Thoughts from a Jewish American gay man in Israel (Part One).
By David Goldberg
I took Houston for granted. I assumed that every city in the world would have a gay scene that could be swiftly infiltrated and a diverse and open community that instantly invites everyone in. It didn’t take me long, after all, to become a part of Gay Houston. Within six months of my senior year of high school, I had started my internship at OutSmart, marched with their float at the Pride Parade, and received a PFLAG/HATCH Youth Scholarship award. My new friends and mentors in the community constantly made me feel like I could have a place, any place I wanted, in the gay world.
Israel’s gay community was going to make me work to get in.
I signed up for a gap-year program that would involve volunteering, studying, and traveling throughout the Holy Land. It’s a special place for me, not just as my birthplace but as the inevitable home and safe haven for Jews everywhere. From what I knew, Israel had recently developed into a safe haven for Middle Eastern homosexuals as well.
Besides antigay sentiments within the Orthodox community and a string of festivals-turned-fiascos in the religious Bermuda Triangle that is Jerusalem, most GLBT citizens can have a normal, if not fabulous, life in Israel. That’s refreshing news for out Israelis. Their neighbors in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Lebanon, to name a few, don’t have it so easy; these countries would rather chain them in the closet, where they are expected to stay if they want to avoid torture. And as we all know, homosexuals simply don’t exist in Iran. In Israel, the military is a part of daily life, and a person is judged by his or her actions, his or her contributions to the war effort, not just by his or her sexuality. The Israeli Defense Force doesn’t have time to be flaky with any kind of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy; it needs every soldier it can take. Because every 18-year-old in the country is drafted, GLBT soldiers get the same treatment as the rest, with some growing pains, of course.
From what I’ve heard, Tel Aviv, the New York City of Israel, is unequivocally the gay capital of the Middle East. While there are few gay clubs in town, there are legions of parties at straight clubs. From Glam-Ou-Rama to the “1984” party, there’s something new every week here. And, apparently, “Believe” by Cher and Britney’s “Womanizer” can be heard in gay parties all over the world. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen men holding hands in any part of the city. As a ripe 18-year-old, I should be in heaven.
So why haven’t I broken into this Paradise? Why am I missing humble Houston when I could be dining and dancing with gay Greek gods? Because Tel Aviv, as a gay entity, is just as young as I am. The city’s Gay and Lesbian Center (which I plan to infiltrate and intern, in my next article) was built only six months ago. There are no GLBT Yellow Pages, magazines, or neighborhoods here. As a developing community, it is not ready to accommodate outsiders yet. Perhaps I should be thankful that the GLBT community here is more scattered and less centralized. Maybe this means that GLBT Israelis are completely integrated and have no need for a magazine or yellow pages.
But I can’t be naïve. Same-sex marriage is prohibited here. Many religious Jews would vote “Yes” on Proposition 8 if they lived in California. Gay men constantly have to fight the macho image of a military society. Rural towns do not have GLBT communities. It sounds like some parts of Texas.
So here’s where I find my place. I’ve started to squirm my way into Tel Aviv’s gay party scene. I’ll be moving to Jerusalem to explore its secret GLBT world, and from there I hope to rise in the Israeli gay community. It won’t be as easy as in Houston, but for me, it’s destiny. There’s a Jewish concept known as “Tikkun Olam,” or repairing the world. This outsider has plans to do great things for GLBT Israel, whether anyone likes it or not.
David Goldberg is a former OutSmart intern, now studying in Jerusalem.
See also: Queer Culture Clash, by Brandon Wolf.