The Tel Aviv Central Bus Station

How did Tel Aviv end up with the largest bus station in the world? Proposed as a solution to Tel Aviv’s old central bus station, its shell sat abandoned for almost 20 years and became the city’s “white elephant”. Eventually construction of this eight-floor maze was finished and it opened to the public in 1993 with hopes of the massive labyrinth becoming an urban center containing everything from an Asian food market to a nuclear fallout shelter. Unfortunately, these dreams never became reality.

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. Name the architect that designed the Central Bus Station?
    • Ram Karmi
    • Dov Karmi
    • Nimrod Karmi
    • Shlomo Karmi
  2. In which type of architecture did Ram Karmi specialize?
    • Bauhaus
    • Brutalist
    • Gothic
    • Renaissance
  3. Which type of animal has found a home in the basement of the station?
    • Canadian marble fox
    • Australian possum
    • Syrian golden hamster
    • Egyptian fruit bat
  4. How many people pass through the station each day?
    • Over a million
    • Half a million
    • 100,000
    • Less than 50,000
  5. In which Jewish language will one find 60,000 books in a special library that lives in the station?
    • Ladino
    • Judeo-Arabic
    • Yiddish
    • Hebrew
  6. Which unique food will one find sold in the Filipino grocery market?
    • Coconut meat
    • Live octopus
    • Pangolin
    • Snake wine
  1. Israel’s history is full of big ambitious plans from pioneering drip irrigation to creating the start-up nation. Some plans have worked out, while others haven’t. At eight floors, the Central Bus Station is even larger than New York’s Grand Central Station. Why do you think Tel Aviv, a city with a population of less than half a million people, built the largest bus station in the world?
  2. The building of the station was quite an ambitious project given the fact that less than three million people were living in Israel at the time. Businessman Arieh Filtz commissioned Israeli architect Ram Karmi, a practitioner of the Brutalist style of architecture — known for fortress-like, concrete structures — to create a building in which travelers would become so disoriented that they would get lost among the shops and spend money. Dreaming big in spite of the odds is a feature of both Zionism and Capitalism. What lessons do you think can be learned from the failure of the bus station to live up to the dreams of its founders?
  3. When the cornerstone of the bus station was laid on Dec 14th 1967, it was described as a place for all of Israel to gather, a “City Under One Roof”. Journalist Naomi Zeveloff describes the bus station as a “a place where many peoples and cultures intersect — it’s certainly one of the most diverse spots in the country.” Of all the so-called attractions and extremities of the building from the Yiddish library to the bat cave, what is most interesting to you?
  4. Highlighting how integral the Central Bus Station has become to their community, a Catholic church next to the station created a modern icon that incorporates the bus station in the picture (see below). Do you think the fact that the Central Bus Station appears as an icon in a church makes it a place of religious significance no less than the more well-known sites of Israel?
    Under the wings of “Our Lady of Valor ‘,’ one can find images of people from many backgrounds together with verses from Psalms about faith in Hebrew. What can you learn about the desires, hopes and dreams of the Filipno community in Israel from this icon?
  5. Whenever the issue of public transportation arises in Israel, whether it’s related to a new light rail, a metro for Tel Aviv, or bus fare and taxi prices, the issue of Shabbat is always present. While several recent polls have shown that a majority of Israelis support public transport on Shabbat, the Haredi political parties have always been staunchly opposed, arguing that such a move would diminish the status of this holy day. What do you think? Do you think having a Jewish state should mean that the laws of Shabbat should be observed in public places?
  6. One of the main reasons the bus station failed was because it never brought in the amount of foot traffic expected as more Israelis have chosen to buy private cars over public transport in recent decades. Former MK Stav Shaffir argued that “we’re encouraged by the government to buy cars. Neighborhoods were built without access to public transportation and without bike lanes. They ignored linking outlying areas to the center and ignored buses, which handle 85 percent of all travel on public transportation. Another problem is the absence of public transportation on Shabbat, which compels many people to own their own car, even when they live in a big city.”Her solution is to make all public transportation in Israel free and have it running seven days a week. What do you think of this suggestion? Could this idea bring the masses back to the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station? What would be one of the downsides for both bus drivers and the Jewish character of the state if all stores and public transport in the CBS were to be open on Shabbat?
  1. Filipinos in Israel:
    About 30,000 mostly female Filipinos live in Israel, mostly as domestic workers and as caregivers for older or disabled Jewish Israelis. They are part of a large labor force of more than 200,000 foreigners who work in primarily low-wage jobs in sectors like construction and agriculture.For many of them, the Central Bus Station has become a home away from home. There is a Filipino church in the building where worshipers like Merry Christ Palacios come to pray. Palacios says she also gets her shopping done inside the building. “It’s special because I can find everything we need to buy,” she said of the station, which is home to a Filipino food market called Makati Cabalen. Almost unique among the markets of Israel, this one is open 7 days a week. Beyond that, the entire fourth floor of the station turns into a Filipino food market every Saturday when public transportation is shut down in observance of Shabbat.

    Choose one of the following tasks:
    As of December 2020, 55,705 foreign care workers reside legally in Israel, with 13,251 doing so illegally. Of the legal ones, the main nationalities were Filipino (36%), Indian (24%) and Moldovan (13%). All of these workers were originally sought out by the Israeli authorities to look after a growing population of elderly people, who, with medical advances, are living longer. They entered the country legally, often paying massive illegal brokerage fees for the privilege. There is currently a debate in Israel over whether these women should be allowed to stay or be deported because they are not Jewish. Make a list articulating the pros and cons of letting them stay or deporting them back to their home countries.
    OR
    Watch this video about a typical day for a Filpino caregiver in Israel. What does this teach you about both the lives of the elderly and those who care for them in Israel today?The local Filipino population find a sense of community in the station. Corinna Kern/Reuters
  2. Play our Kahoot about the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station!
  3. The graffiti on the walls of the CBS:
    Choose three works of art that appear on the walls of the Central Bus Station. For each image, share:- Why do you think they were drawn in the bus station and not in the street?
    – The message they are trying to say about the impact of modernization and technology on Israeli society
    – A label you would choose for the picture.
    – Follow up reflection question: Can you think of a place in your own city that was meant for one purpose and then became reinvented into something else? What does the story about the CBS teach us about the way cities evolve and change?

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