Now the southernmost part of the Tel Aviv municipality, Jaffa (Yaffo in Hebrew, sometimes spelled Joppa) is an ancient port city, mentioned several times in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible), including the Book of Chronicles, where it is the port through which supplies were brought for the construction of Solomon’s Temple.

In ancient times, streets (and city gates) were often named after the places they led to (for example, Hebron Road in Jerusalem leads to…Hebron). It is fascinating that the main street of Jerusalem — Jaffa Road — was named after this “little port town” on the Mediterranean coast!

In more recent times, Napoleon conquered Jaffa in 1799 and massacred its inhabitants. There were major battles here in 1948 between Jewish forces (largely Menachem Begin’s Irgun) and Arab militias. Today, Jaffa is a mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhood and is part of the municipality of Tel Aviv. Full of art galleries, historic sites, cobblestone streets, and gorgeous views of Tel Aviv, Jaffa is a small — but popular — tourist destination.

Still, Jaffa’s true fame lies in the past. Said to be one of the oldest cities in the world, it has played an important role in the region for millennia. The city was often known to Jews as “Shaar Zion” (the Gateway to Zion), for the ancient port of Jaffa was the main access point to the Holy Land. Ships have been bringing their merchandise here for thousands of years.

Of course, ships also left Jaffa — including the boat to Tarshish that the prophet Jonah boarded as he was attempting to flee G‑d’s command (Jonah 1:3). G‑d sent storms and a large fish (sometimes referred to as a whale) to help Jonah realize his errors. The lesson for us is that G‑d is everywhere; one cannot escape from one’s mission in the world — and that we are meant to have mercy over all living things, as He most certainly does.

Mystical Jaffa is full of alleys, winding stairways, and cobblestone streets.
Mystical Jaffa is full of alleys, winding stairways, and cobblestone streets.