Bi-Polarization on Sheinkin Street

The Zionist activist, Menahem Sheinkin, who formulated the name of the city “Tel Aviv” and who died in 1925, wouldn’t have believed his eyes. In his youth, he was a Torah scholar and he died tragically in an automobile accident in Chicago while on a mission. Menahem Sheinkin could have thought, perhaps even expected, that a street should be named after him, but if this had already been done, then why this “Sheinkin” Street!? He didn’t like mixing residences with businesses and, consequently, assisted in creating a commercial center, “Mercaz Ba’ale Hamlacha” Street (the Street of Craftsmen). He wouldn’t have wanted this street and all that it represents to be associated with his name.








Sheinkin on Friday

Over the years, this street became a bi-polarized cultural center, territories charged with the symbolism that results from opposing stances. In the face of the religiously observant: (“National Religious”, ultra-orthodox and elderly) people who live in the area, a global, shallow and “trendy” culture that is constantly changing has been sprouting in accordance with the messages received from abroad.






It is a temporary artificial culture versus permanent religion. The most permanent feature in this trendy fashion is its lack of permanence. Additional permanency that can be found is the constant movement along the street – movement or parades of merchandise and human bodies.

We don’t possess a true historical memory, and what was will not be preserved. History is evolving daily on this street – history for a day! “Sheinkin” illustrates a non-historical zone. There is no real tension between the past and the future in Sheinkin. The changing culture has converted the street into an international brand name – A symbol for the fashionable, trendy, innovative frivolous Tel Aviv lifestyle. Despite all, “Sheinkin” is a street that truly has something to show.

During a short tour of the street which, from all aspects, doesn’t have the most sophisticated language, one can see a large number of ultra-religious Jews with their black coats, a colorful toy store, a custom soap boutique, gourmet restaurants and a confectioner. One can also find a place for information on sexuality, a store for holy Kabbalistic items, designer stores, style-oriented pedestrians and impatient drivers. Especially on Fridays, this street doesn’t have a superfluous decibel of silence or a square centimeter of vacant space. The visual restlessness can create human restlessness and only illegal intoxicating substances could slightly calm the hysteria of the street’s passers by.

The main and more active section of the street begins at the lush green Rothschild Boulevard, and ends abruptly in a junction of streets that split into four directions: The Carmel market, Allenby, Nahalat Binyamin and King George Streets.

Sheinkin Street is the backbone of the area. It projects its character into all the streets that cross it from right and left. It is used and acts as a ”Street Theater” that sells and presents a selection of “original human performances” that change with a very high frequency because of superficial fashion trends. The artificial products, the plastics satiate the nation only for a short period and satisfy it until the latest fashion change comes along. This is a residential, fashion and shopping street with geographical limits that have long ago expanded into cultural and fashion limits.

The human movement provides the prime importance in every Street Show. Most of the pedestrians, who roam around aimlessly, those who watch the “street performance” and those who are being watched, the “ street actors” are visitors from Tel Aviv and its surroundings. They arrive in the area on buses and limousine taxis, in order to absorb and be absorbed into the artificial urban context; perhaps to be liberated from the cultural and mental stagnation of that other place from which they have escaped.

In the new place, Sheinkin, the exposed culture is not wittier and cleverer. The youths’ urge to get to “the city” draws them to Sheinkin. For the most part, they are high school and university students or army conscripts. Families visit Sheinkin in smaller numbers, as it isn’t as convenient as the regular malls, mainly because there is nowhere to park. Most of the apartments are populated by adults or are leased out to young adults from other cities or neighborhoods, who have come to the “hot spot” full of illusions and hope. They arrived in the big city with a dream. Their hope is that the dream will become reality and will change their lives completely. In their wildest imagination, they have already become superstars dressed in shining plastic.

The crowd in Sheinkin is the real hero. Scrutinizing under a magnifying glass, one can see that it consists of interesting individuals with various qualities. Looking at it naturally, one notices that the crowd is one complete and consolidated image. The vulgarity or the consolidated image results in neutralizing individuals, and their personal qualities become secondary and valueless.

Some people reside in the neighborhood and work elsewhere and some both reside and work in this area, in the “Sheinkin Street Theater.” The “performances” at Sheinkin inundate visitors’ senses with a complicated mixture of stimuli, thoughts and symbols that act on their senses quickly and forcefully. The Sheinkin experience stems from a person’s willful or submissive over exposure to the various layers of the seething fermenting urban potpourri. This exposure penetrates into the audience with the aid of the visual and emotional elements that generate the experience in every corner and alley. The social contrast together with the color, the physical and verbal friction, the noise and smell create the shock. These create the experience.

