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Tel Aviv, History, Town Planning

Tel Aviv  and Odessa

As the founders of Ahuzat Bayit envisioned the end result of the city they were founding, Odessa became a metaphor for their vision of a European-style urban center in Eretz Yisrael that would be a cross between Odessa and Paris.   S.Y. Agnon saw Jaffa as a parody of Odessa while Zeev Jabotinsky saw in Odessa a universal city that embodies liberal and progressive values.

Similar Demographic and Cultural Foundations

Ahuzat Bayit and Odessa had a lot in common: both were defined as new cities that grew through the steady influx of foreigners.  Most of Odessa’s population was not Russian locals, but Italians, French, Germans, Englishmen, Greek and Jews who contributed to a cosmopolitan atmosphere and culture. Many Jews came to Odessa from towns in the Pale of Settlement. It was a city of culture that was described as a purgatory for Orthodox Jews, and as the city of wealth, freedom and tolerance for Jews. Odessa became a center for Hebrew culture and Zionist activity. All the same things could be said about Tel Aviv.

In Odessa, the first attempts were made to disseminate the modern Hebrew language, and the city had a rich selection of Hebrew-language newspapers.  Tel Aviv was the home of many writers, artists and thinkers. In Tel Aviv, a war was raging to preserve the Hebrew language under the slogan ‘’Hebrew, speak Hebrew.’’

Odessa’s Influence on Tel Aviv Urban Planning and Architecture

In addition, the planning of Ahuzat Bayit seems to have been influenced by urban architectural trends that developed in Odessa, the city where Jews were first exposed to modern artistic and architectural creations as reflections of universal values.  Ahad Ha’am, Y.H. Rawnitzki, Simcha Ben-Zion, Shmuel Dubnov, Zeev Jabotinsky. Menachem Ussishkin, Meir Dizengoff, Chaim Nachman Bialik, and many others all had lived in or experienced Odessa. In addition, architect Yehuda Megidovich, who was Tel Aviv’s municipality’s first city engineer and designer of the famous Pensak Passage, Tel Aviv’s first commercial building, studied architecture in the University of Odessa.

The planning principles that determined the character of Ahuzat Bayit were similar to those that had first shaped Odessa’s urban landscape.  They were both founded on Western trends that were popular at that time, including the universal orthogonal grid. Odessa building regulations defined the style of the houses, which were European and monumental in character, and built by foreign architects. Odessa was often portrayed as a frontier city that sprung up almost out of nowhere.  In the same way, Tel Aviv also grew rapidly and was considered the city that made the Asian desert of Eretz Yisrael bloom. Both were not capital cities.  In the case of Tel Aviv, it developed alongside the historic capital of Jerusalem, but took a different course: it became a modern urban center that served as a window to the West.


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