Getting people interested in politics is a passion for Dahlia Scheindlin. A campaign strategist, part-time lecturer and occasional marathon runner, the New York City native lives and works in a 1940s Bauhaus-inspired building in Tel Aviv, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast.
Buoyed by the lucrative high-tech sector, Tel Aviv – the country’s commercial and cultural capital – is luring record tourism and investment. But, as Scheindlin laments, Tel Aviv’s newfound prominence has done little to quell the violence and inequity barely an hour away beyond Israel’s borders. “Tel Aviv is a series of contradictions,” says Scheindlin, who was raised between Brooklyn and Manhattan in a conservative Jewish family. “On one hand you have a high quality of life because Tel Aviv is so very liveable. But living in a country whose political policies I disagree with is difficult on a day-to-day level.”
With her regular media appearances, Scheindlin’s views are public and provocative. “I feel like the current government is destroying our country and society along with the countries around us. But this gives me a sense of purpose in Israel; that it’s important for me to be here.”
A graduate of Harvard and McGill universities, Scheindlin has grappled with Middle Eastern conflicts since joining a Zionist youth movement as a teenager. Always intrigued by the country, she immigrated to Israel in 1997 and has worked in government and politics ever since.
Her integration into Israel was rapid and regimented. First Scheindlin mastered Hebrew “by banning English-language television and newspapers for my first 18 months here”. After working for the Israeli foreign ministry, she entered the aucous political arena as a Labour party researcher and translator during the 1999 elections.
Today, Scheindlin lives in a two-bedroom apartment on a palm-lined road close to the beach and just off Dizengoff Street, Tel Aviv’s main commercial corridor. She bought the home in 2002, during the second intifada – a period of heightened Palestinian-Israeli violence that lasted from 2000 to 2005. “It felt like I was watching history unfold right before my eyes,” says Scheindlin. “A café would be quickly rebuilt, but you walked by feeling like there were ghosts inside.”
Her apartment proved to be a sound investment, doubling in value in 10 years. “Prices are high here and salaries are not commensurate with the cost of living,” says Scheindlin, who converted her second bedroom into a home office. “I was lucky to have bought my apartment when I did; it’s definitely helped stabilise things for me economically.”
Such stability has allowed Scheindlin to cultivate a politically-focused yet culture-rich existence, mixing academia, activism and competitive sports. Much of her time is devoted to +972, a pro-peace online magazine of which she is comment editor.
Despite being one of Israel’s most vocal critics, Scheindlin’s affection for her adopted country only gets deeper: marathons in Jerusalem and along the Sea of Galilee complement weekend hiking trips to the northern hill country and visits to her extended family in the West Bank. She also spends time among Israel’s Palestinian communities conducting focus groups in majority-Arab cities such as Nazareth or East Jerusalem. While aware of the obvious perils, she feels safe in Israel, whether protesting civil rights violations or going for a run at 2am. “I know on a rational level there’s little to actually worry about,” says Scheindlin, who grew up in New York during its most dangerous decades.
Scheindlin regularly returns to the US and appreciates the variety America offers. She has grudgingly come to accept that there is a sameness to Israel: “This is a very conformist society that lacks perspective on many levels,” she says. Still, while Israel may feel predictable, it could never be described as boring. “Israel remains an incredibly vibrant democracy where everyone has an opinion. It can be exhausting but your days are like a never-ending conversation about society and politics.”
● Vibrant cultural, culinary and social life – just steps from the Mediterranean
● Easy access to holy sites
● Dynamic, creative society and economy
● High – and increasing – cost of living
● Volatile regional security and stability
● Israelis’ brusque style and “straight-talking” demeanour can take some getting used to
What you can buy for …
$500,000 A 60 sq m one-bedroom apartment in a renovated building in the city centre
$1.5m A two-bedroom, 120 sq m apartment in the arty, high-end Neve Tzedek district