Here, one can also find older people who are seeking a return to the days of glory and to once again experience youth’s exhilaration. Publicists that seek to be heard and influence can be seen on every corner. Those who are hardly making a living for the moment are the salespeople and waiters. Perhaps above all, everyone is seeking that moment of another world, over the ocean, which bears the spirit of so many. The almost naked manikins in the display windows are mirrors that reflect the dreams of the genuine youths in the street. An aura of mysticism hovers over this materialistic sensuous world and blurs the boundary between reality and hallucination.

Sheinkin, one of the last vibrant streets remaining in Israel, is an unmistakable urban alternative to shopping malls, where there is also a “Street Theater.” The fake and theatrical décor in Sheinkin Street is constantly changing. The most permanent thing is the change. The illusion and disregard of reality stimulate this place. It is a street of brand names, the upper and the lower, the revealed and concealed that the best of marketers know how to exploit to their own benefit. Here, the “empty envelope”’ the “front cover” of the street receives the closest attention from the city’s youngsters who are questing for something new, an additional thrill on which to depend, a passing dream that will possibly never be realized. Amongst men – an appearance of a mischievous boy, amongst the women – a sexy collection under the influence of the seventies and eighties. Often an innovative product or daring clothes that reveal the bodies of sixteen year-old girls injects adrenalin into the sensation-thirsty street.


Typical look of Sheinkin















Sheinkin is a street that searches for a singular, rather than a profound, three-dimensional meaning. The colorful and fashionable street that changes every morning is ravenous for sweets, cakes, fun and games. One can find clothing shops today that never existed yesterday. Shops for knickknacks and trendy and cool accessories frequently open and close.

The illusion that money can be made here is quickly and forcefully detonated. Nevertheless, there are those who never give up, survive and are trying for their second and third times even after suffering losses. The impression is more important than the reality of truth. There are cafes and bars on some of the corners. They provide a little rest, for the body and soul, for those stepping through the beauty pageant and the Sheinkin Street Theater show.

Politics and Religion
Most of the original neighborhood inhabitants – the young urban middle class of Tel Aviv can no longer be found here. The population has changed into less economically sound classes including the elderly population, ultra-religious families who have begun to settle in and build “courtyards” in the place. Later, young adults arrived in the “large city” and began to settle. These inflamed youths “ignited” the area that had had relatively cheap residences in the heart of the city. This incoming extreme visual liberalism in the street did not scare or drive out the stronghold of conservatism.


A store for Kabbalistic items













The black-clad ultra religious live and study a stone’s throw away from the opposing semi clad secular people. The cohabitation of secular, religious and ultra religious people has a different meaning here. The observant prefer to reside on the side streets and not on Sheinkin Street itself so that they won’t be exposed to “idolatry.” The religious stubbornly stick to their land, but are prepared to do this while understanding and accepting the changes shaping around them. Here, the religious rear their children, who walk on the sidewalks and play in a park full of semi-naked youngsters, some smoking, many tattooed and with loud hair styles, many adorned with multiple body piercing.

Although this permissive environment isn’t acceptable to the ultra-religious and totally contradicts their lifestyle, they prefer to ignore this and continue with their way of life and perhaps their religious beliefs are even strengthened.

Political Graffiti:

“Separation wall = Warsaw Ghetto 2004”








Along Sheinkin Playground, there is a broad building, in which there is a synagogue and Habad Center (Hasidic Jews). The Center’s administrators and emissaries are at work, diligently and intensively daily. They hold the belief that the holiness of the land of Israel applies to all walks of life in Israel, including Sheinkin Street. In their manner, they conduct lessons at the Yeshiva (school of higher religious learning) that they established in the city for the “repentant” (those returning to religion). Dozens of young people who used to get into trouble daily and roam around the streets beneath the building or the adjacent streets are now closer to Judaism and a religious way of life. Their intense activity in the field of Judaism and involvement in a liberal and mainly left-wing environment does not drive them away from the in depth involvement in activities against giving up areas of the Land of Israel.

Representatives from “the Left” are active from another political aspect. In the recent past, three left-wing activists were arrested after calling on the inhabitants of Sheinkin and its surroundings on loudspeakers to seclude themselves in their homes in protest of the IDF’s curfew policy in the occupied territories. They tried to impose a simulated curfew on the Sheinkin district in protest of the curfews that the IDF imposes on the Palestinian Authority’s territories. This activity is only a part of the list of activities that they have conducted. In the past, the group declared a week of human rights in the territories. The group’s members erected a protest tent in Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv and conducted lectures, workshops and activities against the IDF policy in the territories.

The brand “Sheinkinite” has gained political power beyond the street itself. During political debates in the Knesset, at various committee meetings and at large conventions, right wing protagonists call any liberal or left wing thinker or the non-observant “Sheinkinites.” Indeed, secularism and left wing opinions characterize many of the Sheinkin inhabitants who have been moving in over the last two decades.

