Old City walls at night
Old City walls at night Israel news photo: Flash 90

A "beach party” that was to be held outside the Old City of Jerusalem is to be moved to the Malha neighborhood, but the incident has left a bitter taste among religious and hareidi residents of the city, who accused Mayor Nir Barkat of gross insensitivity to Jerusalem's religious heritage.

The city has decided to move the party after religious groups complained about the location and timing of the event. The city had planned to truck in 80 tons of sand and spread them on Rehov Alrov, the main street of the Mamilla Mall, visible from the Old City, and conduct a “beach party” on Friday, July 29 – just a few days before the beginning of the Hebrew month of Av, and in the midst of the Three Weeks mourning period for the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Deck and beach chairs were to be set up on the street, with the municipality distributing ice pops and watermelons, and supplying “beachgoers” with backgammon boards and “matkot” beach tennis rackets and balls, popular with Israelis as a beach pasttime. Two live bands were set to provide background music, which party attendees could hear through headphones they could rent for a small fee.

Although the city decided to move the party to Malha after numerous protests, many residents of the city feel that Barkat went too far in even planning the event, which is one of a number of parties and happenings that are taking place in the city this summer.

Rabbi Efraim Holzberg, who is close to senior hareidi leader Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Elyashiv, said that Barkat is mistaken if he thinks he is giving the people what they want. “Tourists and visitors come to Jerusalem for its holiness, not to see 80 tons of sand at a beach party. Barkat may understand tourism, but he does not understand chemistry – the chemistry of what attracts people to Jerusalem. People go to Holland to see canals and to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, but they come to Jerusalem to see the Holy City.”

Rabbi Holzberg called on Barkat to think hard and long about his policies. “He wants to turn Jerusalem into Goa. Young people will go wild at these parties, losing all control. Instead of spreading holiness from here to other cities, they are seeking to bring unholiness to Jerusalem.

“The mayor is bringing the Judgement of Heaven down on us, G-d forbid,” he added. “One day it's a gay parade, another day it's a beach party. What's next?”

The Jerusalem municipality said in response that it planned to hold the party in Malha instead of Mamilla “in recognition of the fact that it is the Three Weeks.”