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Israel’s hottest new tourist trend peeks behind closed doors

Posted By Karin Kloosterman On March 27, 2008 @ 9:48 am In | No Comments

Houses from Within enables visitors to get a rare glimpse inside the White City of Tel Aviv.It’s not uncommon for Israelis to stop by a friend’s house without forewarning for a coffee or tea, but until now, outsiders had very few opportunities to see what Israeli residences look like from within.

A new Israeli festival “Houses from Within,” based on the phenomenally successful London and New York “Open House” model, kicked off its first weekend event in Tel Aviv last spring. Condenast Travel magazine rates it as the hottest new Israeli tourist trend.

The free weekend tour set to happen again this May, brought out 20,000 tourists who were given a rare glimpse inside Tel Aviv residences and historical buildings, including gems such as Bauhaus buildings, normally not open to the public.

The event happened again this past fall, in Jerusalem, where for the first time visitors were able to see inside the homes of Christian clergy, Muslim residents and other historical buildings.

“The whole thing began when I saw a similar event in New York and I thought that this could be an excellent idea for the architectural community in Israel – especially because architecture is not considered part of the culture. Here it’s more of a Real Estate issue,” festival curator Alon Bin-Nun, an architect and professor at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, tells ISRAEL21c.

In Jerusalem, says Bin-Nun, it was very interesting to see all the communities, and Christian homes from all types of denominations, including the Greek Orthodox Patriarchy. In total some 96 “events” occurred in Jerusalem; and there were 69 in Tel Aviv.

For the next festival in May (16-17), Bin-Nun has already lined up 110 events, and suggests that those interested read the catalog carefully before the weekend, because it is impossible to view every venue on the list. Some stops or “events” as Bin-Nun calls them, require advance registration.

But would-be-tourist-goers should note, Houses from Within is not just a casual opportunity to sightsee in the urban Israeli jungle. Special lectures on architecture, culture and history are also part of the fun.

The Israeli Ministries of Tourism and Foreign Affairs see the potential in the new fete as well, and currently Bin-Nun is working with them to help push Houses from Within to becoming a major tourist attraction in Israel. Bin-Nun reports that Open House, London is the single-most popular tourist event for the city each year.

What Bin-Nun likes most about the Israeli version of Open House is that it closely resembles what he experienced in New York. “There was an openness. It’s an anti-annihilating event,” he says. “One day suddenly the city opens up for you and welcomes you to its homes. It’s amazing to see how people act when you give them that opportunity.”

Houses from Within, however, is not only opening houses, but hearts too. “It’s all for free. You pay for nothing. The spirit of this event is amazing,” admits Bin-Nun.