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12 Sivan 5763, Thu., Jun. 12, 2003
Front Page > Magazine > Undress code, By Daniel Ben-Tal

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Undress code, By Daniel Ben-Tal

Let's face it - deep inside, we all want to frolic around in the nude, free from the limitationsof societal norms.

One group of Israelis put such constraints behind them. They meet every weekend throughout the summer at camping sites, pools, private houses, and beaches.

The Israeli Naturist Society is a registered non-profit organization whose raison d'etre is nudity. It is not a secret guild, and can be contacted via www.naturism.org.il.

"We're a social group," says INS chairwoman Anat Inbar. "Attendance has grown from about 30 two years ago to an average of 150 nowadays, although fewer turn up when we meet on a beach because of voyeurs."

For the sake of investigative journalism, I exposed myself to the phenomenon by attending one of the group's get-togethers around a rented swimming pool near Netanya.

Apart from the lack of apparel, the scene couldn't look more normal: children splashing around with their parents, picnicking families, older folks on deck chairs talking politics.

A group of likely lads well beyond their prime are having a party on the lawn, cracking ribald jokes and beers.

"I've been coming to these gatherings since we started getting organized six or seven years ago," says Avi, 58, an Israel Electric employee, between puffs on his nargila. "They used to be small meetings of geriatrics on a private beach near Ein Gedi, but evolved into family oriented events.

"I come for the feeling of freedom. You can be yourself here - there's nothing to hide. It's fun!"

"You'll see all sorts of people - from professors to policemen to laborers," adds a jovial gent who asked to use his Internet forum name, Greybeard. "You don't see sexual conduct at these events - it's considered taboo. The majority here are men, and there are almost no single women. My wife would never attend!"

Do they encounter any problems?

"We get all sorts of voyeurs and nudniks, especially when we go to open beaches, like Ga'ash or Shefayim. Some of us are worried about being recognized. As long as nudity is not socially acceptable, we have to keep a low profile - what if the religious start making a fuss?"

"It's not that we don't want people to know about us - we want to keep the objectors and undesirables away," adds Haim, a soft-spoken middle-aged intellectual. "I'm still new to these gatherings. There are unwritten rules - you may look, but don't stare. This is definitely not a pickup place."

Some students are engrossed in a backgammon game. "There was a certain psychological barrier at first," admits Erez, 25. "But I soon put it behind me. This same psychological barrier is what prevents single women from attending."

"Nudity in itself is not erotic - just the fantasies in your mind. Semi-clad women can be far sexier," explains Nir, 27.

"My children are used to it, but show no interest," says chairwoman Inbar, 46, a gregarious divorced mother of two teenagers from North Tel Aviv - and the only interviewee prepared to be identified. "My daughter doesn't understand why a group of unfamiliar people want to get together and take their clothes off."

She notes that there is no coercion regarding attire - or lack thereof. "You can come in a three-piece suit if you want. My observation is that we maintain a greater physical distance from each other than clothed people do.

"The people who started these activities in Israel were ideologues. They came from the Naturalism movement that began in Germany in the 1930s as an antithesis to the dress codes that set social status - a judge dressed like a judge, a blue-collar worker in a blue collar.

"They were part of the Romantic Movement - anti-urbanization, back-to-nature ascetics who were also athletes."

An immigrant from Holland, the late Pinhas Barak, established Israel's first formal naturalist organization in 1999. But Israelis being Israelis, internal politics soon led to a split.

"There was a difference of approach," says Avi, the nargila smoker. "The pensioners had a more conservative attitude. Slowly, more people joined and the atmosphere became more lighthearted."

"We reached the conclusion that people are more important than ideology and went about building a dynamic, heterogeneous community," explains Inbar. "There are now about 500 people on our e-mail list, with a strong nucleus of about 100 and less turnover than in the past. There's even a group of 20 religious men waiting for a weekday event."

Not that it's easy to join this select club. "Out of 300 who applied within two months last year, 72 were accepted. We've become close friends, and want to continue enjoying ourselves. I know of five couples who met through our activities."

"We have our ways of asking people not to come again," grins Greybeard, a playful flash in his eyes.
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