About 50 people gathered at the Evita gay bar in Tel Aviv on Tuesday night for a solidarity rally with the victims of the Orlando club massacre, in an event organized by gay, lesbian, transgendered, and bisexual rights activists and the Anti-Defamation League in Israel.
“Sometimes I feel we grow accustomed to these kind of events in both of our countries,” US Deputy Ambassador to Israel Keith Mines told the gathering.
“Fear and hate will continue to tear our two countries apart from the inside, but they will always be confronted by a spirit of understanding, respect, and tolerance. It’s up to us to change the rhetoric, to promote love over anger, empathy over blame, and to choose peace over hatred.”
The Evita bar is a well-known gay institution in Tel Aviv which features a popular weekly drag night on Tuesdays.
“It’s strange to talk about such sad things at Evita,” said Imri Kalman, one of the directors of The Aguda, the Israeli National LGBTQ Taskforce.
“But then I remembered that just two streets away, on August 1, 2009, one man woke up and went outside and tried to murder as many people as possible [at the Bar Noar, where two people were killed and more than a dozen injured]. And now someone did the same thing in Orlando. Where does this hatred come from? In English, the term ‘homophobia’ comes from ‘fear’ and that’s exactly what causes this kind of hatred.”
Drag Queen Shewanna B Black sang Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All” in tribute to the victims. “It was hard to get dressed up today, because this character is happiness and love, and today I do not feel happiness and love,” she said. “Drag is something that doesn’t take itself too seriously, it’s almost like being disconnected,” Black said after the performance, declining to give her non-stage name. “But today I wanted to be serious.”
Sharon Sprinzak Rapoport, from Moshav Netaiim, had been planning on coming with her girlfriends to the weekly drag show at Evita for over a month. When they heard there was a vigil for the Orlando victims, they came earlier than planned. “As Israelis, every attack is terrible, and you immediately feel a sense of solidarity,” she said.
“But terror tries to stop life, and we won’t let them, which is why we’re staying for the show,” said her friend Debbie Edry Pozezinsky of Ramat Gan.
Many participants said it was especially important to express solidarity with terror victims in Orlando, just as Tel Aviv was still reeling from a terror attack that killed four people at the Sarona compound last week.
Robert Safertstein, a founder of Eighteen22, an international network of Jewish GLBTQ groups, is visiting Israel for a month from the US, and said he was glad to see vigils held in honor of the American victims in Tel Aviv.
Saferstein said the location of the vigil at a popular gay club was fitting, though the somber event quickly flipped into a regular Tuesday night bar night within moments of concluding.
“These bars are not just bars, they are birthplaces of movements, they are acts of protests of people to be who they are and to celebrate that with people they love, which is exactly what the people in Orlando were doing,” he said. “These bars and nightclubs are supposed to be a safe place to be who we are.”