Sure, it helps if you love to ogle the latest in hand-made crafts. But even if you don’t know a piece of greenware from earthenware, Tel Aviv’s Nachalat Binyamin Art & Craft Fair is a fun and funky way to spend a lazy Tuesday or Friday afternoon (the two days the fair is open).
The nearly 10,000 visitors who meander through 200-plus artist stalls at the market each week—the local balmy climate makes this a year-round event—are treated to a multi-sensory Tel Aviv experience. For starters, they get to sample what local artists are up to: primitive clay figures, ceramic wall hangings, weavings, contemporary Judaica, stuffed animals, wooden toys, and elegant glass vases, plus every kind of jewelry imaginable from beaded earrings to high-end gold brooches.
But visitors are also invited to savor the smells from the dozens of cafes dotting the area, redolent of shwarma, fancy cheeses, and an assortment of homemade Moroccan treats. On a given day, they may be treated to street performances by Tel Aviv’s resident actors and musicians, and they can hear the dealers in the colorful Middle Eastern Carmel market around the corner hawking their wares at their top of their lungs. On a recent afternoon, even a persistent rain failed to put a damper on the fun, with artists cheerfully pulling plastic tarps on and off their wares, depending on the precipitation of the moment.
Another treat to the senses are the dozens of fabric stores that dominate the neighborhood on the days the arts and crafts show isn’t in gear. Countless bolts of fabric dazzle the eye with a rainbow of shimmery offerings that appear destined to festoon a six-foot-tall model sashaying down one of Tel Aviv fashion runways.
In addition, history and architecture buffs will want to see the old buildings lining Nachalat Binyamin Street, which though often run down have not lost any of their charm. And within a few short blocks, shoppers with swanky tastes and budgets to match will discover the chi-chi retail offerings along Allenby and Sheinkin streets.
Established in 1988 after the city of Tel Aviv closed Nachalat Binyamin (named after Zionist pioneer Benyamin Ze’ev Herzl) to traffic and created a pedestrian mall, the Nachalat Binyamin Art & Craft Fair is the oldest and largest show of its kind in Israel. Indeed, it is not an accident that the city is focusing many of its revitalization efforts on this multi-faceted and highly diverse neighborhood. Here, tourists and locals alike are invited to dip into the melting pot that is modern Tel Aviv. You’ll hear French spoken, along with Arabic, English, Russian, and of course, Hebrew.
You can be assured that the person who sells you the piece is the one who made it. The Nachalat Binyamin rule is that the artists, who are selected by committee, are required to create their wares themselves and sell them themselves. It turns out that the advantage of this personal contact—customer (or habitual browser) meeting artist face to face—works both ways. “When I joined the place I didn’t know that it would give me such an opportunity to communicate what I do with all kinds of people,” says Amnon Lipkin, a fabric artist who runs a business called Pashut. “It’s not like just putting your work in a shop or gallery or mall where you never meet the person who takes it home.”
In the last three years since he began exhibiting here, Lipkin has begun demonstrating his sewing techniques to appreciative crowds. “There’s something very clear about showing what you do in a public place where you meet all kinds of people. It’s not always nice what they say,” he adds with a grin. “But it’s always fresh and always alive.”
Renee Hirsch of Ra’anana is a veteran Nachalat Binyamin shopper who also enjoys the interaction with artists, as well as the diversity “from the man selling wind chimes, to the woman selling over 70 kinds of chamsas (sculptured hands on which blessings are written), to the husband and wife team selling hand blown glass jewelry.”
“And everyone can afford to buy something since they have things for all tastes and in all price ranges,” she says.
The sense of camaraderie here is almost palpable, as artists sell side by side for years, often swapping their works and forming a circle of support. Lipkin experienced this first-hand last year after someone stole his cart—along with all his artwork. “It was a horrible night, and after so many hours of searching, at around 6 in the morning the police and I were ready to give up,” he recalls. But after he posted a plea on Facebook with a photo of him behind his cart, within two hours the phone began to ring with offers to help him replace the cart. “Everyone offered me sewing machines and money to start again,” he says. “People I didn’t even know were wanting to help and, even though we never found it, the community support was amazing…and I was able to quickly get back on my feet and back at work again.”
The Nachalat Binyamin Art & Craft Fair is open twice a week year-round on Tuesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and somewhat later in the summer. Note: In case of heavy rain or winds, the market doesn’t open. For more information, visit http://www.nachlat-binyamin.com or call 03/516-2037.
By Deborah Fineblum/JNS.org