Dirty dancing in Jerusalem

Dear friends of IRAC,

Ten years ago as a city councilor I was asked to speak at the first gay pride march in Jerusalem. They told us to keep our speeches short so all I said was Shehechiyanu, a prayer we say in gratitude on performing an action for the first time. The crowd was moved to tears because they were surprised to hear Jewish content at the march and touched to be embraced like that with a Jewish prayer.

The Jerusalem Open House (JOH) serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community of Jerusalem. The Open House is a place that is patuach (open) and batuach (safe) for people of all ages, especially youth in high school and during their army service.

IRAC has had a relationship with JOH for almost six years. Since 2006 we have been assisting JOH in their long struggle in the courts for the right to organize their annual Pride March and to get recognition as a community center.

Since 2006 we have been their lawyers. IRAC has been working for this organization pro bono. Recently we had another major success. The Supreme Court ruled last year that JOH is in fact a community center, and should receive all the legal rights that this status confers, including a waving of municipal taxes and free rent. They also ruled that JOH should receive funding of 800,000 shekels, and when the municipality stalled in making these payments, IRAC appealed again until it was paid in full.

The rulings secured by IRAC have helped JOH and created important precedents that other LBGTQ organizations in places such as Haifa and Beer Sheva have been able to use. We have also gained from this relationship. Most importantly the cooperation between the organizations gave us the gift of Noa Sattath, the director of IRAC, who we first met when she was the director of the Open House.

When Noa worked for the Open House, there were times that she needed to be escorted by a bodyguard, because the level of violence against the LBGTQ community by religious people was so high. Things have improved, but we still have a long way to go. IRAC is now representing a lesbian woman who was a successful dance teacher in Jerusalem until her career was ended when a rabbi advertised against her, saying “she was a danger to the public and would break up families”. We are suing this rabbi for slander and one of our congregations, Kol Haneshama, is helping her in other ways. This case, which has been in court for three years, is a precedent setting case of slander against gay people.

Israel will fulfill our tikvah (hope) when it becomes a place that is both patuch and batuch for us all.

Anat Hoffman

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