A sunny outlook?

As the summer bathing season opens, ‘Metro’ takes a look at some of TA's very different bathing beaches, and those of its neighbor, Bat Yam.

Tel Aviv beach_521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Tel Aviv beach_521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Though it’s impossible to imagine Tel Aviv as anything other than a seaside town, Meir Dizengoff, the city’s first mayor, had other plans for the beautiful shoreline. In a conversation with Tel Aviv architect Y. Minor in the 1920s, Dizengoff mentioned his vision to transform the beach into an industrial area. When Minor expressed horror at the proposal, Dizengoff was surprised. “Jews,” he declared, “have no interest at all in bathing in the sea.”
Fortunately, Dizengoff’s vision was never realized. City planning does sometimes go wrong, of course, but destroying Tel Aviv’s beach would have been the ultimate municipal mistake: the beach is not just a beauty spot, it is inseparable from the city’s history and culture. Even the story of the Hebrew city’s genesis takes place on the beach, on the sands near Neveh Tzedek where in 1909 plots were auctioned in the famous “seashell lottery.”
By the 1930s, for the thousands of Tel Avivians living in cramped apartments without air conditioning, public life was lived on the beach.
“There are now many thousands for whom the beach is still the only source of refreshment and relaxation during the hot summer months,” announced The Palestine Post in 1937. “On Saturdays, it seems almost as if the entire 150,000 inhabitants were at the beach, and it does not require great perspicacity to realize that the sea and the beach together are among the essential components of the city.”
Over time, each Tel Aviv beach has developed its own character, congregation and atmosphere, and every Tel Aviv beachgoer has his or her favorite beach, whether they visit it faithfully each weekend or just once or twice a year on holidays.
CHARLES CLORE Beach on the Tel Aviv-Jaffa border is the city’s southernmost bathing beach; and with the hill of old Jaffa as a gorgeous backdrop, it is arguably one of its most beautiful. In the evenings particularly, the beach basks in a distinctly romantic ambience. It’s the perfect place to contemplate life and love as the sun sets in a spectacular blaze of pink and purple.
“We come here for the sunsets,” say Tanya and Alex, a young married couple who say they regularly stroll to the beach from their home in Jaffa. “It’s so beautiful, so romantic and special. It’s like a scene from a love poem.”
Clore Beach’s character changes depending on the time of day, the day of the week, the month and the season. Visit during a summer Shabbat afternoon and the beach has an Eastern European ambience, created in part by Leonid, an immigrant from Odessa who each weekend serenades passersby on the Tel Aviv promenade with Russian, Yiddish and Hebrew songs of unswerving melancholy.
In the soft light of the early morning, Charles Clore Beach becomes a popular spot for quiet meditation, tai chi and yoga. In the afternoons, the beach loses its contemplative air and becomes a lively place filled with haredi schoolgirls on day trips, local families out for a stroll, and foreign businesspeople from the nearby luxury hotels.
As well as being blessed with natural beauty and poetic sunsets, Clore Beach is also rich in local history, particularly in biblical and ancient Greek tales of divine punishment involving large, ravenous marine life. Lurking beyond the bay at the southern end of the beach is Andromeda’s Rock, named for the mythical princess who, so the Greek legend goes, was chained here by Poseidon to be devoured by a sea monster. Jonah set sail from the nearby Jaffa Port before a big (and presumably hungry) fish curtailed his sea journey.
Today, however, the only creatures you’re likely to see in the bay are the wind and water surfers who flock here to ride the waves.
Inseparable from Clore Beach is the Charles Clore Park, south Tel Aviv’s only sizable green space and a magnet for local aficionados of that Israeli summer pastime, the family barbecue.
Named for the British financier, property magnate and philanthropist who funded its development in the 1970s, Charles Clore Park is now a project of the Jerusalem-based Clore Israel Foundation, which says it is proud of the impact it has had on the local area.
“The park is intensely used by local residents from south Tel Aviv and Jaffa, as well as by visitors from all over the country,” says Tamar Galai-Gat, Clore Israel’s executive director. “It’s a real delight to us to see the variety of people, from ultra-Orthodox visitors from Jerusalem to local Arab families.”
