GAYS FIND A PLACE TO CALL HOME IN JERUSALEM. ISRAEL THE ONLY COUNTRY IN THE MIDDLE EAST TO SUPPORT THE GAY MOVEMENT.
The center of the world's monotheistic religions hosts a growing yet intimate gay scene, while its sister city on the Mediterranean has become a world hub of gay culture.
"Jerusalem is not like the other cities, it's like a family here," Ofir Margalit, a 28-year-old lifetime Jerusalemite and a bartender at the city's only gay bar, the Video Pub, told The Media Line. "The community is so small, and we have so many enemies."
Members of the tight-knit LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community in the nation's capital face many challenges, both from without and within, as they try to meld their sexual identities with the complexity and friction of the city.
Even as Israel's LGBTQ community has rapidly expanded in the last decade, due to the country's growing tolerance and intense activism in Tel Aviv, gays and lesbians have struggled to maintain a hold in Jerusalem.
Despite the challenges, gays from across the spectrum have been attracted to Jerusalem's unique diversity.
"As a queer person living here and as a religious Jew, I've run into a lot of challenges in terms of being able to integrate my queer identity with my Jewish identity and my religious practice," queer activist Sarah Weil told The Media Line. "As someone who grew up Reform and with strong liberal American values, it's been challenging as a woman and a lesbian to integrate my religious life, my religious self and my gay queer woman self."
Weil moved to Jerusalem from Fresno, Calif., when she was 22 and already out. After arriving, she joined the Haredi community -- the most religious segment of Israeli Jewish society -- and, in her words, went back into the closet. She left the ultra-Orthodox world two years later, struggling with identity while trying to make a new space for herself.
"You can only work on something so much until you realize that you need to accept yourself for who you are," she explained. "Claim it, own it, and try to do the best with it."
What an extraordinary country Israel is. Where else in the Middle East that one can live peacefully among Jews, Christians and Muslims, where gay people can live openly without fear of retribution. We love Israel.