This month marks the one-year anniversary of the Tel Aviv LGBT English-Speakers Group, a social club of sorts for olim of all ages as well as Anglo-friendly sabras.
A few years ago, a gay English-speaking immigrant to Israel was standing in line at the post office for the very first time. Wary of using his limited Hebrew at the counter, the man, Phil, turned to a gentleman standing behind him and asked him if he spoke Hebrew and could help.
That man didn’t just speak Hebrew. He was also gay, and friendly, and within days of that chance meeting waiting in line for postage stamps, Phil found himself completely tapped into the LGBT community in Israel.
The problem is, says Roy Freeman, founder of a Facebook page specifically for Israel’s immigrant homosexual community, stories like Phil’s are rarer these days than handwritten letters. In fact, he believes, without kismet, gay olim are often left out in the cold.
“There’s a perception that the gay community here is very friendly, but I don’t think everyone finds it that way,” says Freeman, an immigrant from the UK who made aliya last April. While he concedes that there are great organizations for both gays and immigrants at work in Israel, including the Aguda (the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association) and the Jewish Agency, there is little focus on where these two categories — queer and immigrant — intersect.
“It’s almost as though they don’t realize they’re missing us,” he says. “They don’t realize they’re ignoring us, they don’t realize that we’re there. And yet at the same time, Tel Aviv and Israel is promoting itself worldwide as this gay mecca. And yet you come here and you say to yourself, ‘well, where do I go?’”
This Friday, as Tel Aviv Pride Week reaches its annual debaucherous climax, Freeman and a handful of other volunteers are hoping that gay immigrants to Israel, especially those from English-speaking countries, will realize that that feeling can change.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the Tel Aviv LGBT English-Speakers Group, a social club of sorts for olim of all ages as well as Anglo-friendly sabras. ESG, as it is known for short, had an unlikely start last June when a pair of social work students studying at Tel Aviv University launched a psychotherapy group for the English-speaking gays of Tel Aviv. When their project was finished, they handed off the group to a few of its most active members, who have since shifted its focus away from therapy and toward pure recreation and community.
Freeman was one of those core members, and he says that ESG now holds two or three events a month, ranging from English-language lectures to picnics on the beach to organized dinners at local gay-run restaurants and cafés. They have a Facebook page with over 300 members, and they are hoping for a solid portion of those members to join them in marching from Gan Meir toward the beach on Friday in the annual Tel Aviv Pride parade, their new banner held aloft.