TEL AVIV, Israel - The drummers on the beach pause, and Idan Beshef slowly bangs out a new beat: one thump followed by two quick ones. He starts slowly, swaying back and forth, then quickens the pace as others join in.
The musicians first came to Tel Aviv's beach seven years ago, and some return nearly every evening just as the sun begins to set. They climb a slippery rock barrier jutting into the glistening Mediterranean, pounding out the rhythms of daily life in Israel - an improvisational symphony for the sunbathers on a crowded stretch of sand.
When most people think of Israel, the image that comes to mind is of discord and difficulty, but that is only one part of the reality. Life goes on here, with the same intensity and passion heard in the drums. The beach is one place to feel it, in the rush of the waves and the roar of the drums.
Sunbathers come to see the drummers, drawn by their spirited play and willingness to allow anyone to join them, even those whose drums are the bottoms of plastic water bottles.
The biggest group arrives on Fridays, when secular Tel Aviv primes itself for a weekend of drinking and clubbing even as the Sabbath draws the religious city of Jerusalem to a quiet close. The action begins with the drums on the beach, which runs from the city's northern suburbs south to the old port of Jaffa.
"This is better than therapy," Beshef says during a short break, carefully climbing down from his perch in bare feet. "Just beat the drum, and let it all out. Feel the sunset, the sand, the water, the people. When you play the drums, the music goes into your soul, and there is no way back."
Beshef, who is in his mid-20s, tends bar in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ramat Gan, where he grew up. On a typically sweltering day, he is wearing loose-fitting jeans, a red T-shirt and a white head cloth, his eyes hidden behind wraparound sunglasses.
He is a drummer in a percussion band called Eclipse, but he loves the freewheeling style of the beach, where he plays well into the night, stopping only at midnight, about the time the dance clubs open their doors at the Tel Aviv port.
As Beshef talks, the rest of the drummers, most of them strangers to each other, continue the beat. They are young men and women searching for their own way of expression, away from the concerns that occupy the older generations and that shaped the background beat to their growing up.
For Israelis and Palestinians, the beach is a nearly safe escape. South of here, in the Gaza Strip, the sand is littered with trash, but the water is just as cool. In Tel Aviv, the sand is crowded with sunbathers, dancers and people playing ball. Swimmers ignore the signs warning of sewage spills; the odor of marijuana lofts in the air.
"There are no politics on the beach," Beshef says. "Everybody needs a place to escape, where you can play and nothing else matters. This is the place."
Lotan Mager, 17, is in high school. Like almost every Israeli her age, college is too far off to think about now. In another year, she and her classmates, male and female, will join the Israeli army.
But for now, she is at the beach, wearing a black bikini top and red sweat pants and practicing a martial art-like dance. The drummers are nearby, and Mager tries to keep up with the beat, letting her braided hair loose.
"I exercise because I need to enjoy life," says Mager, who lives in Modin, between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. "I come here whenever I can."
She is trying to ignore what life in the army might bring.
"I hope the fighting stops before I go in," she says. Her smile briefly disappears, then returns as she peels away to join a friend to perform another routine in the sand.
People on the beach talk not about Israel's conflict with the Palestinians but about the lack of jobs, a lack of money and a hectic lifestyle that tests the most patient person.
Shmuel Ventura and Rami Levagev come to the beach every Friday to fly kites. Both work as furniture movers and grew up on the same Tel Aviv street.
They are from different generations. Ventura is 35 and a veteran of two conflicts - both Palestinian uprisings. Levagev, who emigrated from Russia when he was a child, is 19 and has been exempted from army duty because of his infirm parents.
"It's how you live here," he says, trying to explain his luck in escaping some of the other facts of life here: attacks. The first time he escaped unhurt after being a few feet from a Palestinian gunman who opened fire on a crowd in Netanya. Later, he barely missed a bus in Tel Aviv that blew up before it reached the next stop.
"You lie low."
His friend joins in.
"It is a pressure cooker," Ventura says, handing the kite string to his friend. "There are conflicts everywhere. It is like living in a cage."
They are among the thousands who descend onto the Tel Aviv beach each week, a reminder that sun and water and joy are a part of life, too. Here, they find satisfaction, gazing out over the expansive sea, or sending a kite soaring into the deep blue sky.
All can tell a story. Some come for a welcome break, others come for no other reason than does Mager, the young girl spinning around in the soft sand to the beat of a dozen drums.
"It's fun," she says.