The Gan Meir Gay Center in Tel Aviv

The center is the place to go if you're interested in tapping into Israel's LGBT community.

Moti Kimche

Gan Meir, an impressive public park in the bustling heart of Tel Aviv, is an oasis of green in the crowded city. Located between King George and Tchernichovsky streets, Gan Meir is home to lawns, a pretty water lily pond and a fenced-in dog park. And if you look up, you'll see a large, rainbow flag flying proudly from the roof of the municipal center for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

This communal, cultural and tourist center was built in the park five years ago in honor of the 100th anniversary of the city's founding, and it provides numerous  services for the gay community, including social activities, support groups, psychological advice, medical services, legal advice and various workshops.

A visit to the center is recommended to anyone interested in finding out more about Israel's LGBT community and in learning firsthand about the liberal attitude that characterizes Tel Aviv. The tens of thousands of tourists who come to the city every summer for the Gay Pride Parade already know the center, as it is the starting point for the parade (which ends with mass parties at the beach).

On the ground floor of the center is a branch of the Landver cafe chain, all of which is outdoors. The cafe attracts a diverse crowd from groups of muscular guys, transgenders and families – but note that the prices are no bargain.

Next to the café, past the piles of maps and rainbow-colored stickers, an information center offers residents and tourists advice about places to go and things to do in the city. Here they can help you find a place to sleep, direct you to tourist sites and offer general recommendations. The staff is pleasant and polite, and happy to help tourists.

Opposite the information center is a large auditorium where the center's cultural events are held, from a course on sewing sparkly clothes and a workshop on quitting smoking, to dance classes for teenagers and performances of gay theater. The center publishes a new schedule every week with information about events and party recommendations.

Unfortunately you can't rely on the gay center's website – the events page is now displaying generic pictures of tulips and koala bears (apparently unrelated to the gay bear scene).

The center offers advice in English year-round, so even during a visit to Israel you can find a familiar ear. Among other things, the center offers counseling and couples therapy, and has a social worker on-hand. It provides assistance for people suffering with issues related to gender identity and coming out of the closet, eating problems and anxiety phobias, emotional disabilities and parenting tips. A 50-minute session costs NIS 250. For information, email shif78@gmail.com.

Although the gay center was established for the LGBT community, it is open and welcoming to everyone.