The voice at the other end of the phone sounded sad. “We have troubling news,” reported my cousin. “Please gather the family. We’re coming to tell you in person.”
This was a long time ago: My young father had recently died a ghastly death; my mom and my husband were still alive. We huddled on the sofa hoping that no one else had cancer, had gone bankrupt, or was leaving the Holy Land. Father Jos, sitting close to wife, June, took a deep breath. “Evan is gay,” he announced.
I remember mostly the feeling of stunned relief as we realized no one was going to die, and that this “trouble” was so untroublesome. It was 1993; coming out of the closet was still brave and difficult – like Shakespeare’s King of France, we found our love had enkindled to inflamed respect for our young cousin’s courage.
Many decades have passed; lives have been lived since then. Evan Joffe grew up to be a leading director and chief editor for many of Israel’s TV prime time hit shows, including The Biggest Loser and Survivor, investigative documentaries, and movies for the National Geographic channel. Today, he has a successful real estate business in Tel Aviv, where he lives with his husband, Alon Friedman, an acclaimed actor in the Gesher Theatre.
Eight years ago the couple welcomed their first child, born to a surrogate mother in the East. The process is always stressful; add an earthquake in Nepal exactly when the procedure was happening; the evacuation of the mother to India, where revealing the gender of the baby is forbidden to doctors, lest the parents dump their little girls; third world medicine, including uncertain ultra-sounds that can’t be followed up; and trip after expensive trip. Thankfully, the tension ended in joy when the happy fathers brought their baby son home safely.
Then started the cruel conversion story. Our esteemed Chief Rabbinate refused to welcome the tiny child into the fold. After dunking the newborn three times in the mikveh, the Reform movement in Israel declared him Jewish.
Last year our healing, inclusive government of hope set out to make lives easier in the center of the world. Nitzan Horowitz, then Israel’s gay health minister, changed the law to give same-sex couples equal rights of surrogacy. Joffe and Friedman were overjoyed. Surrogacy is hugely expensive and involves obtaining the egg, paying the surrogate mother, providing psychological help for the mom and her children throughout; and after the pregnancy, paying for babysitting for her existing children during birth – plus the added costs of endless overseas trips and more hotel stays are crippling.
“In Israel, we can also be part of the process.We trust the medicine, we can bond with the surrogate mom, and the baby is automatically Jewish. It’s all so much easier.”Evan Joffe
“In Israel, we can also be part of the process,” explains Joffe. “We trust the medicine, we can bond with the surrogate mom, and the baby is automatically Jewish. It’s all so much easier.”
Protesting judicial reform in Israel
WHEN JOFFE takes to the streets to demonstrate against the government “reforms,” he does not do so lightly. Avi Maoz, for example, until his recent petulant resignation, ran for office on one platform only: anti-gays. In Netanyahu’s shameful bid to cobble together a coalition, Maoz was appointed as a deputy minister in charge of a proposed National Jewish Identity Authority. The convoluted position ensured that his homophobic, strictly Orthodox, narrow-minded judgment would determine, God help us all, what morals our children learn.
For gays, these scary, unreal times have another level of danger. “The Supreme Court has always been the protector of our community and country,” declares Joffe. “I have no doubt that prejudiced right-wing judges would deal our community the first blow and wallop all our gains back into the Dark Ages. That’s why I am demonstrating.”
On Wednesday, March 1, Joffe was one of the thousands of protesters walking with a flag in Tel Aviv. Some of the barriers leading to the Ayalon Highway had been knocked down; he joined a crowd moving toward the freeway.
“A line of trucks was blocking the entrance to the road,” he recounts, “and suddenly they started to move. I thought that was a signal that the police were now allowing demonstrators onto the road, and I stepped forward.”
At that point, mounted policemen burst out from behind the trucks, plowing their horses into the crowd. “One of them aimed his horse at me,” says Joffe, “and pushed me into a barrier. The horse stepped on my foot; I spun round and fell, bleeding, to the ground.”
At the same time, canisters of tear gas exploded. Joffe, who is asthmatic, thought he was about to choke to death. “It crossed my mind whether I should wait to be trampled to death or try to jump off the bridge onto the road below, where I would die on impact or be run over.”
Miraculously, at that moment, a hand reached down to pull him to safety on top of a barrier; by chance, an ex-colleague had noticed his distress and came to his aid.
When Yair Netanyahu calls the demonstrators “terrorists,” he is talking about me, my kids, my family, my friends, and my cousin Evan. When Itamar Ben-Gvir calls us “anarchists,” it would be funny, if it weren’t so scary. When our prime minister steps into our homes, ostensibly to calm us down, filling our TV screens with his menacing face as he sneeringly equates us with thugs committing what can only be uncomfortably compared to a pogrom in Huwara… what is left for us to do but demonstrate, and demonstrate, and demonstrate again?
“I am not a violent person,” declares Joffe. “I have never been in a fight in my life. But there is a tiny window of time to stop this insane government from wrecking our country. Every single person must think: ‘Do I want to live in a land led by this government?’ If not, come to the demonstrations and let your voice count.”
Surely God wants us to get it right this time around; surely He wants His country to survive. Sanity will surely prevail.
Shabbat shalom. See you at a demonstration. ■
The writer lectures at Reichman University and Beit Berl. Peledpam@gmail.com