Want to explore Israel with me? Be sure to nab one of the last few spots to our Wander Women Israel: A Yoga, Diving, + Adventure Retreat for May 27-June 3, 2021 or High Flying Israel: An Aerial Arts + Yoga Retreat for June 5-10, 2021.
How proud I was to finally make it to an epic Pride celebration — and in one of my favorite cities, no less! And brace yourself, because this is going to be a big call, but while I don’t have much to compare it to, it’s kind of hard to me to imagine there’s a better Pride celebration in the world.
Experiencing Pride in Tel Aviv shot to the top of my bucket list after my 2018 trip, when I fully immersed in Midburn and heard so much buzz that Pride was the next wild party. I was reluctant to leave Israel at all, and then saw a viral video that made my jaw drop.
Next year, I’m there, I vowed.
And I was.
Pride celebrations start long before the parade, and rage on after. My own Pride events kicked off when my friend Or invited me to an Elton John tribute cabaret at the Inta Hotel, an enthusiastically gay-friendly boutique hotel in Jaffa.
I went expecting a small karaoke-style event and was blown away by the incredible, passionate production that unfolded in front of me! I also really enjoyed the conversations I had this night that taught me a lot about how Pride is viewed by much of the gay community in Israel: they are grateful for the ability to celebrate freely, but rightfully resentful that gay couples cannot get married in Israel (the government does recognize unions performed elsewhere), among other issues, and that the same government who enforces these discriminatory laws also heavily promote the county’s Pride celebrations to drive tourism dollars. The Tourism Ministry estimates that 25,000 to 30,000 people come from abroad to participate in Israel’s Pride events, pushing $45 million into the local economy.
Bottom line? If you travel to Israel for Pride, make an effort to support gay-owned businesses, educate yourself on the local issues, consider donating to advocacy groups, and be a vocal advocate for the rights of all. And try to attend more than just the parade, which is just one of nearly fifty Pride-related events across Tel Aviv that week, including a National Conference on LGBTQ issues as well as art exhibitions, lectures, and yes, epic parties.
The epicenter of the Pride celebrations across the country is undoubtedly Tel Aviv’s iconic Pride Parade. The event draws a quarter of a million people, making it the largest in the Middle East and one of the ten largest Pride festivities in the world!
Right up until the morning of the parade, I’d been kind of non-committal about how and where I was going to celebrate. But when my friend Jannah texted me a photo of her epic outfit that morning and the address of a friend’s apartment she was setting off from, I knew what I had to do.
I threw my hair in some party buns and hit the streets. And what colorful streets they were.
After convening with a whole crew, we set off to merge with the masses. The parade route went down Bograshov Street before hitting the seaside promenade. I thought at first it was a waste to ever leave the beach but I’m so glad I started the parade where I did.
First of all, I would have never found Jannah in that crushing throng of people (despite the fact that she is, apparently, one of three redheads in all of Tel Aviv.) Second, I loved that first urban part of the parade — young girls dancing on rooftops in bikinis, old guys cooling down the crowds with water guns from their balconies, and everyone running into their friends on the streets. In Israel, an interconnected country the size of New Jersey, everyone basically knows everyone and it’s impossible to leave the house without running into someone you know.
Well, this New Yorker must have absorbed some Israel magic, because I could hardly believe my eyes when I looked up and saw my friend Adam. From New York. In the streets of Tel Aviv. Among a quarter of a million people, I’d literally run into a friend I had no idea was there. What!
I did the only thing that seemed prudent: I leapt directly into his arms.
One of my favorite memories from the parade was a big guy running past us with a big flag, shouting in Hebrew and pushing people out of the way. My new friend Rotem laughed and turned to me, translating his cries: “out of my way, straight people!”
As much fun as we had in the city streets, I was thrilled when we reached the sea and the parade took a sharp turn down the beach! The parade floats were epic and it felt so good to dip in the sea in the midst of a Middle Eastern summer day. We quickly decamped to my balcony at Beachfront Hostel, truly the place to stay if you’re in the city for Pride.
