I often struggle with loving or disliking Los Angeles; however, this past week I felt so proud to be an Angelena. I’d like to thank the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and more so, the visiting Israelis whom I engaged with, for helping me to feel this pride that often I grapple with feeling in my own city usually. This is a three part blog, which continues tomorrow with a recap about the recent visit of President Shimon Peres that I was honored to attend.
The LA - Israel Network
If you’ve been to both Israel and Los Angeles, you know that in many ways, they mirror each other. The first time I traveled to the Holy Land, I felt like I was home. I noticed immediately that Tel Aviv was like Los Angeles - it was vibrant, youthful and modern. Plus, the beaches were like the ones here in Southern California (though much more clean). Above all, it was home to gays and lesbians, many of whom walked hand-in-hand in couples and wore LGBTQ paraphernalia, much like many of us here in West Hollywood, Long Beach and the East Side of Los Angeles. The gayness of Tel Aviv was truly what made me fall in love with the place even more.
On Tuesday, March 6, 2012, the LA-Israel Network of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles*, hosted a film screening and discussion of the documentary, “Gay Days”, which aimed to highlight LGBTQ pride and inclusion in Israel. The event was in partnership with the Israeli Consulate of LA and A Wider Bridge, which aims to build LGBTQ connections with Israel, and in collaboration with JQ International, Beth Chayim Chadashim, Congregation Kol Ami, the 2wice Blessed Project and the Institute for Judaism and Sexual Orientation.
Per the event page, the Israeli activist panelists included: Avner Dafni (Director of Israel Gay Youth), Irit Zviely-Efrat (CEO of Hoshen), Iris Sass-Kochavi (a Tehila parent), and Adir Steiner (Pride Coordinator, Municipality of Tel Aviv-Jaffa). All the aforementioned organizations represented are part of the new Alliance of Israeli LGBTQ Educational Organizations (AILO).
Not mentioned on the website was Executive Director of A Wider Bridge, Arthur Slepian, who did not moderate like I’ve seen him do so well before; instead, he jumped in to share a few poignant thoughts here and there that helped to create a cohesive flow to the dialogue.
Music on the Road to Equality
I’d seen “Gay Days” before at OUTFEST’s 28th Annual Los Angeles Gay + Lesbian Film Festival in 2010 (see also Outfest.org). It baffles me that it’s been almost two years already. I loved it then, but for some reason, it took 2012 for my mind to glean a lot more perspective into why I loved the film in 2010.
Hazman Havarod (Gay Days), directed by Yair Qedar, is a political film, which is a big impetus for me liking it now, as I’ve taken more of an activist role in recent months lobbying in the Senate on the Hill and being involved with a social justice fellowship program. However, what I really “got” was how the culture and language of music spearheaded and impacted the Israeli gay community in the 80s and 90s. Sure, film and written publications played pivotal roles, but as I re-watched “Gay Days” this time, I found myself more moved by the music that permeated the scenes as the Israeli gay community came alive - in discos, in town squares, and in life, in general.
The Sense of Pride
As one anonymous writer wrote to summarize the story of “Gay Days” on IMDB, “in 1985, there were three gays who were out of the closet in Israel. By 1998, there were 3,000.” That alone moved my soul. But, I also felt pride as the panelists discussed similarities, differences and influences of the LGBTQ movement in and between the United States and Israel.
In both Israel and the US the Orthodoxy is being more engaged, which is huge when it comes to building a more inclusive LGBTQ community that welcomes and supports even the minorities within the minorities of the population. I felt pride in hearing that the Israelis have adopted the Gay-Straight Alliance model in their schools. I felt pride to hear that even though tragedy struck in 2009 in a Tel Aviv gay nightclub shoot-out, Israeli activists, many of them our panelists, saw it as a wake up call that the work is not done yet; that just like in the USA, the movement can’t be left to hope, but to action, to insure the equality, well-being and longevity of the LGBTQ community.
I felt pride in hearing that Israelis are engaging the youth more actively, which is such a critical time for anybody, LGBTQ or not.
And I’d forgotten, but it was mentioned by a panelist that Tel Aviv was declared the world’s best gay travel destination by GayCities.com recently. That, for sure made me go, “Yes!”
Though still a young moment, the Israeli LGBTQ community is hitting strides, not with loads of violence, but with dialogue, expression and the sheer will to be in action to create change.
If you’ve not seen “Gay Days”, I highly recommend you rent it and enjoy.
Tune in tomorrow for my blog post recap, “An Evening with President Shimon Peres”.
*The LA - Israel Network: Two Places. One Community. Shared Values. Through The Jewish Federation, LA Israel Network Offers a platform and network to actualize and grow personal connections to Israel. This is an opportunity for individuals to create and participate in a network of likeminded people, to learn more about Israel and promote her a s a vibrant and democratic country.
LA Israel Network programs and events connect individuals and groups on topics and causes that highlight Israel as a world leader such as: Start-Up and Innovation; The LGBTQ Movement; Global Humanitarianism; and Environmentalism.
For more info and to stay up to date, please see the LA Israel Network Facebook Page by clicking this link.