When Shlomo Lahat (Chich) was first elected mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo in 1974, what he inherited was not the vibrant, non-stop city we know today. The Tel Aviv of 1974 was a shell of a city: unkempt, full of dilapidated old apartments and unattractive municipal buildings. Although the burgeoning hi-tech industry had begun to take root, its positive economic impact had not yet been felt in the city, and many residents opted to move either north to Herziliya, Raanana and Kfar Saba or south to Rishon LeZion, Rehovot and Yavneh. The verdant and vibrant suburbs offered everything that Tel Aviv could not: an up-scale lifestyle, jobs, recreational amenities, greenery and parks.
Desperate to revitalize the city and reverse the negative population growth, Chich turned to the Mayor of Jerusalem Teddy Kollek for advice. Kollek suggested that Chich follow the precedent of the Jerusalem Foundation and create a fund-raising organization specifically for Tel Aviv. And thus in 1977, the Tel Aviv Foundation was born.
The young Foundation carved out its original agenda from a list of concerns expressed by the city’s residents. As the primary complaint was the lack of public transit to the beach on Shabbat, finding a solution became the Tel Aviv Foundation’s first task. With religious considerations preventing any change to the status quo, the Foundation decided to actively seek donations for the building of public swimming pools and community sports centers. These recreational facilities proved to be a resounding success, and, in less than ten years, more than fifteen centers were built.
The Schreiber Family in France was the first to contribute. Urged on by their friend, Tel Aviv City Councilor Emanuel Rasin, the Schreibers built a magnificent new youth center in Yafo. The second to contribute was Aryeh Branovitz, who after selling his Kupat Am Bank, built a community center in Yafo as well as a new wing at the Ichilov Hospital. Another interesting gift originated at a lunch between Mr. Goren Goldstein, the Italian owner of FIAT Israel and the Mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo. When the Mayor gave Mr. Goldstein permission to use an abandoned space in the city for the storage of cars, Mr. Goldstein was so grateful he made his pledge right then and there. The result was the creation of a state-of-the-art community center in Kiryat Shalom. Other notable donations for sports and community centers came from the Sobel and Sherman foundations in the UK and the Weider Foundation in Montreal.
At the same time that it was establishing community centers, the Tel Aviv Foundation was also waging a campaign to “green“ Tel Aviv. This campaign resulted in the creation of hundreds of parks, playgrounds and rest areas throughout the city. Particular emphasis was placed on the building of parks in lower-income neighborhoods where shade and recreational facilities were at a minimum.
1981 marked a turning point in the history of the Tel Aviv Foundation, for this is the year Ted Arison, the Israeli-American founder of the Carnival Cruise Line, took over the reins. Ted’s involvement with the Tel Aviv Foundation came about during a meeting with the Mayor of Tel Aviv. When Ted told Cheech how impressed he was with all the positive changes that were happening in the city, the Mayor turned around and asked Ted for a donation. Rather than agreeing on the spot, Arison promised to begin garnering support for the Foundation abroad.
And indeed, upon his return to the USA, Arison founded the Foundation’s New York office. With Ted at the helm of overseas operations, the Foundation expanded its network of Diaspora supporters and was soon able to establish some of Tel Aviv’s most notable educational and social service facilities, including the Zucker Center for Senior Citizens, Cafe Europa and the Zucker and Glickman Shelter for Battered Women.
In the years since its auspicious beginnings, the Tel Aviv Foundation has experienced exponential growth: Foundation offices have opened in Washington, the UK, Canada and Germany and donations now flow in from all over the world. The work of the Foundation has created a new Tel Aviv: “the Mediterranean’s Capital of Cool”, a thriving, modern, and most importantly, compassionate home to a vibrant and diverse populace.
In 2011, the Tel Aviv Foundation officially changed its name to the Tel Aviv-Yafo Foundation in order to reflect the priority Mayor Ron Huldai places on the development of Yafo.