A note from Yonatan Gher, director of the Jerusalem Open House:
If there is a word that accompanied me more than any other over this past week, the word would be “meaning”.
On Saturday night, August 1st, a masked gunman walked into the “youthbar” – a social youth program run by the Tel Aviv LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) association – lifted an automatic machine-gun and began shooting aimlessly and killing two people, 25 year-old Nir Katz – a volunteer youth counsellor, and 16 year-old Liz Trobashi, and wounding ten others before fleeing into the night. He has yet to be apprehended.
Starting that evening, many words have been spoken about this hideous massacre. The automatic response of many was to blame: To blame the ultra-orthodox leadership for the ongoing incitement against the LGBT community, likely to have led to a religious-based hate crime against our community. They, in turn, issued a condemnation of the murder, stating (for the first time ever) that LGBT people are human-beings and that violence against the LGBT community is contradictory to the Jewish teachings. They continued to suggest, that in their opinion the culprit is likely to be a “self-hating homosexual”. In light of this meaningless murder, everyone wants to apply some kind of meaning.
While the crime remains unsolved, in my opinion the exact background of the shooter is irrelevant, as in all cases there is one common-denominator: hatred. Hatred which does not need to wait for religious leaders to develop, as it exists everywhere: in schools, where one kid is likely to say “you fag” or “that’s so gay” to another kid for messing up his move in a ball game. It exists on the street, where two men or two women walking hand-in-hand are likely to be heckled. It exists when a transgender woman is forbidden to use the lady’s room in public toilets. It exists in the language we use, in the prejudices we apply to minorities in our society, in the names we call another driver on the road.
Over this past week, the LGBT community received overwhelming support from all parts of society: On the sunday following the murder, Prime-Minister Netanyahu opened the weekly cabinet meeting with a condemnation of the tragedy, demanding that the police do all in their power to solve the crime. The Minister of Internal Security, and Ministers of Education, Culture and Welfare all came out with powerful statements of support, visiting the site of the murder, joining vigils and the mass rally held this past Saturday – attended by over seventy-thousand people. President Shimon Peres – who in 2006 came out in strong words against the holding of the international pride march in Jerusalem, spoke about the need to preserve every person’s human rights. Culture Minister Limor Livnat, who over the years has voted consistently against every bill which attempted to improve the LGBT community’s rights, spoke of how Israel is one of the most liberal countries when it comes to LBGT rights and should continue to be so. One could find cynicism here, but I prefer to see it as soul-searching, maybe as a way for these leaders to apply meaning to what happened.
At the Jerusalem Open House, on the night of the murder we immediately opened our community center, to which tens of people flocked throughout the night; teenagers, who’s friends were at the site of the murder and their fate was yet unknown; the community elders, who are accustomed to speaking of the homophobia in their day, shocked by where things have come to. All these people, amidst our staff of social workers and youth counselors, joined together to support each other, to cry together, to strengthen each other, and to try and apply meaning to what had happened. Routinely, when we approach the Pride events in Jerusalem every year, these people are used to hearing the statement “But why in Jerusalem? Go to Tel Aviv where you belong”. On that night, there was no escape from the thought that there is no “Tel Aviv where we belong”, there is only one society which we are all a part of, a society with increasingly hateful rhetoric, which in 2005 led to the stabbing of three people in the Jerusalem Pride March, and led to this shooting in Tel Aviv.
We will continue to search for meaning. Meaning will be a change in the public discourse. Meaning will be a Rabbi or public official who might think twice next time, before condemning the LGBT community and talking about it being against the word of God – the God who must have been off duty when these kids were slaughtered. Meaning will be the politicians putting action behind their strong words, and to continue to do so after all has settled and the headlines move on to the next story. Such meaning will be our way to commemorate the lives of Nir and Liz.