There’s a place in the center of Tel Aviv where great poets, politicians, artists, and ordinary people rest together. Trumpeldor Cemetery is a fascinating place to explore and celebrate the lives of some of Tel Aviv and Israel’s greatest minds. A cemetery might seem like an odd place to visit. However, with an eclectic collection of graves, many of which visually represent those who lie beneath, it is a captivating stroll through the social, cultural, and political history of Israel.
The entrance to the cemetery leads to a wall of graves with a shared stone that reads “grave of brothers”. This is where the victims of the 1921 riots in Tel Aviv were laid to rest. A bit further in is a stone with a map of Israel that memorializes those who died from disease and starvation when the Ottomans evacuated the city in 1918 in the belief that the Jews were working as British spies. Beyond these two memorials lies row upon row of stones of all shapes, sizes, and even colors.
The interplay of the dead and the living is also an interesting aspect of Trumpeldor’s character. Take a look at Moshe Sharett’s grave, who you might have seen on the 20 shekel bill. He requested that his tombstone not say anything. So when you see the plaque with a striking amount of text on it above his grave, it’s a thought provoking example of how we impose our memories on those who have passed.
Walking among the graves, you can feel the echoes of the Tel Aviv that exists today in the names upon the stones. Just as you walk down the streets named after them, you can visit the graves of Ehad Ha’am, Haim Arlozorov, Haim Nachman Bialik, Menahem Sheinkin, Dov Hoz, and many more. In the back corner, there is a cluster of oversized stones where such pillars of Zionist history as Max Nordau, Meir Dizengoff, and Shaul Tchernichovsky are buried. Look closely at Dizengoff’s grave and you will see a city seal, this seal upon a grave designates the resting site of a founder of Tel Aviv.
It’s not only politicians and writers that are buried here, but some of the nation’s artistic heroes as well. Often, their gravestones are as colorful as they were. Reuven Rubin is buried near Dizengoff and his gravestone beautifully captures his style of painting in the design of the text. The fabulous Yemenite singer, Soshana Damari’s grave is fittingly adorned with anemones, after the song that made her famous. Wander around and see what you can learn about who people were just from the design of their stones. With some of these markers, you don’t need a word of Hebrew to get a sense of their lives.
If you do want to take advantage of the opportunity to put your Hebrew skills to the test, StreetWise Tours led by Guy Sharett offers a Hebrew lesson through the cemetery. This lesson brings you between the stones of different time periods to teach you how Hebrew speaks of the dead and how the language has evolved through the years. With gravestones spanning over a century, it is a unique chance to see how the language is truly alive and has grown over the ages. You can check out his website to learn more about this and his other off-the-beaten-path Hebrew lessons. Some, like his cooking lessons, are a bit more lively for those who find graveyards a downer.
Mara Friedman is a born and raised New Yorker who took the leap and moved to Israel. She lives and writes in Tel Aviv.