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Doing a Victory Dance for LGBT Rights in Israel

Doing a Victory Dance for LGBT Rights in Israel

I watched Nurit Melamed dance for the first time this week. Seeing her gracefully weave her feet is not something outside of the ordinary for Nurit, who is an accomplished choreographer and folk dance teacher in Jerusalem. But, even for her this was a new experience, as, together with lawyers and staff of the Israel Religious Action Center, we danced in the corridors of our office to celebrate her victory.

Our story began five years ago, when a prominent state-employed rabbi, Rabbi Issar Klonski of the Givat Mordechai neighborhood, defamed Nurit, who is a lesbian. He posted signs all over the neighborhood "outing" her, calling her a danger to the public, and warning women not to attend her dance classes.

Any woman, single or married, young or old, should not set foot there while a class is under way. This is strictly forbidden! Every man must do all he can to prevent a female family member from attending these classes, which are an abomination.

We sued this rabbi for libel, but after three years of fighting in court, lost the case. Even worse, in his verdict the judge stated that a rabbi has the right – and even the duty – to warn the public against deviants. This decision effectively put rabbis above the law, by enabling them to abuse their rabbinic authority to slander against LGBT people with impunity. With the backing of Reform Congregation Kol haNeshama and the generous support of some of our donors, IRAC appealed the verdict and last week we won.

I spoke with Nurit last week, just days before the verdict in our appeal. Her classes had dwindled and she was considering giving up dancing. She was in a terrible state. All this changed when the Jerusalem District Court ruled in her favor. The rabbi will now have to publicly apologize to her and pay her 60,000 shekels ($17,400) in compensation.

This is a huge victory, for Nurit, for LGBT people, and for all Israelis who believe in the right to privacy and equality before the law.

To quote Nurit:

Religion is the most beautiful thing in my life next to dancing, and it's a shame that one sabotaged the other.  When they spilled my blood over the billboards of the city, it was even worse that it was done by a rabbi in Israel.  The rabbi undermined the most basic precept of Judaism, 'love thy neighbor as thyself.'  May my own private journey that ended today with an apology and compensation teach us all to preserve each other's privacy and way of life, for we are all one heart and one people.

Anat Hoffman is the executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center, the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Jewish Movement in Israel. She is also the chairwoman of Women of the Wall, a group of Jewish women and men from around the world who strive to achieve the right of women to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

Anat Hoffman
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