On Tel Aviv’s trendy Nahalat Binyamin Street, a long line of men gather outside the entrance to the Lima Lima dance club. Inside, the club is bursting with men in tank tops and flip flops. Sombreros, plastic toucans and imitation palm trees combine to present a discombobulated tropical theme – but on this particular Monday night, nobody seems to notice the decorations. As the sign on the door proclaims, tonight partygoers are “Free to do what you want to do.”
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Shuli Mammon is guarding the door. “It’s never like this,” he admits with a shrug and a smile.
What made this night different from all other nights? Mammon gestures to the rainbow flags flying high above the sidewalk. “This is Pride Week, of course!”
Tel Aviv Pride Week – which began Sunday, June 8 and runs until Saturday, June 14 – is a major tradition here in Israel’s young Mediterranean city. What began more than 15 years ago as a small parade has transformed into a seven-day celebration of LGBTQ life and culture featuring speeches, shows, festivals, films and – of course – parties.
Fliers advertise parties across the city with names like “Tel A-Beef” and “Bear Necessity.” And that’s not even to mention the beach parties, which run throughout the day.
Rainbow flags adorn the street lamps on many of Tel Aviv’s major thoroughfares. Every evening, the city’s iconic Rabin Square is bathed in rainbow light.
The week culminates in an enormous parade that will march from Gan Meir to the beach by Charles Clore Park, where revelers will celebrate until sunset.
All of this helps Pride Week draw people from across the globe to Tel Aviv: The Foreign Ministry estimates that 30,000 tourists will come to participate in the festivities. This time of year, it’s easy to see why Tel Aviv has been voted the Best Gay City in the world by American Airlines and GayCities.
Still, Pride Week is more than the sum of its parties. Throughout the week, Dizengoff Center is hosting the Pride Culture Expo, featuring speeches, live music, activism, small businesses and other activities embracing the spirit of Pride Week. Clusters of pink balloons fill the mall’s skies. From family planning to home-made chocolate, the expo offers mall visitors a fun way to learn more about Pride Week and the LGBTQ community in Israel.
Shani Rizer, who runs home-decor company Irregular Trend, is enthusiastic about uniting her business and her values at the expo. On one wall of her booth, she has arranged some wood-cut block letters into the words, “Live, Laugh, Love.” “This week is really close to my heart,” she says. “Much of my family is gay, and we really want to welcome people here.”
For others, Tel Aviv Pride Week is an opportunity to raise awareness about the social and political challenges that members of the Israeli LGBTQ community confront in their daily lives.
For Tal Goldman and Ido Lan, two young Meretz party activists, Pride Week is a rare chance to remind Israelis that the fight for equality is far from over – especially outside of Tel Aviv. “People have been trying to say that this week shouldn’t be political,” says Goldman. “We can’t look at it that way. Everything about human rights is political.”
“Same-sex couples cannot marry here, and many still face discrimination in the streets or in the workplace,” Lan points out. “You can’t just speak about equality, you have to act.”
Thankfully, they say, life in Israel is gradually improving for its LGBTQ citizens. “Over the years it has gotten better,” Goldman acknowledges.