Their lifestyles are described in displays at the Rokach House, with its beautifully set Sabbath dinner table and bougainvillea-bowered patio, lined with vintage tile.

Across the street, the Nahum Gutman Museum has a permanent exhibition of the artist's affable Tel Aviv streetscapes and a marvelous temporary show of illustrations by 19th century visitors to the Holy Land.

I paused at "Jews Before the Wall of Solomon," an 1860 engraving by French artist Alexandre Bida, while Penny explained that Jewish people customarily tuck bits of paper bearing prayers in the cracks of Jerusalem's Western Wall, all that remains of the Second Temple built about 2,000 years ago by King Herod.

After that we explored Neve Zedek, now one of Tel Aviv's trendiest neighborhoods. It's filled with cafes, galleries and boutiques such as Birkata on Yechiely Street, where Penny pointed out a pair of clunky platform shoes that are all the rage with Israeli women.

When it got late we stopped at Suzana, a restaurant near the Suzanne Dellal Centre, home of the Batsheva Dance Company founded in 1964 by Martha Graham and the Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild. The many-branched Rothschild family contributed greatly to Israel, Penny told me as I sampled a plate of delicious stuffed figs, leeks and peppers.

The dish had such a ripeness and bounty that it made Penny think of a passage from the Book of Deuteronomy describing the richness of ancient Israel, a "land of wheat and barley and vines and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of oil, olives and honey."

The next morning at Tel Aviv's busy Carmel Market, she made sure I got to taste freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, which was delicious.

We strolled along tree-lined Rothschild Boulevard, Tel Aviv's best address when it was built in 1910 and still an architectural marvel. Its buildings illustrate the Colonial style (favored when Palestine was a British protectorate); Art Deco and the Bauhaus, or International Style, with its rounded corners, white stucco and unornamented facades.

We stopped to see Independence Hall, where the leaders of the Jewish community in Palestine, led by David Ben-Gurion, proclaimed the founding of the state of Israel immediately after the British left in May 1948.

Penny, who says she cries every time she goes to the Western Wall, got misty-eyed at Independence Hall. After that she caught a bus back to her sister's house and I went back to my hotel where I sat on the roof terrace.

I thought about Herzl and Trumpeldor, the founding of Israel and the history of the Jews everywhere apparent in the sparkling city of Tel Aviv.

The air was fresh and cool. I could hear the sound of traffic from Hayarkon Street and saw lights blinking on near the beach. These struck me as good signs of everyday life in a city where crime bosses, not innocent citizens, are the ones who die in car bombs.

That is how I hope always to think of Tel Aviv.

susan.spano@latimes.com