Drawing A Line In The Sand: The Secular-Orthodox Beach War In Ashdod

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UPDATE 10 am Israel time Monday:

It was just another “quiet” Sunday in southern Israel yesterday with four more mortars and three more missiles fired at the Israeli families who live near the Gaza border. And once again, there was no IDF response whatsoever–except that an Iron Dome battery was moved to Eilat because 2 Grad rockets were fired at the city earlier this week.

On a related note, your humble servant had to smile last night when the Syrian Army fired four mortars into northern Jordan. The Jordanians immediately summoned the Syrian ambassador and threatened retaliation for their territory being so egregiously violated. Pardon my sarcasm, but it is refreshing to know that at least one country in this neighborhood has leadership that stands up against attacks on its people and its territory.

On Israel’s Egyptian border, as your humble servant predicted months ago, the Egyptians continue to rearm the Sinai in violation of the Israel-Egypt peace treaty–moving in heavy weapons including anti-aircraft batteries. It goes without saying that none of the terrorist groups in the Sinai have any aircraft.

TODAY’S BLOG:

There has been a palpable change in Ashdod this year as the steadily increasing cost of apartments in Jerusalem has swelled the number of haredi (orthodox) residents living here. Most of the haredi live in the northeast section of the city, but they are beginning to be noticeable even in our neighborhood which is located along the beach in the far southwest corner of Ashdod.

Throughout the city, from the parks to the malls, the haredis are suddenly everywhere and having a dramatic impact. Idi, our favorite restaurant at the Ashdod marina has become kosher, and Osher Ad, a glatt kosher supermarket that caters to the haredi (but we shop there too because of the extraordinarily low prices), is now the most popular in town.

And while Ashdod is generally considered to be a conservative city–though you would never believe it to walk along the beach–, there is the sense here that we are beginning to be overrun by the orthodox.

Because of this, there is also the sense that a line must be drawn in the sand.

Literally.  At the Yud Aleph beach–about 20 minutes down the beach from our house.

First a little context: around five years ago, the city of Ashdod decided to build a “religious” beach beside the Ashdod Marina. A religious beach is one that is completely walled off to every side except the sea.

The entrance to the Ashdod religious beach at 7 am this morning. Note the fence extending to the right and left--and note the taxi dropping off female haredi bathers.

Even the parking lot is “walled off” by sand berms to ensure haredi privacy:

Note the sand berms. The parking lot is actually quite small because most of the haredi arrive by bus, taxi, or on foot.

Moreover, a religious beach must have separate beach and swimming areas for women and men.  And ideally, for a religious beach to be “kosher”, the women’s side must have a female lifeguard, and the men’s side a male lifeguard.

As it turns out, the Ashdod religious beach is one of the most “kosher” in Israel, and as a result thousands of haredi from the region descend on the beach everyday. However, all the non-orthodox have been willing to tolerate this–even though a section of a beautiful beach was walled off–because, after all, the orthodox remain behind those walls.

The south wall (fence) of the Ashdod religious beach. Note the row of signs,

And so it has remained unchanged for the last 5 years–until two weeks ago.

The sign reads: "Separate beach--staying in this area is forbidden."

Imagine everyone’s surprise when they walked out on Yud Aleph beach one morning and discovered that an additional 80 meters of the beach stretching south from the southern wall of the religious beach has now been fenced off by the Ashdod municipality.

Part of the new 80 meter "buffer zone" between the secular beach and the haredi beach.

Why it has been fenced off depends on which haredi person you ask.

One haredi man, who was interviewed by the local paper, said that the area needed to be fenced off to ensure the privacy of haredi women, who might be stared at as they swim, fully clothed, in the sea. Another haredi man, in a statement probably much closer to the truth, outrageously declared that the beach needed to be fenced off to protect haredi men “from their desire to peek at the immodest bikinied women on the other side of the fence.”

Elizabeth Kadosh, a 26 year old Ashdod resident, summed up the feelings of most of us in our neighborhood this way:  “There isn’t a law in the world that could allow for a public beach to be shut down, and we’re fighting against this illegal measure. This religious coercion bothers me. If they would have expanded the beach because it was overcrowded, it wouldn’t have bothered me. But this measure is a provocation (from Yediot Aharonot).”

The Ashdod beach war is representative of what is happening all over Israel as the haredis begin to impose their lifestyle on the non-haredi.

Welcome to the new Israel.

Addenda: The Ashdod Municipality now disingenuously claims that buffer zone was established because of dangerous currents in the sea in the area of Yud Aleph Beach–but has promised to remove the exclusion zone within two months (when the swimming season is over).

It is important to note that not everyone who swims on the Ashdod public beaches is “secular”–there are many religious people who swim on these beaches as well, but they are not as orthodox as the haredi. 

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