Hello Tel Aviv!
By Josie Usow
Arriving in Tel Aviv from the United States, the many waving rainbow flags welcomed me off the plane. As a bisexual woman, I was drawn to the queer community here and it partly motivated my summer in Israel. However, I initially misunderstood the Tel Aviv gay community. I saw the flags and heard the hype about the upcoming Pride parade but wondered-- where are all the queer people? On my college campus, students buy clothing and intentionally sport haircuts to signal their queer identities. The lack of mullets and thrifted oversized shirts spurred my confusion. Yet, I was seriously mistaken. On my first Rainbow Tour, the guide Bekky blew my mind when she explained that 25 percent of the people in Tel Aviv are queer. Every fourth person I saw on the street was like me! I was delighted. From this moment, I took a step back and threw away my assumptions about what it means to be a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Going forward, I wanted to learn how queer people in Tel Aviv find joy and carve out spaces for themselves.
Attending tours with LGBTQ+ Birthright groups, I immediately felt a welcoming energy from all tour guides and participants. I could not help but smile at participants yelling “Slay!” upon finding out their trivia group was named Lady Gaga. Or, the delight in their eyes as they learned gay Hebrew slang. In addition to having fun on these tours, I have also found them deeply moving and inspiring. Before, I knew nothing about the force Shulamit Aloni who in 1988 heroically “forgot” to include a section in legislation prohibiting queer relationships, thus decriminalizing queer love. Or the icon, Dana International, a trans woman that competed for Israel at Eurovision, showing queer kids everywhere that they were beautiful. I had never heard of the immense numbers of Israeli’s who showed up to Jerusalem Pride after the tragic murder of Shira Banki the year prior. Learning this history brought tears to my eyes that I nervously tried to hide underneath my sunglasses. The immense awe I felt for the Israeli queer community made me emotional. In the face of hardship, they continued to celebrate their queerness, knowing their love should belong. Seeing queer people in Tel Aviv, I newly appreciated their strength in firmly establishing the city as a home for the LBGTQ+ community.
These first few tours exposed how I have so much left to learn. Already I am starting to see Tel Aviv through a new lense. Sitting on a bench in Meir Park, I picture a time when the park served as a safe space for queer people to meet. Walking on the street, I try not to assume anyone’s sexuality and notice the small acts of affection present everywhere. Off the balconies rainbow flags signal strength and the joy of belonging. I welcome the opportunity to listen and understand the community that breaths so much life and energy into this city. I also hope to learn about the areas in which Tel Aviv as a city and Israel as a country can do better to support all queer people. Already, this new knowledge of the Israeli queer community combined with meeting so many friendly tourists has helped to make me feel at home. I cannot wait to experience the liveliness of this city and this community has to offer.