My room was suddenly worth about a billion times what we’d paid for it. While we partied on my balcony with front row seats to the parade, we had a private bathroom, outlets to charge our phones, and a mini-fridge to cool our free-flowing drinks in. We’d stopped at the minimart I’d been frequenting since my arrival in Tel Aviv, and despite the enormous lines, I’d enquired about the hostel discount I normally got there, prompting Adam to laugh at my audacity.
“It’s Pride, anything to make you happy!,” sang the boisterous owner. “Everyone is happy today,” he continued, tossing us our discounted drinks.
As the parade disbanded and the masses moved down to the after party at Charles Clore Park, we were craving something a little more intimate, and stuck to the rooftop dance party atop the hostel.
Eventually, Adam and I were craving a little peek at the official party, and made a tipsy trip down to the park.
While I’m glad we went, our hostel party was better, and we returned to a fantastic post-parade cuddle puddle that soon morphed into a spontaneous swim in the sea.
After, we all retreated to our various beds for the kind of deeply satisfying nap you can only enjoy after an epic day of day drinking in the sun. And, in absolutely perfect Tel Aviv style, when we all woke up from our naps, Jannah, Nim and I met back up for a civilized vegan dinner before retreating back to bed again.
It was truly unforgettable — and it wasn’t over yet.
The next day, I was supposed to head to Eilat to do a little more retreat research before heading across the border into Egypt. But I wasn’t ready to go.
Luckily, an enticing invitation landed in my lap — head to the absolutely wild Offer Nissim show with 60,000 beautiful raving people in Yarkon Park! Offer Nissim is an Israeli DJ who just so happens to be the godfather of Israeli dance music. And I would soon understand why.
Getting there was an adventure all its own. I’d decided to go kind of last minute, and the group I was joining was already there. No problem, I texted them, I’ll grab a cab. Yikes — did not realize how hard that was going to be! Uber and Gett, Israel’s own version, both reported that there were no available cars; the first time I’d ever seen that warning in the city.
So, not deterred, I headed to an ATM to get some cash and try to hail a a ride the old fashioned way. As I was doing so, I overhead three guys stressing over not being able to get a car, either. “Are you all trying to get to Yarkon?,” I asked, and they confirmed. We decided to join forces and after a big of antics all squeezed in to a car heading to the party of the week.
One of the guys whipped out a phone, snapped a selfie of us, and asked my Instagram handle. “Don’t mind if you get several thousand follow requests,” he said with a wink, and I did a double take. “Wait,” I said. “Are you an INSTAGRAM INFLUENCER?!”
Endless giggles and hilarity ensued. Upon arrival, the guys took one look at the crowd and advised me to ditch the new friends I was meant to meet and hang with them instead. I was tempted. But, buoyed by the sweet sounds of ABBA, I bid my new friends toda and headed into the sea of sweaty people.
Amazingly, I found them, and we danced from the front of the crowd as an incredible production unfolded in front of us, including my favorite number, one in which dancing balloon vaginas filled the stage and mesmerized us with synchronized dance number to a very catchy original tune.
As the night progressed, I learned some very exciting lessons. Chief among them? Gay raves are an excellent place for women with small bladders to party. Sixty thousand people, and no one in line for the ladies’ porta potties!
Two? Never, ever agree to be a passenger on a Bird scooter under the influence. No matter how badly you want to get home. No matter how few cabs there are to get you there.
Three? No one parties quite like the Israelis do.
In fact, I partied so hard at Pride that I never made it to Eilat after all. I just couldn’t stand to leave Tel Aviv! In fact, I got dragged away by the only thing that could — my Wander Women Retreats.
As for the details of that aren’t fit for the internet, I’m going to have to commit to my pledge that what happens at TLV Pride stays at TLV Pride. Or ya know, goes in my tell all book that I vow I’ll hold in my hands someday.
But overall, wow, what an absolute confetti explosion of joy to experience this celebration of love and diversity and self acceptance alongside a quarter million people in the Middle East of all places — not a region traditionally known for tolerance and acceptance, but one that is known for always surprising me.
Even in Beirut, a liberal enclave in neighboring Lebanon that I often compare to Tel Aviv, the organizer of the gay pride parade was arrested, post-event. What happens here in Israel is something to celebrate.
In fact, I’m coming back — and bringing my Dad — this summer!
Thinking of joining us? Don’t leave home without the following!
My Pride Essentials