The Bats of Old Jaffa
It was midway through our evening – after we’d already strolled along the Tel Aviv waterfront at sunset and scrambled up the slightly steep, definitely historic, steps to the peak of Jaffa – when we were introduced to the bats of the old city. The sound hit us first: a combination of squeaking and squawking reminiscent of sea gulls that was both hypnotizing and slightly repellant. A few dazed tourists had already beat us to the prime spot in front of the crumbling building; in twos and threes they peered through the bars and capturing images on whirring digital cameras.
As I peered between dusty, rusty bars that offered scant protection from the legion within, I saw bats – hundreds maybe – chirping and diving inside the tumbling ruin of the Arab Hebrew Theatre. Bats hung from the ceiling and swooped from the shadows. Lit only by the street lamps on the sidewalk, beady eyes flashed amidst a beehive-like hum. Adding to the eerie, spooky feel – as if the bats buzzing in the twilight aren’t enough – a bizarre piece of installation art: worn-out, ratty wedding dresses and moldy, stuffed owls strung up from the rafters, twisting creakily in the evening breeze.
Back in the safety of my wifi enabled hotel room, I busily googled “bats” “Israel” “Jaffa” in various combinations. I found a couple of videos documenting similar experiences, but no real explanation. Why are the bats there? Why are there wedding dresses and manequins hanging from the ceiling? Is this public art or public nuisance? But google failed me, leaving me with no real answers…just the mystery of the squawking, swooping bats of the old city.
About the City
One of the oldest cities on earth – and the considered the birthplace of modern Tel Aviv – there’s lots to see in Old Jaffa. Start off with Clock Tower Square where, rumor has it, pilgrims once started their journey on foot to Jerusalem amidst wagon trains and camel convoys heading out to the trading ports and ancient cities of the Middle East. Wander down the alleyway and watch locals play shesh-besh (backgammon) during the day and gather around the hookah pipe as dusk sets upon the city.
While you stroll the streets and markets of the Jaffa, take moment to sit at a sidewalk café with a cup of strong Turkish coffee or a glass of ice cold Goldstar (the local Israeli beer) and absorb the contrast between the dusty streets of this ancient city and the bustling modernism of its neighbor, Tel Aviv.