“Independence Park”–gay in the Holy Land

Fink, Amir Sumaki and Press, Jacob. “Independence Park: The Lives of Gay Men in Israel”, Stanford University Press, 1999.

Gay in the Holy Land

Amos Lassen

Having lived in Israel for many years and having logged my share of time in the park, I was quite anxious to read “Independence Park” and it was everything that I had anticipated it would be. Before Israel became a gay haven in the world, gay life was rather primitive. There were no bars, no places to meet. If you wanted to see the gay community you had to cruise the park and cruise is what the men did. Weather was not important and neither was dress. If you wanted to meet someone, you went to the park in Tel Aviv and wandered in the bushes between the Sheraton and Hilton hotels.

Fink and Press have gathered a collection of personal narratives of twelve gay men who represent a cross-section of Israeli society. There are Jews and Arabs between the ages of 22 and 72, students and teachers, a waiter, a prostitute, a journalist and a janitor. Everyone got to the park sometime. I have met members of the government there and even Rock Hudson and Leonard Bernstein would visit Independence Park. Some of the men are married to women, some have life partners, some are single and uninvolved and the men come from families from almost everywhere in the world. In the interviews they speak of their families, they speak of their jobs and education and when they first realized that they were attracted to other men. They also speak of their political views, their emotional struggles, and their ties to religion and their childhood memories.

These voices together show how different their worlds are and yet how much they are alike. The voices taken together give a picture of Israel’s gay life. The stories are not only very interesting, they are enlightening and each is deeply moving.

We get a look at the big ideas at stake as Israel matures into a place in the modern world. Israeli society is a tough one to categorize because it is made up of so many diverse elements from so many different places. It represents the true definition of the term “melting pot”. The stories have been translated accurately from Hebrew to English and the authors manage to transcribe the nuances of the Hebrew language to very readable English.

What I love about this book is its honesty and I can tell just how honest it is by having lived in the country and experiencing the park. Granted the book was written 9 years ago and much has changed as Israel opened her arms to her gay citizens and tourists. I am sure that the park is no longer what it once was but for most Israeli gay men it was a daily stop.

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