The Clore park is also accessible to visitors with disabilities, including wheelchair users.
“There is a special outdoor sports area and play facilities for disabled children,” adds Galai-Gat. “And water fountains where children who don’t have pools at home can play on a hot day.”
Connecting the Tel Aviv beach along the length of the shore is the city’s famous promenade. When Tel Aviv mayor Shlomo Lahat built the promenade in the 1980s, he brought that quintessential Tel Aviv pastime of leisurely strolling, born on Rehov Dizengoff, to the beach.
Stroll north along the promenade, and the character and population of the beaches gradually change. Midway along the shoreline, near Trumpeldor and Bograshov beaches, the beachfront is dominated by hotels and fast-food restaurants, and the beaches themselves become more crowded.
Right before the Tel Aviv port, however, is another gem of a beach. Metzitzim (Peeping Toms) Beach takes its name from a 1972 cult comedy film starring Arik Einstein and Uri Zohar as Eli and Guta, two beach-going Tel Avivians with a penchant for womanizing, slapstick humor and somewhat puerile jokes.
A classic example of the “burekas movie” genre popular in 1970s Israel (thus called because of the films’ distinct cheesy flavor), the Metzitzim movie nevertheless captured something essential about contemporary north Tel Aviv beach life and the tanned young males for whom this little strip of sand and sea was a second home.
Today’s Metzitzim Beach is, thankfully, mostly free of Eli and Guta types. Instead, it’s become a popular spot for families with young children, who flock here for the clean sands, shaded play areas, picnic tables, spotless changing facilities and showers, and the beachside cafe-bar. For the more energetic or health-conscious, Metzitzim Beach also has a public exercise area with gymstyle equipment.
Eli and Guta might be almost forgotten, but a hint of their boyish Tel Aviv beach spirit still remains in the group of local pen-sioners who play rowdy games of backgammon and cards at Metzitzim’s picnic tables. Sit here for a while, and it’s likely you will be offered to join a game. David, a Metzitzim regular and a local pensioner, says he has frequented the beach since before Zohar’s movie made it famous.
“I’ve known this beach since years before that film. I’ve lived in this area since before the war, and I still come here every day. You can always find somebody here to chat to,” he says. “It’s just a pleasant place to sit.”
Access to nearby car parking and to a Tel-o-Fun city rental bike station make Metzitzim Beach easily accessible for those who don’t live nearby. The beach is also a convenient location for those wishing to combine their sea bathing with a trip to the coffee shops, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants of the revamped Tel Aviv Port area.
HOW DO Tel Aviv’s beaches compare with those along the rest of Israel’s coastline? To assist those who prefer to know in advance how clean the water they are bathing in really is, or what facilities a beach offers, the Environmental Protection Ministry has recently launched Blue Green Flag, its new official beach ranking system. Inspired by the international Blue Flag beach rating system, Blue Green Flag awards each bathing beach an overall ranking based on several criteria, including water quality, cleanliness, disabled access, availability of parking and public opinion.
“The rankings will bring maximal transparency to the level and quality of beaches in Israel, which will lead to an upgrade in the service provided to the public at the beaches,” Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan said in a statement.
Among Israel’s highest-ranking beaches under Blue Green Flag is north Tel Aviv’s Hatzuk (‘Cliff’) beach (the city’s only paid beach), stretching from Tel Baruch through Reading. The city’s Aviv beach, however, is among the lowest-ranked.
Some beaches, like Bat Yam’s Hasela beach, received an overall low score despite being very clean, because they lack basic public amenities like changing rooms, and showers, or because they are inaccessible for people with disabilities.
How well adapted are Tel Aviv’s beaches to the needs of people with disabilities, including wheelchair users?
According to Yuval Wagner, founder and director of Access Israel, a nonprofit that campaigns for improved access to public spaces for disabled people, Tel Aviv’s beaches have become much more accessible for disabled people in recent years.
