Central Park 'beach' parties for Tel Aviv centennial

Revelers soak in sun and play Matkot as Big Apple salutes another "city that never sleeps."

new york beach tel aviv  (photo credit: Courtesy: Israeli Consulate General in New York)
new york beach tel aviv
(photo credit: Courtesy: Israeli Consulate General in New York)
Under threatening skies, thousands of New Yorkers turned out on Sunday to celebrate Tel Aviv's centennial as Central Park was transformed into a temporary beachfront, featuring beach games, tanning spots, and a rock concert. Although it wasn't quite the sunny day organizers had hoped for, revelers arrived in droves to check out the centerpiece of the celebration, a 120-square-meter "beach" outfitted with chairs and umbrellas to create the "most unique beach experience in Central Park history," organizers said. With a price tag of $200,000, the beach called for 30 tons of sand, to be donated afterwards to local playgrounds. Like similar ventures around the globe - including beach parties in Copenhagen and Vienna - the Central Park fete was part of Tel Aviv-Jaffa's yearlong centennial celebration and the party aimed to show the cooler side of the Israeli metropolis. Visitors played matkot (beach paddle ball) and backgammon, and a roster of Israeli musicians performed, including radio personality and DJ Hadar Marks, reggae band Hatikva 6, and rock band Flow. "To understand Tel Aviv, you need to experience its sun, beaches and vibrant music scene," said David Saranga, Israeli consul for media and public affairs in New York. Unrelenting rain for the past few days threatened to derail the celebration, but organizers sent out an e-mail announcing it would take place "rain or shine." The weather held out until about 3 p.m., when the last band finished its set. The party was a joint venture of the Foreign Ministry, the Consulate General in New York, the Tourism Ministry, the Israel Government Tourist Office in New York and the Tel Aviv-Yafo Centennial Administration. Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai said the celebration offered New Yorkers an opportunity to become acquainted with a "cool" city that they would probably never visit. "Tel Aviv and New York have a lot in common," he said. Still, some anti-Israel protesters marred the celebration. A handful, barricaded on the sidewalk outside Central Park, were members of Westboro Baptist Church, a fundamentalist splinter group from Topeka, Kansas. Anti-war protesters from the women's group Code Pink also waved placards with the slogan "Say no to Israeli war crimes." As she walked past the demonstrators, Helen Freedman, who was carrying a small Israeli flag, said she was verbally assaulted by shouts of "You swine!" and "Hitler should have killed all of you." Inside the party, Freedman said the beach party was a "great idea." She recently returned from a trip to Israel, where she participated in a Tel Aviv centennial celebration. But she said the centennial events did not recognize certain aspects of Israeli history. They celebrate "the beach, the fun, the beauty of the Mediterranean, and it's all there. But I can find that right here in New York City," she said. "Israel's character is its courage."