Queer Identity and Israel

Imri Kalmann is a social activist that has been working for many years to increase public awareness of LGBT issues in Israel. He is a former co-chairperson of the Israeli LGBT Association and has also founded several prominent night clubs in Tel Aviv that are hubs for persons that identify as LGBT. Kalmann gave a talk at OU Hillel this March, where he spoke about his own personal experiences growing up in Israel as a gay man, and how he became involved in activism.

One of the most fascinating parts of this talk was hearing about the interactions of the different elements of Kalmann’s identity. Kalmann discussed how two of the most important aspects of his identity are his jewishness and his identification as a gay man. While the Jewish community as a whole is very accepting of LGBT people, Kalmann has found that government policies in Israel do not always reflect this due to the sway that the ultra orthodox that hold over policymakers. As traditionalists, most ultra orthodox are far less accepting of the LGBT community. Opposite this, the LGBT community tends to be a more secular sector of society.

Kalmann has struggled to reconcile his judaism and his homosexuality; while closing his popular gay bars on the Sabbath was important to him in upholding his personal religious convictions, the gay community resisted this show of religiosity. Kalmann felt that as much as the ultra orthodox did not support his sexual identity, the gay community did not support his Jewish identity. This was especially interesting for me to hear about as a fellow Jew and member of the LBGT community. I have been lucky to feel very supported by my Jewish community here in Oklahoma, and having an LGBTQ+ group within the OU Hillel community has shown me that these two identities can coexist harmoniously.

Belly Dancing

At the end of February, the Arab Student Association advertised an event that instantly caught my attention – a night of belly dancing!

Last semester I was fortunate enough to take a belly dancing workshop through the OU School of Dance, and I absolutely loved it. The movement is sensual and invigorating. As a dancer, I always enjoy new dance experiences, and learning about styles that exist in other cultures opens windows to understanding dance in the larger global context.

The workshop was led by two members of the Arab Student Association with belly dancing experience. They put together a short routine for us set to an upbeat song that had a distinctly Middle Eastern sound. They taught us a series of movements, which mainly consisted of undulations in the torso and hips. We then linked these movements together for the dance. Although the gathering felt somewhat awkward in the beginning and there was a sense of shyness in the room, we soon became comfortable with one another. This allowed us to dive into the movement, swaying our hips and shaking our shoulders together. The night ended with us dancing in a circle, improvising and free dancing as a group.

Women and the Revolution in Iran

Dr. Shirin Saeidi, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas, visited OU in February to give a talk about a book she is working on that deals with women’s rights struggles in post-revolution Iran. Dr. Saeidi did field work in Iran for several years in order to gather stories from women and learn first hand about their experiences.

One of the focuses of Dr. Saeidi’s work was engaging with non-elite women to give voice to their stories, which are often left out of the larger narrative in Iranian society. Saeidi discussed the idea of “individual versus collective remembrance,” and how women’s individual “remembrance of the past” is often lost to the mainstream narrative that is created to characterize history. By considering how past experiences contribute to shaping women’s lives in the present, we are better able to understand how the history of their circumstances affects the ways they choose to engage in the struggle for a better life.

A fascinating moment during the lecture was when Dr. Saeidi discussed the word “feminism” and how it was perceived by women in Iran. Interestingly enough, she found that the majority of women engaged in the struggle for equality did not identify with this term. This term originated in the West, and therefore it should not be surprising that Iranian women view their fight for rights based on their own terms. Although feminism is perhaps a universal concept in what it aims to achieve, we must respect how women around the world choose to characterize and approach their own unique struggles if we wish to truly support their efforts.