find the Jaffa-chic wellness center Derech-Haguf. Once in a few months I go there for an Ayurvedic massage from one of the best – Marian Schwaitzer. After the treatment you can sit on the small terrace facing the sea and drink cold tamarind juice. On my last birthday, a few weeks ago, I put my back muscles to Marian’s practiced hands – so he could dismantle me gently.
Other places you may like to visit in Ajami which are more on the tourist trail, but still are not experienced by many tourists:
The Peres Center for Peace. An incredible institution named for President Shimon Peres, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 1996, this unique center houses what is effectively Peres’s Presidential Library, as well as hosting activities promoting coexistence between Jews and Arabs within Israel and on an international basis.
This article is part of a series of articles by Samy D. about the Jaffa the tourist doesn’t see but which some lucky people get to experience on a daily basis. You can find the original post here or see the amazing ceramics work done by Samy D. in the neighborhood of Neve Tzedek.