The Bar Noar Tragedy and the Founding of A Wider Bridge

AWB’s Founder Arthur Slepian Reflects on the Bar Noar Shooting and the Founding of A Wider Bridge.
A memorial in Jerusalem for the victims the August 2009 Bar Noar Shooting (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Please join us on August 6th at 1pm EST for a Bar Noar Zoom call with Arthur Slepian, Ayala Katz (mother of Nir Katz) and Ohad Hizki, the CEO of the Aguda Israeli National LGBTQ Task Force.  RSVP here.

On August 1, 2019, we will observe ten years since the gut-wrenching shooting that took place at the Bar Noar LGBTQ youth club in Tel Aviv, in which two beautiful young people were murdered and many others seriously injured. The tragedy played a pivotal role in my journey to found A Wider Bridge, the US LGBTQ organization building support for Israel and LGBTQ Israelis.

I began to think about the need for an organization like A Wider Bridge early in 2009, but mostly from my point of view as an American LGBTQ Jew.   I wanted a deeper, lasting, and more meaningful connection with Israel than was being offered to me, either by my own community in San Francisco, or any organization that I could find.  I wanted to meet the Israeli LGBTQ community and learn about the country without the debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict immediately taking over and monopolizing the conversation. In short, I wanted a personal relationship with Israel, and had only been offered a political one.  And I was pretty sure that there were many other LGBTQ Jews in search of something similar.  But I wanted to build an organization that would serve as a bridge, one that would make sense for both sides, and I was less sure what the Israeli LGBTQ community wanted or needed from their relationship with the United States.

The senseless shooting in August 2009 and its aftermath gave me some answers and a deeper perspective to the challenge before me.   It was that moment that I moved from thinking about A Wider Bridge to begin making the organization a reality.

Several weeks after the Bar Noar incident, I was invited to the San Francisco LGBTQ Center, where Israeli LGBTQ community leaders had come to tell the story of this horrific massacre, to ask for support from our community here, and to heal the deep wound and fear that the murders had inflicted.  We were all very moved and angered by the story of the (unsolved) attack, yet most of us present knew very little about their lives in Israel, nor did we have relationships with these leaders who had come to speak.   I began to wonder: “Why should it take such a terrible tragedy to bring us together?   Shouldn’t our communities be working together, learning from each other and supporting each other all the time, and not just at moments of crisis and tragedy?”   The vision of the role that an organization like A Wider Bridge might play began to become clearer, and I booked myself some plane tickets to Israel to explore the idea further.

On my trip to Israel, I met with LGBTQ organizational, political, activist, and media leaders.  People shared with me their personal stories, the history of their activism, the progress their communities had made and the many challenges that remained.  I was so inspired by and proud of the work that my Israeli LGBTQ siblings were doing.

One of the most moving and important conversations I had was with Ayala Katz, the mother of Nir Katz, the youth counselor who was one of the two people murdered at the Bar Noar.   She told me about her son, how his death had compelled her to become an activist to raise her voice in support of Israel’s LGBTQ community.  Ayala was now the Chair of Tehila, the Israeli version of PFLAG, an organization providing support for parents and families of LGBTQ children and adults.

Ayala Katz, mother of Nir Z”L, was the only adult on stage at the 2016 youth movements’ memorial event for the Bar Noar victims in Tel Aviv

I was also especially moved by the struggles of Israel’s transgender community, the groundbreaking progress being made by Israel’s religious (orthodox) LGBTQ community, and the work happening outside of the relatively gay-friendly bubble of central Tel Aviv.   Each conversation convinced me of the same thing: These are stories that deserve to be told. This is work that deserves to be encouraged and supported. There is so much to be gained from dialogue and collaboration.

And so, in 2010, I asked some colleagues to join with me in moving A Wider Bridge from an idea to a reality.  I am so grateful to everyone who trusted in this vision, so excited by how far the work has taken us, and so proud of the new generation of leaders who have stepped up to move the organization in such a dynamic way into the next decade.

May the memories of Nir Katz and Liz Troubishi be a blessing, and may the work of A Wider Bridge nearly ten years later, bridging and strengthening our LGBTQ communities, continue to serve as tribute to their lives and their hopes and dreams.