Religion and Space on the Beach

By Rachel Umansky-Castro
In the front of this 360 photo is the Nordau Beach, which has the beach with alternating days for men and women (behind the wooden wall) and the gay beach (to the left of the wall, by the rainbow tents).

When entering Tel Aviv, it is transparent how the modern-day Jewish culture has taken over the city. Compared to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv has cars driving, and more shops and restaurants open on Shabbat, the day known to rest in Jewish tradition. Tel Aviv is a city full of beaches. However, surprisingly, the city was able to legally accommodate more religious conditions on a public beach by surrounding the area with a wooden barrier. Within this beach, the Nordau Beach, the city was allowed to create a segregated section, where there are alternating days when the men and women are allowed to enter and swim. On the same beach, next to a dog beach, is the gay beach, which represents more secular Jews because Orthodox Jews disapprove of same-sex marriages. It is fascinating how the city is allowed to remodel the beaches in correspondence to the two contrasting social groups. Ironically with such polar opposite beliefs, these beaches are in close proximity to one another. Therefore, I took 360 photos of the segregated beach and gay beach in order to visualize the juxtaposition between these modern versus conservative groups.

In the 1920s, there was a struggle for gender-segregated beaches to be established for the Orthodox community until 1966. Only a few decades ago the city of Tel Aviv made Nordau Beach, which is mainly visited by the Haredi Orthodox community, segregated by gender. The beach divides itself from the other beaches near them by a long wooden wall, which consists of old pictures of the more religious Jews on the beach. Pictures visualize the separation as all the men together in one frame and all the women in another. In the pictures, the community, especially the women are wearing longer garments instead of modern-day bikinis. For the Orthodox community, they wear their modest clothes all the way until they enter the gate and change in the restrooms. They are also hooks where I noticed men laying their hats and other attire. The wall closes on both the left and right sides, forming a barrier so that those bathing on the opposite sides of the beaches cannot watch. Next to the wall, there is also a sign in both Hebrew and English that states the days of the alternating days of the week for women and men. On Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday the women are allowed to bathe on the Nordau beach, not a man in sight behind those walls. While, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday the segregated beach are open only for men. Although the segregated beach is open to all women, not specifically the Orthodox community, the majority of women who use this specific beach are the more religious ones. The beach is open for both genders on Saturdays. On Fridays, after the sun goes down, the Orthodox families leave the segregated beach and mixed bathing is allowed for the non-religious. In the late 1990s, a huge partition was pitched to separate Haredi Orthodox Jews from the neighboring beach.

Walking farther down Nordau beach, past the dogs, there is a long line of LGBTQIA+ flags waving in the air, and next to it are large rainbow tents. The rainbow colors along the boardwalk and into the (unofficial) gay beach welcome an opposite crowd from the Orthodox community. The beach is connected to Hilton beach, located under the Hilton hotel and Independence Park. Since 1953, the park became a huge celebration and spot for gay men to meet. In 1998, the city’s celebrations for pride were made official and therefore, the gay beach was established as a result. During Pride Week, June 8th-12th, the city of Tel Aviv invests millions of dollars in the beach so that rainbow tents, flags, and much more can be seen by thousands of people from around the world. Out of all the Middle East, Tel Aviv is known to be the most welcoming and supportive city for the LBTQIA+ community. The city is also famous for having one of the largest pride celebrations in the world, which usually ends with a party on the beach. Mayor of Tel Aviv-Yafo Ron Huldai states, “Pride events in Tel Aviv-Yafo are a long-standing tradition with messages of equality and acceptance at their core. The city of Tel Aviv-Yafo, a warm home for all communities living in it and proud to be a groundbreaking city in relation to the LGBTQIA+ community and a global source of inspiration, will celebrate and march this year with unconditional support in reaching full equality for every citizen. ” On a city level, Tel Aviv legalized same-sex couples’ registration and supports the community publicly. However, the state has yet to do the same as same-sex marriage is not recognized in Isreal like heterosexual couples. Despite the full support the city has to offer to the LGBTQIA+ community, to the right of the celebrations is the Orthodox beach, which has opposing views but the city still supports their requests for a segregated beach.


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Westerman, Kim. “Tel Aviv, ‘Gay Capital of the Middle East,’ Welcomes Return of Pride Celebration June 8th-12th.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 6 June 2022.