Some 400,000 people live within the city's official municipal limits, but these have been effectively wiped out by urban and suburban sprawl that swell the population to 3 million. That's almost a third of the country's population, and encompasses almost half its Jews.
Some 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of Gaza, Tel Aviv is often accusingly taunted by some Israelis as a "bubble," disconnected from the rest of the country and indifferent to the suffering of about 1 million people in the south who have regularly faced the threat of rockets fired from Gaza.
"The people of Tel Aviv are now feeling a little bit of what the people in the south have been feeling for the last years, and that's not a bad thing," said Itai Madhalla, a 31-year-old investment manager.
Later Friday, Gaza militants escalated their fire even more by targeting, also for the first time, the city of Jerusalem.
Despite the general mood of calm and steely resolve, some in Tel Aviv admitted to being shaken.
"I am not afraid of being hit, but I just don't want to be alone when the alarm goes off," said Rebecca Mandel, a 28-year-old PR consultant.
Some hotels reported cancellations from overseas. Dani Tamari, the manager of a boutique hotel in downtown Tel Aviv, said that after the first attack Thursday evening guests were offered free shots at the hotel bar and massages to calm frayed nerves.
The scenes of lively normalcy in Tel Aviv were surprising to foreigners and recent immigrants. On trendy Rothschild Boulevard, home to many of the boxy 1930s Bauhaus-style buildings that earned the city a rare UNESCO designation as a World Heritage Site, stores and shops were bustling.
"I come from a quiet country, and yesterday I heard sirens and had to run to a shelter for the first time in my life," said Vivian Hamui, 21, who moved from Panama five months ago to study here. "I am still in shock at how Israelis take it — look, that guy is just drinking coffee, that one is playing his guitar."
Heller reported from Jerusalem. Follow him on Twitter (at)aronhellerap
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