There are not many gender-segregated beaches in Israel, so when one such beach encounters a rash of criminal activity, it detracts from one of the few places where Orthodox Jews can enjoy the seashore while adhering to the standards of their religious observance. It also seriously affects the ability of local businessmen to make a living.

According to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth on Monday, Ilan, a 40-year-old ice cream seller on the religious beach in Ashdod, was concerned over the growing number of robberies taking place on the beach. Local bathers had reported money, cellular phones, jewelry, purses and wallets among the items stolen, and the situation was not getting better.

An ultra-Orthodox couple at the beach (illustrative photo: Gili Yaari/Flash 90)

An ultra-Orthodox couple at the beach (illustrative photo: Gili Yaari/Flash 90)

So Ilan decided to take matters into his own hands.

First, he hung a sign up at his kiosk that read “There is a thief on the beach. Please guard your belongings.” But the robberies continued.

He then offered to watch people’s belongings in his kiosk for a nominal fee. Still, the robberies persisted.

So Ilan took things to the “next level.” He put six backpacks in places on the beach that he could see from his kiosk. The packs all contained empty wallets and worthless items. While keeping one eye out for his ice-cream customers, he kept another eye on the backpacks.

One afternoon, his patience bore fruit when he saw a man dressed as an ultra-Orthodox Jew take one of the bags. Ilan surreptitiously tailed the man as he met with another man, who was also apparently involved in stealing items. The two of them proceeded, with Ilan still hot on their heels, to a dressing room by the beach where they “picked up” a few more items.

When he realized that it was “now or never,” Ilan entered the dressing room, grabbed one of the suspects and physically carted him off the manager of the beach, who then turned the matter over to the police. When police questioned the suspect, they found a large sum of money, both in shekels and in US dollars, in his pocket.

The investigation revealed that the two men Ilan had followed and caught were part of a group of seven thieves — four men and three women. The suspect said that the group had rented an apartment in Ashdod and were stealing from people on all of the city’s beaches.

Police estimate that over the course of the summer, this ring of thieves has succeeded in stealing approximately half a million shekels ($125,000) worth of cash and valuables. Police were expecting to apprehend the remaining suspects in the coming days.

While bathers on the beaches of Ashdod are now more free to enjoy the beaches, unfortunately Ilan cannot say the same. Last week, he said, he had to hide from two thugs who were looking for him on the beach. He told Yedioth that he wished to keep his last name private because he was worried about the thieves or their cohorts taking revenge on him for putting a serious dent in their summer operations.