Ultra-Orthodox Jews cry foul over Jerusalem’s new artificial beach

June 17

JERUSALEM — The creation of a temporary artificial beach in Jerusalem — a landlocked city located atop a mountain — has outraged many ultra-Orthodox Jews in this holy city.

Several ultra-Orthodox rabbis lodged a complaint with the Jerusalem city council charging that the beach will encourage unseemly behavior and desecration of the Jewish Sabbath. The city issued a permit for the private initiative but provided no funding.

Built at the First Station, a restored train station complex that, unlike most of West Jerusalem, boasts restaurants and activities that are open on Shabbat, the whimsical “beach” consists of tons of white sand, beach chairs, a lifeguard’s station and a watermelon stand. A surfing simulator will open soon.

The outcry over the beach — which officially opened Sunday (June 15) but was already attracting many people, including some modern-Orthodox Jewish families, over Shabbat — is just one of the many battles the ultra-Orthodox community has waged in recent years over the issue of Shabbat closures and the sanctity of Jerusalem.

An article in the ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Ne’eman last week dubbed the beach a “scandal” and accused the municipality of opening a huge complex “for Shabbat-violators and terrible deeds.” The First Station, it said, is part of “a long chain of persecution and harassment of all things sacred” by Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

Barkat, who is secular, has tried to strike a balance between the religious and cultural needs of the city’s diverse residents.

Watching her children play in the sand on Saturday (June 14), Chava Gardner, a modern-Orthodox Jerusalemite, said, “I have no problem with the ‘beach’ here in Jerusalem, and maybe it will actually discourage some people from driving to Tel Aviv and breaking Shabbat in the process.”

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