Ariana Jones is a participant on WUJS, Young Judaea’s 5-month internship program. She has been interviewing prominent Olim (new immigrants) and will be writing a series of posts about them for a coffee table book she is working on. Since its inception in 1968, WUJS has led hundreds, if not thousands of Jewish adults towards Aliyah. In the past year, more than 15 of our participants have decided to stay in Israel.
Born in Manchester, Jonathan Stark is an Oleh Chadash, a new immigrant, who moved to Israel five years ago. Upon his arrival, he decided to create a way for his friends to experience some of his favorite things in Tel Aviv. Thus Secret Tel Aviv was founded.
He often browsed Facebook and noticed his friends joining various pages: Tel Aviv this and Tel Aviv that. He saw that none of these pages were concise or encompassed all the wondrous places and points of interest Tel Aviv has to offer.
From the start Jonathan saw steady progress. Everyone who joined reveled in the wealth of information available to them, and as the years passed, the community expanded rapidly, from a few hundred friends in 2009 to more than 50,000 members by 2014.
Even though Secret Tel Aviv started out as just a hobby, Stark has taken on the project as a full time commitment. In the last 6 months, he has branched out by creating an interactive website full of features to assist new Olim.
What has your motivation been while moderating this page and its members?
JS: When I first started doing it, it was just something for friends. As time went on it just changed bit by bit, it morphed bit by bit. Now I have three goals I’m trying to accomplish. The first being, I would like a place where internationals can settle in. The second would be to help the new Olim businesses here in Israel. The third goal is to help the Olim integrate with native Israelis. With the creation of this group, a lot of people have met new friends, found apartments, events, and even jobs. It basically helps a lot of people. That’s what really keeps me going. This drives me to keep creating better services for users.
Did you imagine the same success back then as you have now?
JS: I definitely had to adjust my expectations as time went on. The community just kept growing. Now I believe Secret Tel Aviv is the largest active English speaking community in Israel. I believe this is because people really want to be a part of the community. They want to live here and stay here. They just need a bit of help.
You’ve just recently launched a website, what are your favorite features?
JS: Well one of my favorites is the magazine edition. A while ago, colleagues suggested that I put more content on my website to make it more engaging and interactive. I think I’ve found a really good way to do that by utilizing the magazine feature. I choose Tel Aviv based blogs that discuss events, food, DIY initiatives, and other sorts of things. Right now the blog pools from about 20 different blogs. As I find them, I incorporate them into the magazine. I think this is a good way to expose some of the goodness that is located here. I take an excerpt, maybe the first 30 words or so from the blogs to pique interest then link the articles back to the blog. This way I help drive traffic to these Tel Aviv based blogs as well as build up the community.
The next feature that is my favorite has to be the dating feature. Everyone knows how hard it is to date in the city! A lot of people come to Israel looking for a fresh start and new relationships. I think some of the dating sites and apps out here have lost what it means to date. They offer a picture and that’s it. People want meaningful relationships so this feature gives them that. There are 350 matchmakers sifting through profiles matching participants based off of their needs and wants. There have been 23 mutually approved matches, or dates, in less than a month. Nearly one date a night can be attributed from Secret Tel Aviv dating.
What’s one of the biggest challenges you are facing with Secret Tel Aviv?
JS: This reverts back to my third goal, “integration.” This is a sufficient problem because 60-70% of new Olim move out of Israel within three years. The reasons go on but mainly because they are having trouble finding a partner or finding a stable career, maybe even both. Due to several barriers, Olim tend to stay in their bubbles and never really interact with the native Israeli population. I believe Secret Tel Aviv is opening new doorways for people. About 60% of the Secret Tel Aviv community is comprised of internationals and the rest natives. This is especially true of the dating feature. I find the majority of women are Israeli women looking for something more.
What is the next big event for “Secret Tel Aviv?”
JS: The next big event is the Olim Expo on Nov 27th and 28th. Located at the Dizengoff Center, 23 new Olim businesses will be premiering and generating demand within the market. Even though last year was a success we have identified more ways to make this year’s expo better. There will be professional stands and exhibits by many businesses. Right now I am in the midst of marketing heavily to people within the group as well as to people from the national community!
For anyone interested in discovering more about the various events and happenings around Tel Aviv, don’t hesitate to visit the Secret Tel Aviv website: https://www.secrettelaviv.com/