On a typical weekend, the sounds of the Tel Aviv beach include the smack of paddleball, the crackle of the lifeguard speaker and old men hawking ice cream. This past weekend on Hilton Beach, just below the hotel, a DJ spinning club music drowned out all the above.
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That beach, year-round known affectionately as Gay Beach in honor of its most committed clientele, has been turned into Tel Aviv Pride Central. It's ground zero for the men (yes, mostly men), Israeli and foreign, who this week are dedicating themselves to seriously and loudly celebrating their sexuality.
“Starting June 1 until almost July you see so many gays, couples, groups from all over the world,” says Dvir Bar, the editor of F.O.D. magazine, a big glossy gay quarterly that produces the official Pride guide (in English, unlike the magazine). It's found wherever gays in Tel Aviv are found (so basically, everywhere).
“It’s an amazing experience," Bar says. "You get a different kind of vibe for a city with already a great vibe.”
Part of vibe is the pure visibility of the event: rainbow flags lining a long stretch of sea along Hilton Beach and fluttering down Ibn Gabirol, one of the city’s main thoroughfares. The wooden cabanas on Hilton Beach also get a makeover, swathed in their own rainbow gear.
Anthem by a straight guy
Those participating or merely walking by will note Tel Aviv Pride's official tune sung by the hugely popular – and straight – Mizrahi singer Omer Adam and produced by the Arisa line of gay parties that feature Mizrahi music and drag queens.
“This is a cultural breakthrough,” says Bar, noting how revolutionary it is that “the most mainstream artist in Israel is doing a gay song.”
In a region with rather strict gender roles and in a country where military might breeds a macho mentality, the video’s depiction of gender fluidity set to Mizrahi music is a subversive step indeed.
“Arisa says you can be Arab or masculine or feminine or gay, and this is a very important step for acceptance,” says Bar.
But for others, the video merely reinforces stereotypes. And it's also important who doesn’t show up. “There’s no women representation,” says Anat Nir, a producer, activist and feminist who's the only woman on the city’s Pride committee.
She points out that while the visibility of Mizrahi men is important, it’s still just a bunch of “very young, good looking, half-naked men” that she says exoticizes the locals and promotes tourism defined by sex. “As the main video with a Tel Aviv municipality budget and municipality logo, it’s a problematic message,” Nir says.
Still, she says, one can focus on the good, particularly the fact that the spectrum of masculinity represented is broad. And she agrees that the significance of a straight Mizrahi singer so publically supporting the community is nothing to play down. “It’s a very big step for gay men,” she admits.
But all those gorgeous men make Pride around the world such a predictable affair these days. Tel Aviv Pride is a bit more interesting and diverse than that.
In the run-up to the parade on Friday, June 7, Haaretz will take a look at various aspects of Tel Aviv Pride. We’ll hear more about what Nir's planning for Tel Aviv's women this week. We'll learn from a group of religious gays about how sexuality and spirituality are not mutually exclusive, and find out what the Tel Aviv mayor’s race has to do with Tel Aviv Pride.
Of course, if you’re just here for the big parties, you’ll have no trouble finding them. (Okay, if you need help, go here.)
In the process, be sure to brush up on your Dutch and Italian. Thousands of Europeans are expected to land on these rainbow shores seeking sex and sun, the fruit of the municipality's efforts in recent years to attract gay foreigners. (And believe it or not, in the early summer, sun-soaked Gay Vibe Tel Aviv banners hang over gray, wet streets in Berlin’s Schoeneberg district, beckoning Germans to Israel.)
Anyway, if you haven’t gotten your fill of muscle yet, just visit Hilton Beach, where 100-percent Grade A kosher beef is baking all week long.
Follow @MyTwoLeftFeet on Twitter for Pride updates and recommendations all week and post your own discoveries to #TLVPride.