I Can Be Queer and Jewish Here: Gay American Activist Matt Adler Immigrates to Israel

Matt Adler, a gay activist from Washington, D.C., is a proud oleh chadash (new immigrant) to Israel. His blog chronicles his cultural, religious, and social experiences in his new home.  Matt invites you to join him in his journey.

Matt Adler with mysterious Drag Queen in Tel Aviv

I grew up as a Reform Jew active in every possible aspect of the movement.  When I made aliyah, I was certain to connect with Reform communities- I would never live in a city without one.

Another reason I chose to live in Tel Aviv was because of the queer community.  It is a city that is arguably gayer than anywhere I’ve ever lived- and I’ve lived in Washington, D.C., Fort Lauderdale, Madrid, and Barcelona.

Oftentimes, I felt like my sexual identity and my Jewish identity had to be separate.  When I was in one community, I was almost always still a minority due to my other identity.  While Reform Jews are largely accepting of LGBT people (in particular the NFTY youth group), I faced sometimes intense homophobia in my community.

And in the gay community, I also at times faced anti-Semitism or felt excluded.  I remember going on several dates with a non-Jew and everything seemed to be going well and then suddenly he broke off the relationship because I didn’t eat pork.  At the time I didn’t really care if he ate pork, so it seemed rather odd and when I pressed him on it, it was clear there was an anti-Jewish sentiment behind it.

And sometimes, I felt like the gay community really prized white “straight-acting” gay men above other members of the community, including physically.  Above blacks, Latinos, bisexuals, trans, and- in my experience- Jews.  While I strongly believe that most LGBT people in the U.S. are not anti-Semitic, I can’t deny that at times I felt uncomfortable or out of place in the community.

Which brings us to tonight.

I found a friend going to a gay pop music party.  I usually just chill with friends and eat on Shabbat and walk around.  But having no great alternative tonight and having the itch to get out of the house, I made a move and I went.

What a great decision.  First of all, it was my first Tel Aviv gay party.  And it was fun.  The music was also great.  Hearing a bit of American pop music was a nice escape from the stress (even the interesting stress) of everyday life here.  Also there were some cute guys- not the super muscle-y ones you see on the beach, more like cute nice Jewish boys.  It felt comfortable.  Also, pretty much everyone was Jewish- a completely unique experience.

For Sabras – Israelis who grew up here – there is absolutely nothing novel about what I just said (which in and of itself is kind of cool).  But I’d like to remind them of something.  There is nowhere else in the world where a queer Jew can hear Hebrew on the dance floor all around him.  There is nowhere else in the world where every weekend there are gay dance parties and most of the people in the room are Jewish.  There is nowhere else in the world where when you take a picture with a drag queen (my cover photo) you say to them “todah”.

Only in Israel – only in Tel Aviv – do I feel my queer and Jewish identities meld.  Not at a conference, not at an event, but rather in my day-to-day life.  I don’t have to compromise on either important aspect of my self to live here.  And that is a gift – one that I hope I can inspire my Sabra friends to recognize and my American Jewish friends to respect.

Read the complete blog entry here.