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Lesbian Activist Adi Sadaka: Documenting Haifa’s LGBTQ History

Lesbian activist Adi Sadaka talks about why she loves the Haifa LGBTQ community, and her work with Haifa’s LGBTQ History project.

Adi Sadaka (middle) with Yoav Zaritsky and Dotan Brom, Co-leaders of the LGBTQ History Project

In February, after years of local struggle, Haifa’s very first LGBT Center – the Communities Home – was opened. I arrived at the festive opening, like I have been doing in the past three years, with a video camera in my hand, and great excitement in my heart. It was an understanding that I was documenting an important and historic moment in the LGBTQ story of Haifa.

As a lesbian who lived a decade ago in Tel Aviv – a city that it seems established itself as a safe haven for the gay community – and arrived in Haifa following love, to personally witness such a historic moment, it was a moment that I will never forget. To finally establish a physical location for the thriving, diverse LGBTQ community of Haifa is definitely symbolic for the visibility we are trying to create on our way to full acceptance and equality.

I arrived in Haifa following love and stayed in the city because of my girlfriend, but it is important to note that I also fell in love with the city. This is a very special city to me. Apart from being one of the most beautiful cities in Israel, it also gives me the quiet I lacked in Tel Aviv and the feeling of home.

One of the most prominent elements of Haifa’s uniqueness is its diversity of religions, and specifically the coexistence between Arabs and Jews. In Haifa there is a mixture of religions, communities, identities and beliefs, and there’s a place for everything. In the neighborhood where I live, Muslims, Christians, secular Jews and ultra-Orthodox Jews live side by side. And everyone lives in peace, acceptance and good neighborliness. This, too, is a prominent part of Haifa’s LGBTQ community. This is another way in which the LGBTQ community in Haifa is special. In Tel Aviv, the known-to-all LGBTQ history is almost exclusively Jewish. In Haifa, the LGBTQ history includes all, Jews, Arabs, Muslims, Christians. Otherwise it wouldn’t be complete.

The LGBTQ struggle in our city, whose success is marked by the opening of the Communities Home, is a struggle of dozens and perhaps hundreds of activists who, in several different incarnations throughout the years, did not give up and protested and marched and shouted until they received a home and budgets and recognition.

I have been a social activist and engaged in activism for about five years. It began in Tel Aviv, not so much in the LGBTQ community, but more in the fight against the rape culture and working for equal rights in general. Social justice is a very elusive thing and sometimes it is even a bit discouraging to pursue it but there is something in the few moments when it succeeds that it is worth everything. Such as the launch of the communities home in Haifa.

Over the past couple of years I became involved with documenting Haifa’s unique LGBT story. The Haifa Gay History Project documents stories of women and men from the 1940s until today, and I find it moving and empowering.

In Haifa’s LGBTQ History project, we hear and record dozens of stories of coming out of the closet at times when we were not able to speak out loud or write about it in public. We hear of the lack of acceptance in families of all religions, the legal battles with apartment owners who didn’t want to rent property to the gay community and many failures and victories. We hear about the pride parades that marched in secret and sometimes in isolated streets and without permits.

And every story we hear, both the success stories and the difficult stories, remain with us for a long time after each interview, and we go around keeping them in our hearts, and we become even more appreciative of our present that would not exist as it is without these special moments that we gather.

For example, I felt privileged to interview Dr. Hanna Safran, who was one of the pioneers of the feminist movement in Israel in the 1960s. In an interview with Irit Tzvieli-Efrat, former director of Hoshen, who grew up in Haifa in the 1970s, she told us about the feeling of growing up in the closet – an internal struggle that unfortunately exists in many of us today.

Eyal Friedlander, an artist and social activist, told us about the pink lists that the police kept in the 1990s and with which they interrogated a group of gay men in Haifa. These kinds of stories seem almost unreal. To think that just because they were gay they were immediately suspicious – today this would not have passed quietly and the country would have been shaken. This case is a case that best describes the difficult past that the gay community in Israel in general and Haifa in particular lived in. The lack of acceptance, the fear that the LGBT community had to deal with and the great ignorance of society that was the norm in those years, needs to be documented for the generations to come so we can acknowledge and appreciate our journey as a community.

Of course, today there are still many struggles to win, such as the struggle for adoption and same-sex marriage, and we must not forget that people from the LGBTQ community are still murdered on the basis of sexual orientation or gender. It is precisely because of this that it is important to remember the history of the gay community and from it to know how to act in our struggles.

And who knows? Perhaps 30 years from now, a new generation of the community will come and hear our stories about the biggest parade in Haifa that marched in the Carmel Center for the first time this year and the struggle that took place to build the communities home. Until then, we are working to establish this digital archive that will be accessible to the general public and even work on producing a documentary that will tell the LGBTQ stories.

The Haifa Queer History Project needs your help. You can contribute here