When we made Aliya in 1971, we were told that the place to buy furniture was on Herzl St, Tel Aviv. So off we went.
Herzel street was a bustling marketplace, with canvas covered tricycles and small delivery trucks waiting for a storekeeper to call them to deliver some furniture. And they came from all over. I even remember one day seeing an Arab merchant from Yaffo, towing a camel behind on a hemp rope with which to carry his purchases back home.
The smells of the open spice sacks lining the side streets leading into Herzl and the laid-back manner of the storekeepers lent a definite Middle East flavor to the atmosphere, and an almost primitive, so to speak, scene for an American coming in from the big city bustling with trains and all sorts of surface transportation.
Dusty old Egged buses dominated Allenby and Ben Yehuda Streets and the thought of an underground and light rail system for Tel Aviv was a fantasy.
Israel population in the early 1970s stood at roughly 3 million. Construction for the 24 km light rail line began in August 2015 with a population of close to 8 million. After 8 years of planning, experimenting and completing the project, the light rail was inaugurated on Friday, August 28, 2023, to the applause and praise of the many who attended the ceremony. Today, Israel’s population is close to 10 million and growing.
The significance of this colossal achievement below and above the burning sands of Tel Aviv lies in Benjamin Herzl’s expression in his determination to build his “Alteneuland” at the early part of the 19th century, when he concluded that indeed “if you will it, it is no legend”.
It is the קמעה קמעה of Israel’s small beginnings with camels on Herzl Street in Tel Aviv which has metamorphosized, with Israel’s continuing progress coming faster, in line with כל מה שהיא הולכת רבה היא הולכת, into the light rail system now operating throughout the Tel Aviv area from Petach Tikva to Bat Yam!
If at the beginning, Israel’s development took place slowly, slowly, as the sunrise itself, as it moves on, it comes faster and faster because as the Gemora in Megilla says עתידין עמי לבוא, my people are destined to return home, and a massive population needs a fast rail system to move its population around in Tel Aviv as well as throughout the country.
This fast-moving development of Israel’s infrastructure of its transportation system brings to light another promise made to the Children of Israel as they return home to build their future in Herzl’s Alteneuland.
Elsewhere, G-d promises (Devarim 30:5):
וֶהֱבִיאֲך ה’ אלוקך אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר-יָרְשׁוּ אֲבֹתֶיךָ וִירִשְׁתָּהּ וְהֵיטִבְךָ וְהִרְבְּךָ מֵאֲבֹתֶיךָ:
And G-d will bring you back to the land your forefathers inherited, and you will inherit it, and it will be even better for you than (it was for) your forefathers, and you will multiply.
This oath God made with His people puzzled me. How could it be even better than at the time of Kings and dynasties; Empires and the Batei Milkdash? Solomon and David, the 12 tribes and the priesthood?
I found in the answer in an old Sefer I once saw: רב קומות! Towers.
Someone, somewhere, at some time, understood that for the complete return of the Jews from throughout their dispersion back into the land of Israel, the domed, squat one-story architectural discoveries found over the decades, simply wouldn’t suffice for the “newland”! That is the promise. That is Israel’s reality today.
The camels one sees in the Negev and as a tourist attraction on the Har Hazeitim are nostalgic. But light rail and towers are the promise of return, and return is the promise of the glory of God’s Presence back to Zion, when eventually all mankind will accept and realize that to the God of Israel alone is the Kingdom and to Him alone shall all man bow down and acknowledge.
And if you believe it, it is not a fantasy! We recite this three times a day when we repeat the “Aleinu” prayer!