Jewish LGBTQ Relations: A Conversation with Assi Azar
David Project interns across our campuses have been working to strengthen relationships with the LGBTQ community. Many of our students see the importance of creating allies between Jewish and LGBTQ groups, and the importance of shared activism.
Recently, David Project interns at Temple University and Baruch College partnered with their respective LGBTQ communities to bring Assi Azar to campus. Assi is an Israeli-television personality who has hosted a number of hit TV shows including Big Brother - Israel and The Next Star. Assi is of both Bucharian and Yemenite descent. In 2005, Assi came out and has since become a prominent figure in Israeli LGBTQ activism. In fact, in 2009 Assi was listed amongst the 100 most influential gay people in the world by OUT Magazine.
At Baruch College, David Project interns felt that bringing Assi would be a great way to discuss the intersections of LGBTQ and Israeli identities. They partnered with G.L.A.S.S, the LGBTQ organization on campus, and saw this as a great way to find common ground between their communities. "Since Assi is a gay rights activists, it was important for us to collaborate with G.L.A.S.S.” said Gal Elimelech, David Project intern at Baruch College. "It was a great way to talk about Israel in the event and bring the Israel conversation to campus."
When asked about the important themes of the event, Gal said that Assi's personal story provided an opportunity for deep connection and understanding. "The focus of the event was to bring the two communities together as well as hear about the meaningful struggles that Assi had to go through to get to where he is now." Gal hopes that beyond just one individual story, the event sheds some light on Israel as a country that is a beacon for many of the universal values that students believe in. "We hope that students on campus will see Israel as a more liberal country, as he spoke about all the gay pride that exists in Israel, and we also hope that more G.L.A.S.S. students will feel free to connect with Hillel students."
At Temple University, David Project interns invited Assi for an event titled "Community in Israel and the Social Constructs Behind it." Our interns partnered with Owls For Israel, the Queer Student Union, and Queer People of Color for a night of genuine dialogue and understanding. "The focus of the event is to talk about Israel with the aspect of the LGBTQ community." said Jamie Halsman, David Project intern at Temple University.
Jamie has worked directly with the LGBTQ community on campus, and felt that the event could offer some perspective about Israel that isn't normally portrayed on campus. "The hope for this event was to really see another side of Israel, and to explore Israel’s progression towards a more accepting society." In doing so, Jamie felt that there needed to be an honest conversation about LGBTQ rights in Israel, and how that compares to the rest of the world. "The goal of this program is to build bridges with the LGBTQ community and show that Israel is like other countries." Jamie said. "It's important to understand that like other countries, LGBTQ individuals are accepted by law but still struggle to have the basic freedoms that non-LGBTQ citizens have."
Bringing Assi Azar to Baruch and Temple produced fruitful conversations, with even more opportunity for partnership and collaboration in the future. As Gal mentioned, "We will continue to do outreach with the community, as always, but this event showed the G.L.A.S.S. community a different side of what Hillel stands for, and we hope that they will be willing to participate in more events with us in the future."