Tel Aviv: An estimated 30,000 tourists, men in tank tops, overcrowded clubs and bars, cultural events and city streets replete with rainbow flags are making the Israeli capital the best city to celebrate Pride Week.
“It’s never like this,” said Shuli Mammon guarding the door of a club in Tel Aviv’s trendy Nahalat Binyamin Street where a long line of men gather outside the entrance that proclaims ‘Free to do what you want to do.’
“This is Pride Week, of course!” he told haaretz.com referring to the Tel Aviv Pride Week – which began June 8 and runs until June 14 and which is a major tradition in Israel’s 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 and there are the beach parties that 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.
The Foreign Ministry estimates that 30,000 tourists will have come to participate in the festivities and Tel Aviv has been voted the Best Gay City in the world by American Airlines and GayCities.
Pride Week is more than just 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.
“This week is really close to my heart…Much of my family is gay, and we really want to welcome people here,” said Shani Rizer, who runs home-decor company.
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.
“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.