Assi Azar Hosts a Cultural Exchange in Nashville

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By Jason Basri, Student Advocate, Vanderbilt University On Tuesday, October 27th, the Nashville Jewish Film Festival sponsored the showing of Assi Azar’s documentary, Mom and Dad: I Have Something to Tell You. The movie drew large crowds of people that identify with a multitude of communities. Assi Azar was the second famous person to publicly come out as gay in Israel. At that time, he was the host of Israel’s popular TV show, Big Brother. The documentary was amazing in its own right, but having Assi fly in from Israel to also speak about the making of the film really made the night special. The documentary was comedic, candid, and even had a number of heartbreaking moments.

Israelis speak about other LGBTQIA+ Israelis in a way that sounds offensive to the American listener, but you can tell by their actions that they only have good intentions. I lived in Israel for three months during the past summer. The Israeli culture is at first overwhelming and foreign. Israelis refer to this as “sabra” – a cactus fruit which is prickly on the outside but tender within. However, many guests of Israel, including myself, find their demeanor to be refreshing and ultimately loveable. Having a fake smile served with hummus would do the food an injustice. But as you can see, their culture does not necessarily care about semantics and pleasantries. They are trying to have a meaningful conversation with you even at the expense of being a little too terse. This is strange for Americans where being politically correct and accommodating to new and complex issues is the norm.

This idea of trying to get to know people was in full effect at a special part of the evening before the movie showing. Assi Azar graciously attended a private dinner event between members of the Lambda community and the pro-Israel community. The dinner was held at Savarino’s Cucina where Assi Azar shared funny stories to break the ice with the crowd. Upon hearing his story, we went around and introduced ourselves. The Lambda community requested that we also shared our pronouns as another way to bridge the gap between the two communities. Being at a progressive school like Vanderbilt University for four years, I have learned so many nuances about other cultures and identities, so this was nothing new for me. However, Assi who identifies as a member of the LGBT+ community let his Israeli-ness shine through by “bluntly” asking what the deal with the pronouns was. As one of the leaders of the Jewish community, I was taken aback by his behavior since I thought that it was going to offend the Lambda student leaders. However, after explaining to them that he was just so curious and that is the best way for him to learn, his sincerity and charm eased the tension in the room. His actions assisted our groups finding common ground and have been the foundation for future partnerships. It was a learning experience for both the students and Assi to view how different cultures respond to the same social conventions. Thank you, Assi, for making that night happen!

Jason Basri is a second-year intern and now Student Coordinator for The David Project at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Basri is a senior, studying Economics and Mathematics. Over his time as an intern, Basri has led the development of strong relationships with a number of communities on campus, including the Interfaith Council, the Greek Community, the International Relations student association as well as contributing to the development of a number of others. This blog reflects Basri’s experience at a recent niche event, a private dinner hosted by The David Project’s interns and leaders of Lambda, the LGBT community at Vanderbilt.