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We are human like the rest of you.

Tags: Living Israel, Bloggers, Advocacy, Jewish Unity

By Avi Taranto

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Happy Pride and Shabbat Shalom from Tel Aviv

I am a Jew. I am gay. I am a man. I am Israeli. I am a New Yorker. I am Tel Avivi. I am American. I am Canadian. I am a son. I am a brother. I am a tour guide. I am a chef. I am a photographer. I am a Zionist. I am a polyglot. I am an historian. I am a pot smoker. I am a patient. I am a tax payer. I am a constituent. I am a McGill and TAU graduate. I am a meat eater. I am a Diet Coke drinker. I am a reader. I am a writer. I am a thinker. I am a lover. I am a critic. I am an adult. I am a human being.

I am all of these things all of the time. I am not a binary creature, existing only as one thing or another to the exclusion of all possibilities. I am a quantum being - all that I am is contained with in me and the form of me EXPRESSED is reduced by observation and by interaction. All of the things that I feel are temporary and fleeting, but all the things that I am are inextricable from me at any moment.

Many of the things that I am are generally innocuous. Many of the things that I am are singular targets for terror. While a good number of my immutable qualities are distasteful to some, three of them make me a legitimate target for murder in the eyes of many - Jew, gay and Israeli.

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Serenity on the Sea of Galilee

Although I may embrace one identity over another in a given context, I am not content to sublimate any of them for the protection of another. Too many people in Israel believe that the gays here have it good enough - we can marry abroad and register our marriages like intermarried straight couples. I am no longer willing to remain silent in the face of those who would merely "tolerate" me, all the while believing and preaching that I am an abomination undeserving of a blessed life. I promise, from this day, to no longer remain silent about the things that matter to me as a gay man in Israel - the lack of surrogacy for same sex couples; the inability to have secular marriage performed in the state; hearing another generation of kids calling each other "homo" to mean coward; having my masculinity (or maleness) doubted; the far too prevalent misogyny in our language; its projection on effeminate men. The LGBTQ community in Israel lives in greater safety and acceptance than anywhere else in the Middle East by leaps and bounds - it's not enough.

Likewise, I cannot sublimate my Jewness (no -ish), for any other identity. I cannot be "just" American for this or that topic. I cannot listen to the intellectualization in the West of the Arab-Israeli conflict any longer. I have lived through three wars and too many terror incidents to count (and I wasn't even here during the Second Intifada). I cannot abide by the smugness and endless condemnation meted out at my country. We are human like the rest of you.

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Praying for Zion at the Western Wall, Jerusalem

I have cried over the stories of hundreds of dead. 50 were added a few days ago in Orlando. Four more just a few days before in an attack in Tel Aviv that directly effected people I know. I cried for the Druze police officer who gave his life to defend Jews being slaughtered in Jerusalem. I cried for the boys who died in Gaza two years ago. I cried for the three boys kidnapped and murdered two years ago in Hebron. I cried for the Brussels Museum victims and the Danish Synagogue security guard. I cried for the tourists who were blown up in Bulgaria in 2012. I cried for the gay teenagers murdered in their safe space in 2009 in Tel Aviv. I've cried for many others.

All of those for whom I cried were murdered for being who they are and in every case I shared some identity with them. That identity has far more often been Jew or Israeli than gay. That diminishes nothing. I did not cry out of compulsion or obligation but out of sadness and fear.

I have lived my life with the awareness that I contain in me so many legitimate targets - yet I am only one person. Should I be the victim of terror it could be as a Jew, as gay, as Israeli, as American - but only one person.

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Question mark over the Kinneret

I have seldom discussed these vulnerabilities as such for they are more easily exploited than safeguarded. I acknowledge that there are many vulnerable groups to which I do not belong and have not mentioned here. But just as I cannot be less than I am neither can I be more than I am. I am not a woman, I am not black, I am not Latino, I am not Asian, I am not an Arab, a Muslim, a Christian or an atheist and I'm not European. People that are dear to me are all of these things.

I do not love universally. I am not universally sad at all human pain and suffering. Human pain and suffering is sharp and present even in the absence of incidents of mass violence; I am not strong enough to mourn it all and I don't believe that to be particularly useful.

There are things that I am and things that I do. I will negotiate my behavior under any reasonable demand to do so - I can change the things that I do. I will never negotiate my being - I can never change what I am. I don't need any kind of universal love or care, just the confidence that my life is not in danger simply for being myself. I cannot be anyone else.

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Avi Taranto is a tour guide and photographer based in Tel Aviv. A native of New York City, Avi has a BA in History and Arabic from McGill University (Montreal, QC) and an MA in Diplomacy Studies from Tel Aviv University. Follow him on Instagram at @respectthetour.




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