“The Tel Aviv Municipality has done a lot to improve access to the city’s beaches,” Wagner says. “Now there are parking spaces close to many beaches, and there is improved access from the promenade to the beaches themselves. Three beaches also now have lifeguard stations equipped with specially designed bathing chairs that allow disabled people to bathe in the sea.”
Wagner lists three beaches in Tel Aviv – Metzitzim, Hilton and Hatzuk – that currently offer full access for people with disabilities.
All three of these beaches are in the north of the city, however – south Tel Aviv and Jaffa beaches do not as yet offer such facilities.
Improved beach access for disabled people, however, is slated to be part of the Tel Aviv Municipality’s planned renovation of the city’s promenade.
The plans are part of the municipality’s ongoing efforts to develop the city’s beachfront. So far, improvements have included revamps of both Tel Aviv and Jaffa ports, the creation of a public pool at Gordon Beach, the redevelopment of the Charles Clore Park and the new Jaffa Slope Park.
The promenade redevelopment project is managed by Atarim, the government corporation established to develop tourist sites. According to Atarim CEO Itamar Shimoni, the overall plan is to transform the promenade into a popular entertainment area stretching 13.5 kilometers from Tel Baruch in the north to Jaffa’s Givat Aliya Beach. The result will be increased tourist revenue for the city as well as improved public recreational facilities.
“As the Israeli public lifestyle changes to one of health consciousness, to walking, more people are coming to the promenade and are being exposed to recreational sports,” says Shimoni.
According to Atarim, new sections of the promenade are to be created by 2012, including a NIS 40 million “sea promenade,” the first of its kind in Tel Aviv, constructed along the length of the Gordon Beach breakwater.
Local architects Mayslit Kassif, whose redesign of the Tel Aviv Port recently won the Rosa Barba European Landscape Prize, have been tasked with redesigning the section of the promenade from the Dolphinarium just north of Charles Clore Beach to Gordon Beach. Their proposals include removing the wall separating the promenade from the beach and improving access for disabled people.
WHEN THE new promenade is finally complete, it will connect the city’s shoreline with that of its southern neighbor, Bat Yam, which is already working hard to develop a beach culture of its own.
With its stretches of clean, quiet and family-friendly beaches and a newly revamped promenade, Bat Yam is fast becoming a popular choice for those seeking a clean, quiet alternative to Tel Aviv’s often crowded beaches.
According to the Environmental Protection Ministry’s latest “clean beach” rating, Bat Yam’s twokilometer beachfront is one of the cleanest in Israel, a statistic in which the Bat Yam Municipality takes great pride.
“Bat Yam has set high standards for maintaining the cleanliness of its bathing beaches, in which we have invested considerable resources and efforts,” the Bat Yam Municipality said in a statement. “We are meticulous in supervising the cleaning of our beaches.”
Bat Yam’s beach culture looks set to grow. The municipality recently announced plans to open additional public bathing beaches along the southernmost part of the city’s shore this June.
One of Bat Yam’s prettiest and most atmospheric beaches is Riviera Beach, immediately south of Jaffa. On weekends, Riviera Beach and its boardwalk are a charming sight as local families turn out for a seaside stroll. But though its name evokes the south of France, the overall ambience is more Brighton Beach than Nice or Cannes.
Bat Yam’s beaches are more sedate than Tel Aviv’s, and even the older generation is quieter. While Metzitzim Beach pensioners might prefer a lively game of backgammon, here the board game of choice is chess.
Out on the sands a family atmosphere prevails: under rows of bright yellow beach umbrellas, parents build elaborate sand castles as children gather pebbles for ramparts and pour buckets of water into miniature moats.
Though Riviera beach is popular with young families, it is a firm favorite among the city’s older residents too, including local octogenarians Sophie and Fritz Berkowitz, who say the city’s revamped promenade and clean beaches are a delightful place for a weekend stroll.
“Our promenade is definitely nicer than Tel Aviv’s,” says Sophy. “We love to walk here. Everything is very clean, which is important to us, and there are plenty of nice benches where people can rest in the shade.”
And the beaches themselves? “Oh, our beaches are very beautiful,” Sophy adds. “We think they are much prettier than Tel Aviv’s.”