In June 2015 I was lucky enough to attend Tel Aviv Pride with a group. Over the course of six days a Gay City Tour took us throughout the Israeli capital to a number of sights and attractions, including the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, where collections showcase Israeli and European pieces; a trip to the Aguda, the national organization for LGBT initiatives and resources in Israel; and the Tel Aviv Municipal LGBT Community Center. We also participated in a walking tour, which took us through Tel Aviv neighborhoods — famously decked in stunning Bauhaus architechture — and bustling bohemian marketplaces, including Carmel Market, where we picked up fresh local produce, clothing, accessories and electronics. Our visit culminated in the Tel Aviv Pride celebration.
In that time, we tried an array of Mediterranean-inspired meals at Yulia in the Port of Tel Aviv and Dr. Shakshuka in Old Jaffa, which were a highlight of the trip. Dr. Shakshuka specializes in the Tunisian dish that gives the restaurant its name. Made with poached eggs in a tomato sauce with peppers, onions and cumin, like everything else I sampled there, it’s flavorful and incredibly fresh. In fact, even the hotel breakfast was more reminiscent of a salad bar than a breakfast buffet, with its varied vegetable options, freshly made pita bread and unforgettable house-made hummus.
Walking Through History
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Planning a day trip from Tel Aviv to nearby Jerusalem or the Dead Sea is simple. Most tours can be booked directly through your hotel. I booked an independent tour using Tourist Israel that took me from Tel Aviv to the Dead Sea, where I made stops at the Masada and the Ein Gedi Spa. The two-hour journey across the Judean Desert by itself is a fascinating jaunt.
Upon arrival at the Masada, the intriguing history of the UNESCO World Heritage site comes to life. The second half of the tour involved a visit to the Ein Gedi Spa, which is mere steps away from the Dead Sea. This marvelous oasis offers various services, including a spa mud bath and rinse in the sea’s highly salty waters, which act as both a remedy and skin treatment. It is indeed a fountain of youth, or rather, a sea of youth. Looking across those healing waters you can see the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. The full impact of being in a primordial location imbued with so much history washes over you as the collective memory of the land crashes from one seashore to the other.
A Matter of Pride
While there are many reasons to take a trip to Israel, it’s one of those iconic places where planning your vacation to coincide with the Pride celebration is a must. Recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2003, Tel Aviv is not just a vibrant metropolis set in the picturesque Mediterranean. It is also an incredibly diverse and liberal city that’s inclusive and safe for LGBT people to visit and call home.
And it makes perfect sense. Tel Aviv was founded in 1909 by a group of 60 families from the nearby ancient port town of Jaffa and was originally named Ahuzat Baiet. Theodor Herzel’s book Altneuland — “old-new land” — inspired the town’s residents with its idealistic hope for the community. They renamed their city Tel Aviv, which means “spring hill.” The new name reflected the nature of the place, a land of ancient earth fed by a spring that nourishes and breathes new life into the city. There is an active dynamic between what’s old and new there, as the foundation on community and family that the outpost was built upon does not see itself opposed to progress and modernism. These concepts all fuse together in the city and are celebrated by all its residents at the annual Pride festival. There really is no better place in all of Israel to hold a Pride celebration.
As a result, Tel Aviv Pride serves to celebrate the progress that has been made and the increasing inclusion of the LGBT community in Israel and worldwide. Tel Aviv has earned its reputation as a gay mecca. And while there is no gay neighborhood in the city, various areas are home to LGBT establishments that offer a queer and bohemian spirit. The city is home to more than 20 LGBT bars and nightclubs, as well as a few queer beaches. The local gay community has not just grown, it is actively involved in every sphere of society. The momentum feeds on itself, for as LGBT tourism continues to grow so does the community’s visibility and influence. This is of particular importance in an area of the world where being gay or transgender is often punishable by death. The Tel Aviv municipality observes such principles by absorbing some of the expenses related to promoting and hosting the annual festival.
The parade begins in Meir Park, where participants gather for a pre-Pride party and assembly. My group included various nonprofit organizations, but there were people from all over the world representing themselves and their organizations. Delegates from various governmental agencies were also present, including diplomats from the United States Embassy to Israel, such as Ambassador Daniel Shapiro, and Seattle City Mayor, Ed Murray. Their attendance speaks volumes. Although Pride is a party, it is also a civil rights effort that promotes equality. People all over the world increasingly understand that LGBT issues are global in scope. At this particular celebration, the United States Embassy in Tel Aviv raised the universal Pride flag along with the American flag for the first time.
Parade participants walk, skate, run, cycle, stroll or wheel together for several miles from Meir Park to Charles Klore Park in front of the Mediterranean Sea. Throughout the parade route you pass businesses showing their support and residential dwellings decorated to mark the occasion. You also get to be a part of an incredibly diverse group, as people from all backgrounds embark on the parade route together. In Tel Aviv seniors, adolescents, families, people from many faiths and varied degrees of expression on the gender spectrum participate. You walk alongside people with disabilities and people from various countries waving their national flags to represent. Unlike any other Pride I have attended, this one really seems to underscore the common hope for human solidarity.
Tel Aviv Pride 2016 is scheduled for June 3–5. For people who work hard and whose time is precious, a trip to Tel Aviv is rewarding in and of itself. Adding the experience of Tel Aviv Pride can make it a life changer.
OUTstanding Travel offers boutique and customized packages that vary from length of desired travel to respective areas of interest. Tours range from those focused entirely on history and culture to a tour specifically for the Tel Aviv Pride — or you can opt for a combination of both. Couples packages and a planned lesbian group tour are also available. If you have enough time, you can also add an excursion to the Kingdom of Jordan or a European city, such as Rome, Madrid or Barcelona in conjunction with a tour of Israel. An invaluable resource for information on travel to Tel Aviv Pride and other destinations of interest in the country is the Israel Ministry of Tourism. You can visit their webpage at goisrael.com.
Visiting Jerusalem offers the unique opportunity to explore historic landmarks of faith for Jewish, Christian and Muslim people. What is remarkable about this ancient city is the fact that it attracts such an incredibly diverse number of people who all see it as a place of pilgrimage. Despite the differences, there is a communal air of veneration within the city walls that’s palpable. The Temple Mount is a religious site for Jews, Muslims and Christians, and it’s home to the Dome on the Rock. There are specific times to visit, and Muslims are the only ones allowed to enter. However, anyone can appreciate the magnificent bronze dome from a number of locations throughout Jerusalem’s Old City.While in the Old City visitors can also head to the Jewish Quarter, where you can find the Western Wall, a place where a divine presence is said to be felt by those touching the same wall that so many others have touched. Yearnings for redemption and renewal often connect people who might otherwise have nothing else in common. Visitors can also walk through the Christian Quarter and visit the resplendent Church of the Sepulchre. In the Muslim Quarter is the Via Dolorosa. The streets are adorned in remarkable Islamic architecture. You should also stop by the open-air market known as the Shuk. There merchants sell T-shirts with a wide array of political messages, such as Israeli Defense Force; Free Palestine; Yasser Arafat; Che Guevara: Palestina Libre; Super Jew and Don’t Worry America, Israel is Behind You right next to one another. You can also find all manner of merchandise with Marvel superheroes, U.S. sports teams and Hard Rock Café Jerusalem logos in the same stalls where you can pick up religious items from various faiths. A fourth quarter in Jerusalem, the Armenian Quarter, is home to a moderately sized Armenian population. Although it is predominantly residential, it also contains assorted ceramic shops, restaurants, the Armenian Monastery and churches of various denominations, including Syrian Orthodox, Maronite, Greek Orthodox and Anglican.