Bringing the world to Israel: having established a gay pride celebration in Jerusalem, Hagai El-Ad is now looking to 2005, when WorldPride will come to his city.
At the heart of Jerusalem WorldPride is Hagai El-Ad, executive director of Jerusalem Open House, the city's eight-year-old gay community services center. El-Ad, 34, has in the course of a few short years transformed gay life in Jerusalem--first by taking the helm at Open House, then by organizing Jerusalem's inaugural citywide pride event in June 2002 and, another one in June of this year.
The Advocate spoke to the Harvard-educated Israeli native on his recent swing through the United States.--Dan Allen
Tell us about gay life in Jerusalem.
Jerusalem has two very visible and bleeding fault lines: one in the Jewish community between religious and secular, the other between Arabs and Jews. The general notion is that people should stay apart. For the gay community this is not an option, because we come from all of the parts.
Israelis and Palestinians?
Yes, yes. The success of Jerusalem Open House is not just in being gay-friendly but in being religious-friendly. We have a Palestinian outreach director on staff, and everything on our Web site is also in Arabic. This is not only important for Palestinian gays and lesbians; it's important for the Hebrew-speaking members of our community, that they get used to seeing a side of Jerusalem that is happening not only in Hebrew. Which brings us to the other half of what we do: social change. The idea is not just to have a large closet with the Open House as the one tolerant space in Jerusalem. We want to change Jerusalem in general.
What inspired you to push for WorldPride?
I visited Rome about a year after the first WorldPride, and it was really amazing to speak with people who had been there. They had tears in their eyes talking about it even a year later. It was really a turning point in the history of their community.
Isn't it a huge undertaking to host WorldPride after having held only a few pride celebrations? Yes, absolutely. But we like it this way. It was a huge leap of faith to start a gay and lesbian community center. It was another huge leap of faith to do Jerusalem [hide. So this is the third leap. It's going to be a wonderful firing. People will get to see not only the holy land but the holy beaches and the holy clubs.
How big of a concern is terrorism?
Terrorism is a major concern for everyone everywhere these days. Life in Jerusalem goes on. We have a lively gay community and a bustling city, and everything is happening here. There's a very developed club scene in Jerusalem. There's also a very developed drag culture. And as for security, the Jerusalem police are 100% committed to providing it for this event.
What do you hope will be the legacy of Jerusalem WorldPride?
The world gay community making a stand for tolerance, for diversity, for peace, in Jerusalem--standing with one leg in history and one leg in the future, and making a statement to reclaim our place in world religious and traditions, here in the place where it matters most.
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|Title Annotation:||Behind the Headlines|
|Publication:||The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2004|
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