If Sunny Isles Beach is Florida’s Riviera, then Netanya is Israel’s Sunny Isles Beach. There are various similarities between the two cities. Netanya is a lively seacoast town situated in central Israel. It is a central magnet for immigration and tourism that attracts thousands of visitors each year. The lovely and crowded beaches extend the entire length of the city. Its numerous Galleries, Museums, and hotels have made it a popular tourist resort. Walking around Netanya, you will hear a variety of languages spoken in the streets by tourists and residents.
Netanya was originally established as a Moshave – a small agricultural village with citrus groves and a flourishing tourist trade in the late 1920’s. Agroup of prominent and wealthy New York Jews motivated by Nathan (hence the name Netanya) Strauss, the principal owner of Macy’s Department Store, fell in love with the climate and the location and in the mid 1930’s incorporated the City Of Netanya. Netanya is also the closest coastal city to the areas that are the subject of the ongoing Peace Talks with the Palestinian Authority.
The city’s mayor is Miriam Fierberg who personally visited Sunny Isles Beach when we became sister cities. The population is expected to grow from its’ 185,000 to 300,000 by 2020. The city today is a lively resort city. The Central Square has bazaars and concerts every week in the summer and monthly in the winter. It has dozens of hotels, coffee shops, and restaurants offering a variety of ethnic tastes, fashion boutiques, shopping centers, galleries, and entertainment spots. Festivals and other events are held in Netanya throughout the year, making the city become a dynamic gathering place.
The finest feature of Netanya is its beautiful beaches that extend for almost eight miles along the city’s seacoast. There are beaches for religious Jews with separate hours for men and women. There is an unofficial clothing optional beach. The bathing beaches have rental facilities for motorized sports in the water and dune buggy excursions through the pristine cliff areas. Above the beach is a ridge of rugged cliffs – the only ones of their kind in Israel – with a beautiful landscaped promenade along the seashore. The promenade is part of the “Israel Road” – a marked walking path that extends the entire length of the country from Kibbutz Dan in the north to Eliat in the south.
Horses are an integral part of the Netanya culture. In the early 1980’s an American Rodeo champion named Larry Behar opened a Riding Academy in Moshave Olesh that started an American “Western” culture in Israel. Moshave Olesh is east of Netanya but the mailing address is Netanya, Israel. You can grab a group ride along the beach on scheduled intervals, and experienced riders can rent a horse for an hour or two.
Netanya has a unique place in Israel history. Many cities in Israel have Biblical roots with excavations that substantiate their claims. Most seaside cities were seaports for trade between Europe, Africa, & Asia. Because Netanya does not have a history before 80 years ago, it is wholly a product of modern immigration. The two best competing seafood restaurants are “Dag Hayam” on the beach run by Mizrahi Jews, and “Lucullus” in the Kikar (Central Square) run by French speaking Jews from Morocco. In a nearby park there is a sycamore tree that is 1,000 years old. The Pninat Shabtai Museum features an exhibition of Yemenite folklore, and the Diamond Center Museum has an exhibition of diamonds and a miniature model of a diamond mine.
It was in the 1970’s that I went to “Blue Bay Beach” in what is now Northern Netanya and “Green Beach” which is south near Poleg, and I was not in Netanya. Today Netanya has grown with the new wave of Russian immigrants to incorporate those outlying areas and build beautiful condominiums, parks, playgrounds, and restaurants.
Mayor Fierberg was very hospitable to Sara and me. She cannot wait to visit us again and extends her invitation to all Sunny Isles Beach residents to visit Netanya, also a City of Sun and Sea.