The founders of Neve Shaanan, a neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv, planned their streets in the shape of a seven-branched candelabra — a symbol of their Jewish faith. Ninety years later, the streets are full of Christmas decorations, reflecting a flowering of Christianity in Israel’s economic and cultural capital.
Tens of thousands of Christian foreigners, most of them laborers from the Philippines and African asylum seekers, have poured into the neighborhood in recent years. They pray year-round in more than 30 churches hidden in grimy apartment buildings. But in late December, their Christian subculture emerges in full force in the southern streets of Tel Aviv, whose founders called it the “first Hebrew city.”
On the Saturday before Christmas, the center of festivities was the city’s central bus station, a hulking seven-story maze of concrete. A plastic green fir spewed fake snow from its top in a shop near the main entrance. Christmas carols blasted from storefronts full of rice and noodles. Giggly young Filipino women took photographs with a Santa Claus figure to send to their friends and parents.