Memories of the Zoo

Tel Aviv, 1938-1980


 The exhibit shows Tel Aviv's old zoo before it moved, and focuses on the way it which it is remembered: the animals, zoo workers like Johnny the mythological animal trainer, ticket vendor Weinberg who was in fact a walking advertisement for zoo's attractions, and a multitude of initiatives and events that took place in the zoo or were organized by its patrons.
Posters, illustrations, emblems, children's books and games, children's drawings and pictures, compositions and letters and a host of photographs are only some of the varied exhibits which bring back memories of a visit to the zoo by those who were once Tel Aviv children, and those who visited the zoo as one of the attractions of the big city.The extent and pace of the urban development of Tel Aviv, its vibrant streets, cultural institutions, shops, stores, and cafes made it into a city that realized the dreams of its founders.Against this backdrop one can easily understand the decision of the Tel Aviv Municipal Committee to lease a plot of land of a dunam and a half from Dr. Mordechai Shorenstein in order to build a zoo.
"The Zoo," a shop that traded in animals and sold animal as well as bird food, which Rabbi Dr. Shorenstein opened in 1935, soon became a focal point of interest that attracted Tel Aviv's children and adults alike.
The ever-growing collection of animals soon outgrew the plot of land and thus Dr. Shorenstein approached the Tel Aviv Municipality, helped by the "Association of Animal Lovers," and backed by a petition signed by 1139 city residents, and requested to lease a new site in order to build a zoo.
The new zoo opened its gates to the public in December 1938 on an area allocated on the Portalis grove site, which bordered on Shlomo Hamelech Street and Keren Kayemet Boulevard, in the north-eastern part of the city, which in those days was distanced from the center. Excitement was rife. The zoo was perceived as another stage in the Zionist enterprise of creating the first Jewish city. The zoo's buildings and cages were planned, free of charge, by Architect Leopold Lustig. Dr. Shorenstein was afraid that since the zoo was some distance from the city center its residents would not come to visit...
However, even in its first year of operation some 50,000 people visited the zoo. Some came from Tel Aviv, whose population at the time numbered some 120,000, and others - from all parts of the country. The zoo was a flourishing local success. Tel Aviv's mayor, Yisrael Rokach, assisted the zoo's managers - in the first years Dr. Shorenstein, and later, Baruch Gefer - by using his ties to conduct negotiations for purchasing animals in faraway places such as India, or with the head of the Cairo zoo. These international relations expanded, either by fundraising throughout the Jewish world or by sending different species, mainly after the end of World War II, to the zoos of Vienna, Berlin and Warsaw, and receiving others in return. Today there is correspondence in the zoo's archives which attests to the extent of involvement and interest which the residents of the country - Jews and Arabs alike - showed in the zoo. People would offer the zoo animals they hunted and caught in the Galilee and the Negev, and would consult the zoo employees about taking care of the animals. To increase the number of animals in the zoo its employees often made unusual appeals to different people, such as Jewish Brigade soldiers who fought with the British Army in North Africa, and asked them to bring back baby predators.
The zoo became a thriving Tel Aviv institution. "Order and cleanliness are first rate in the zoo and in the cages," writes Aharoni. "I saw the animals and birds and they all look healthy and well. The residents of Tel Aviv (and even more so - the Arab residents of Jaffa) appreciate this valuable enterprise and visit often. Thanks to the huge efforts of its devoted managers and employees, the zoo has become an important factor in the life of everyone, irrespective of status or age. It is a place where people can enjoy themselves, but no less so a place of learning, acquiring knowledge about animal life which cannot be taught in a classroom. The zoo today is a scientific and popular asset belonging to the residents of Tel Aviv," (Yisrael Aharoni, in a letter to Yisrael Rokach, 1945).
During the first 20 years of its existence the area of the Tel Aviv zoo expanded. In 1942 it was already eight dunams, in 1945, 14, and in 1953 an additional seven and a half dunams were added. At its height is reached an area of 34 dunams. In the 1960s, the zoo, which had been built on the outskirts of the city, was now in the heart of a densely-populated residential area. The complaints of the nearby inhabitants regarding the odor and noise, and the new Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality building on part of the zoo's area, brought about a decision to move the zoo to a site on the other side of the Yarkon River. And so, in 1964, as part of events related to the zoo's 25th anniversary, a cornerstone was laid for a new zoo - which was never built - in the Yarkon Park. Eventually the zoo's animals were transferred to the Safari Park in Ramat Gan in 1980-81, and a large shopping mall and the Gan Ha'ir tower were constructed on the site.
This exhibition is a joint initiative of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality Archives and the Museum as part of Tel Aviv's 100th anniversary.

Curator: Batya Donner
Opens: October 1, 2009

Closes: April 5, 2010