A McDonald's branch has opened in Sheinkin. Before its opening, a large protest against McDonalds united religious factors with environmentalist and social factors together with animal conservation organizations before its opening. The central claim was that a fast food restaurant would significantly increase the number of vehicles in the area, which would be detrimental to the inhabitant’s quality of life.

In many countries, the American hamburger chains clash with authentic local values. In Israel, the main opposition has a religious setting. Most of the McDonalds restaurants in Israel serve non-kosher products and work on the Sabbath, even though the meat they offer is kosher. The chain’s manager in Israel has often exploited the religious protest to present his business as a struggle for the sanctity of secular freedom. Many of Sheinkin’s inhabitants believe that this global corporation is a disaster from many aspects: It is detrimental to the public health, especially poor working conditions (especially for the youth), the Americanization of local eating habits and ruining land tracts. During the protest activity, it became clear that most of the area’s inhabitants opposed the opening of the branch. However, the inhabitants of the harmed building and its adjacent buildings – pensioners and tenants – weren’t well organized and the corporation never faced any serious opposition.

The Homosexual Community
Despite the continual friction and the close proximity of the religious to the remaining secular inhabitants, the Sheinkin area has remained a convenient platform and a free space for homosexual, bisexual and transgender activities. More than ten years ago, the annual Pride Parade was inaugurated. The first parade was on Sheinkin Street with less than 20 participants, who were afraid to be recognized. At present, tens of thousands of people come to celebrate the Gay Pride Parade (relocated to another site in the city) – indicating the essential change in the social attitude to this matter, a change that originated on Sheinkin Street in a small way (“Sheinkin” the concept as well as the physical) and spread successfully and constantly to broader areas.


A gadgets store









This urban shopping street differs from typical malls. There are no parking lots, air conditioning, performances for children or public conveniences. Like a regular mall, it intrudes into the visitors’ eyes and pockets. There are many advertising areas aimed at persuading undecided young consumers to purchase items by intentionally blurring logic with sight.

“Sheinkin” generates an atmosphere of enticement that stimulates visitors to act. They change from passive to active consumers. People come to the street to see or be seen, and suddenly find themselves drawn into a buying role. With the aid of techniques and illusions, visitors invest their money in superfluous items. The bustling colorful street generates an atmosphere from another world, an ostentatious world, and a dream void of economic problems that, in only a matter of minutes, will come true if only you place your money in the correct place. The street generates a feeling of a dream tour, a changing world or confusion in the ability for logical decision-making with the aid of cheap kitsch that costs a lot. The pedestrians’ wisdom and intelligence are tested on every corner or at any event on this stage space.

“Sheinkin” is a ”theater”: plots, stages and masks under the guise of a simple buying and selling process. This experience creates a performance, the imprint of which is but temporary with a colorful pyrotechnical essence. The naked advertising industry has reached large dimensions in Sheinkin. A civil society that decides to allow the opportunity of selling clothing using provocative methods, will exploit this method to sell everything possible. Evidently, the vulnerable population around “Sheinkin” cooperates with this system willingly. If this doesn’t satisfy expectations, the same society that allowed this phenomenon to become reality, will use more daring and stunning means until it reaches its goals.

On one Friday during the past year, a crowd blocked the traffic on Sheinkin Street. A new branch of a fashion house was opened on the street. No one in the audience even considered moving and losing their place at the best show in town. What started out as a clothing chain’s fashion show rapidly became a lecherous sociological presentation with the fragrance of pedophilia – Under-age girls disrobed for clothes in the middle of the day, in the center of Tel Aviv, in full view of ravenous males, who applauded them for every item of clothing removed. The reaction wasn’t long in coming. Within days the store was burnt down, apparently in protest against the unconventional marketing method. It would seem that the nudity extracted everyone who wishes to purify Israel from the closet. The police theorized that the pictures of the event offended a certain section of the public’s feelings and they decided to commit a criminal act by burning down the store. In a pamphlet distributed a week before the arson, the company offered “a shirt for a shirt and trousers for trousers.” No one expected that the campaign would have a new turn of events and that buyers would insist on adding bras and panties to the payment. On-site representatives of the Chain had tried to prevent the girls from stripping completely, but the latter refused aggressively and insisted on removing their undergarments as well.

In order not to offend the feelings of others, apparently it is necessary to enforce the laws of advertising to minors, to declare a public struggle to boycott stores and chains that exploit nudity and violence in advertising. Hopefully one day, it will be the advertisers themselves who will say that they have had enough and who will turn to different marketing avenues.

