The Garden Library for the Migrant Communities and Neighborhoods of South Tel Aviv
“When a man’s world fills with darkness, he reads a book and sees another world.”
- S. Y. Agnon, Nobel Prize Laureate in Literature, 1966
The Garden Library is a cultural and educational community center located in the Lewinsky Park, by the Tel Aviv central bus station, in the south Tel Aviv neighborhood of Neve Shaanan. The library services hundreds of residents of this under-privileged yet unique multi-cultural neighborhood. It is operated by around 100 volunteers, and includes, in addition to an active library, a children's after-school program and an active education center that offers a rich curriculum of cultural events and courses.
The Library books are illuminated after dark
The Library was founded upon the belief that culture and education are basic human rights that bridge differences between communities and individuals, and that can affect lasting social change.
To this end, the Garden Library utilizes a variety of art and education programs. We believe that Art is a political vehicle that offers a voice to oppressed groups and individuals. In particular, the Garden Library project strives to support members of the foreign communities in Israel, refugees, asylum seekers and migrant workers, in engaging directly with Israeli society which by and large silences and marginalizes them.
The physical space of the library fosters a continuous dialogue between the patrons of the library and the large number of volunteers--staff members, activists and professionals--who contribute their time, skills, and knowledge to the activities at the center. The library volunteers additionally actively engage in creating opportunities for direct dialogue between the various foreign communities, as well as between the foreign communities and Israeli society at large.
The Garden Library was established in 2009 by ARTEAM, an interdisciplinary art NGO, in collaboration with Mesila, an aid and information center for the foreign communities operated by Tel Aviv municipality. Initially conceived solely as a library for the local migrant communities, it rapidly evolved into a vibrant cultural and community center, a meeting and mingling place for foreigner and Israeli residents of the neighborhood.
Why a library?
We chose to establish a library because we see the rights to a book (to education and to culture) as a fundamental human right.
Because, as alluded to in the opening quote by S.Y. Agnon, a book provides both escape and shelter, a home, an identity, and a mother tongue.
Why Lewinsky park?
The park is the communal hub of the neighborhood. It is the place where residents congregate on weekends. It was important for us that the library come to the people, that those who maintain illegal immigrant status will come without fear, that the library would not have a closed door or a guard at the entrance who would check and ask questions.
Consequently, the library is designed as an open-air structure. It is comprised of two bookcases, which are supported by the walls of a public shelter located in the heart of the park. The taller structure contains books for the adult readers. It is transparent and illuminated from within so that, at night, the books glow in the park. Across from it is a shorter, children's height, cabinet. The doors to the small cabinet swing down to form a parquet floor for the children to sit on and review the books.
The Garden Library - architectural rendering
The library contains approximately 3,500 books in 16 different languages - Mandarin Tigrigna, Amharic, Thai, Tagalog, Arabic, Hebrew, French, Spanish, Nepalese, Bengali, Hindu, Turkish, Romanian, Russian, and English.
Book sorting at Mesila, the Aid and Information Center for the Foreign Worker and Refugee Community of Tel-Aviv
The book lists were compiled after consulting with native speakers of each represented language. The selection appeals to a wide range of tastes and includes classics and master works of literature, in addition to bestsellers, suspense, romantic and graphic novels.
The library services the broad demographic mosaic of south Tel Aviv: migrant workers from Asia, The Americas, Europe and Africa, African asylum-seekers, and native Israeli residents of the Neve Shaanan neighborhood.
The Garden Library activities
The center offers a diverse range of activities designed for different age groups, from pre-school children to adults. Following are links to the main Garden Library projects:
ARTEAM is an interdisciplinary art cooperative and a not-for-profit art organization registered in Israel as a legal foundation (number 580496198) from June 2008. The Garden Library is ARTEAM's flagship project.
ARTEAM's objective is to promote interdisciplinary community-art and education projects in Israel by fostering initiatives involving local and international artists, researchers, curators, and establishments. ARTEAM aims to produce events and workshops that contribute to instigating public discourse on local social matters.
Hadas Ophrat (chairman and founding member)
Tali Tamir (board member and founding member)
Orly Shefa (board member)
Gideon Kunda (board member)
Romy Achituv (founding member)
Former ARTEAM members
Marit Benisrael (founding member)
Yoav Meiri (founding member)
Current Garden Library director
Former Garden Library directors
A special thanks to the following people, institutes, and companies for book contributions, and for assistance in importing books from around the globe:
Rania Ho, Beijing, China
Ami Zarchi and Ido Berger, Bangkok, Thailand
The Israeli Embassies in the Philippines, Thailand and China
The Israel Foreign Office
Book Publishers and private people who contributed books to the library