Recently, Israeli Rabbi Yigal Levenstein proclaimed that “homosexuality should be eradicated like AIDS.” In response, Israeli LGBTQ activists wheatpasted beautiful images of LGBTQ Orthodox Israelis from the “Our Faces” campaign to let others know they are not alone.
Zehorit Sorek: Fighting Hate with Love
The fiercely anti-liberal Rabbi Yigal Levenstein sunk to new lows this year. In January, he proudly called for the extinction of LGBTQ people and generally described acceptance of homosexuality as “madness.”
Activists initially wanted to fight back through demonstrations. But, after careful consideration, this was thought to be too much of a divisive tactic.
“People in the religious community who admire Levenstein will not be open to hearing what we are saying if we demonstrate against them. They will simply write us off,” explains Zehorit Sorek, founder of the Pride Minyan group for religious LGBT Israelis, and leader of the LGBTQ caucus of the Yesh Atid party.
“We want to tell people from the LGBTQ religious community that we are the same as you. We might be your neighbor, or the daughter of your best friend. We are not from the other side.”
So, a new plan was hatched using the posters from the “Our Faces” campaign.
“Our Faces” campaign
The “Our Faces” campaign, supported by A Wider Bridge, puts a public face on LGBTQ Orthodox Israelis through a series of photographs in which 44 members of the religious LGBTQ community revealed their identities and told their stories. A Wider Bridge raised $5,000 to fund this “Our Faces” campaign last year.
The bold photos of out Orthodox religious LGBTQ provide powerful visibility and an antidote to Levenstein’s poisonous declarations that homosexuality must be eradicated.
“When we tell our stories and expose our names and faces, everything becomes personal,” Zehorit says. “We are no longer ‘beyond the wall,’ we are the neighbors’ daughter and the babysitter of children in the neighborhood, and we’ve learned in the same classes. We are the people they’ve known since childhood. No matter what prejudices may exist, how can our orientation suddenly change what they’ve always know of who we are? Knowing us is the key.”
So, early Wednesday morning, activists Zehorit Sorek and Avichai Abarbanel drove to the Eli settlement where Rabbi Levenstein resides and teaches. Their mission was to plaster the “Our Faces” posters throughout the settlement. In addition, the pair also had posters that read, “teachers and rabbis, pay attention from where you stand because your words have meaning for others!”
“We didn’t know how to hang the posters!” Zehorit remarked. We had to google instructions on how to create wheatpaste. We were in the car mixing the glue solution.”
Avichai Abarbanel: Postering in Eli
The pair hung up 40 posters before the sun rose.
“It was symbolic that we started in the darkness and that people in Eli woke up to dawn and these posters,” Zehorit reflected. “It is important for those in the community who are LGBTQ to know that they are not alone.”
Rabbi Levenstein refused to dialogue about the posters or LGBTQ issues, saying that he won’t “respond to these provocative messages.”
Zehorit rightly pointed out it’s ironic that “Levenstein says he won’t respond to ‘provocative messages’ when he’s the one being provocative. Every month he disparages another Israeli population – LGBT folks, women, minorities. He is doing the most provocative things.”
“We simply want to talk. To dialogue. That is the Jewish way. But Levenstein won’t even do this.”
Zehorit summed up the campaign’s goals as such: 1) to initiate a dialogue 2) to tell other LGBTQ Orthodox people that they are not alone, and 3) to inform Rabbis that they should be careful about their choice of words.
A Wider Bridge is proud to support the “Our Faces” campaign and the work that Israeli LGBTQ activists are doing on the ground to combat homophobia with love.
Zehorit Sorek is running for a party position in Yesh Atid where she can be in even more of a position to fight for LGBTQ rights in Israel.