The Sheinkin district was planned for the quality of life suitable to previous centuries. It consists of a very narrow, intimate and crowded one-way street. Except for a few buildings, it has nothing special; most of the buildings are of no special historical importance. It has a fairly boring unexclusive stylistic and periodic mixture. Building materials placed patch on patch. They have no beautiful features. There are no durable materials that could survive the urban rough treatment. There are soft, flexible, colorful materials that will bend and break within a short while. The physical reality in the street reflects the inner strength and reality of the human spirit around Sheinkin. From the street level, one sees visual chaos. The minor presence and significance of the houses is a type of declaration that doesn’t want to deal with the human environment that gnaws at the built up environment. The posters on the buildings, combined with the material duality, create a feeling of mendacity and deception. The geometry isn’t consistent or definitive.

Most buildings have flat roofs, contrasted by others with sloping roofs, as if these were romantic. The buildings’ heights differ, almost all of them are old and neglected and the manner of maintaining them is negligent and slovenly. The protruding advertising signs are affixed to the facades of houses everywhere possible. The street doesn’t boast orderly, preplanned furniture (benches, notice boards, uniform illumination, refuse bins), emphasizing the lack of consideration for the potential clients.

On the building walls, graffiti is often obvious alongside the notices of job seekers, apartments for rent and political slogans mainly against the political right-wingers. Ground floor apartments in some of the buildings have become cafes or different kinds of “disposable dress” products boutiques/shops. The penetration of commercial space into the apartments illustrates that the street is narrow and crowded and was never intended as a commercial center. In the courtyards behind the buildings, a commercial line of bodies has developed offering their wares to passers by. There are cafes and “second hand” shops that have sprouted over recent years in the wake of the difficult economic situation.


Sheinkin Street











A capitalistic society will exploit every opportunity to make profits. The shopkeepers also sell the quality of life of those who dwell in apartments above them. The tenant’s lives have become insufferable and only young restless people are able to live there. Air conditioners are noisy; odor and smoke extraction pipes from the cafes are affixed to the buildings and reinforce the feeling of disorderliness at the site. Cafes encroach onto and obstruct the narrow sidewalks and “occupy” every vacant spot, blocking the natural pedestrian traffic. Walking in the street with an infant’s pram could be a difficult experience and demand much time and patience. Some of the essential features for the existence of a bustling urban street are the stoppages, the encounters the broad traffic routes and the architectural nature that dictate the broad and narrow sidewalk sections – all of benefit to the fervent life of the street and adapted to the type of person and the pedestrians’ convenience. Sheinkin lacks breadth!


“Colorful” Sheinkin















A street could be a place in which democracy thrives. Here, in Sheinkin, this freedom has been erased and has disappeared. The narrow widths of the sidewalks together with the visual messages that regulate people’s movement prohibit the proper conditions for natural walking in the public area. In order to feel free, people have to be able to walk in a street without physical and visual obstacles and obstructions. In Sheinkin, there are too many visual and physical obstacles that complicate the natural flow of pedestrians to a large extent. Control and inspection, by local authorities, on the street’s natural development could have provided a little relief.

On both sides of the street, there are rows of old neglected buildings. These-one to five storey buildings have not been renovated or painted for decades. They are simply disintegrating. The young tenants who change frequently have painted the facades of the buildings in all the colors of the spectrum or in the cheapest paints on sale. Between the two rows of houses is the public space in which pedestrians play the game of “pretending” to be famous with themselves and with the shopkeepers, the proprietors of the stages.


Cafes on Sheinkin











Only the facades on the street level that contains the shops receive a new look, new but temporary, soft and weak. This happens every time a new store opens in the place of its predecessor that closed down. The upper parts of the facades remain gray, crumbling and scuffed. The temporary appearance that glimmers on the ground floor is, in fact, a curtain that conceals the real and decayed truth about the place. This environment has something undefined and undetermined. This is the reason for the uniqueness of the place. At large, no one resembles another, not the stores, not the people, not the passers by, who come to refresh their spirits.

At Sheinkin, the border between reality and dream, visible and invisible, stability and instability, black and white, truth and falseness, between what belongs to me and what belongs to the public is very thin. The street is a fantasy of another space, a space that is perhaps anarchical and disconnected from the physical and cultural space in which it is located. It has a blending of conservatism and mustiness versus wild dreams integrated with the most extreme freedom and daring. Fortunately, these are accompanied by much tolerance and mutual acceptance. Despite all, it appears to everyone that here everything is possible. In this street, the youth dream of feeling like the heroes of their culture, limitless in time, in Israel and abroad, artists at present or in fantasies, seeking inspiration, direction and perhaps a way, searching for themselves. They buy themselves presents for a fleeting moment of happiness.

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