Activists recap horror of LGBT shooting in Israel

As Noa Raz recounted the horrific scene she witnessed just minutes after a gunman opened fire on a gay youth center in Tel Aviv this past August, blaring sirens from Market Street briefly silenced her.

Once the ear-piercing noise faded, Raz added an eerie footnote to her talk Nov. 2 at the LGBT Community Center in San Francisco. “That’s exactly how it sounded” when police rushed to respond to the bloodshed at the Israel Gay Youth Organization, she told the approximately 50 people seated before her.

Raz, resource development manager at the IGY, along with its Executive Director Avner Dafni and former Tel Aviv City Councilman Etai Pinkas, were in the Castro District to discuss the aftermath of the Aug. 1 shootings that left two dead — Nir Katz, 26, and Liz Troubishi, 16 — and many others wounded.

Panelists (from left) Avner Dafni, Noa Raz and Etai Pinkas with moderator Rabbi Sydney Mintz of Congregation in Emanu-El in S.F. photo/amanda pazornik

Congregation Emanu-El Rabbi Sydney Mintz facilitated the two-hour conversation, catalyzed by a short video that documented the night of the killings, the vigils that followed and the response from political leaders who, prior to the attack, were not outspoken supporters of Israel’s LGBT community.

The video, coupled with the testimony from the three guests, left the audience emotional and at times wondering why the shooting was not publicized more in the Bay Area.

Similar reaction from predominantly gay communities throughout the United States prompted the Israeli representatives to embark on a multi-stop tour in the U.S. to talk about the attack and its lasting effects on the Israel Gay Youth Organization.

“Four or five months ago, if we received a phone call saying we were a ‘dirty, disgusting organization,’ we would have said it was ‘just another nut-case,’ ” Dafni said. “Now, if we get so much as a suspicious call from anyone, we’ll go straight to the police. We’re taking everything very seriously.”

The S.F. event was presented by the Israel Center and the LGBT Alliance of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, and a number of Jewish organizations in San Francisco.  

On Aug. 1, Raz received several text messages with the phrase “They are shooting” in the body. She arrived at the center 15 minutes after the shooting, after being forced to run since police had closed nearby streets to traffic. 

The rest of the details, she said, are “in fragments.”

“There was blood everywhere,” Raz recalled. “I could see wounded guys shrinking under shelves as if they were trying to hide. But [the gunman] still got them. Usually in terror scenes, you can hear screams. Over there, it was so quiet.”

In the days following the attack, volunteers worked overtime to provide food and sleeping arrangements for the hundreds of teens who “stormed” the center, Raz said. “Some of them came out of the closet,” she added.

“They didn’t want to die without their mothers knowing they were gay.”

News that police had arrested Yaakov Teitel, a 37-year-old U.S.-born immigrant suspected of carrying out heinous crimes against left-wing activists, Palestinians, Messianic Jews and the LGBT community, “brought people some peace,” Pinkas said. 

Police said Teitel, who made aliyah in 2000 from Florida, has supported, through leaflets and posters, the shooting attack at the Israel Gay Youth Organization, though police  do not believe he was the gunman.

Earlier this week, security forces also arrested Yossi Shpinoza. Shpinoza, Teitel’s neighbor, had been arrested two weeks ago after his association with Teitel became known, but was released hours later. He was rearrested Nov. 3 on suspicion of involvement with Teitel’s alleged crimes.    

“It doesn’t matter who the shooter is,” Raz told an audience member who asked if she thought Teitel was responsible. “We want to see [the gunman] behind bars forever.”

Established in 2002, the Israel Gay Youth Organization has grown into one of the largest LGBT groups in Israel, with activities for 15- to 23-year-olds in 20 cities and towns across the country. According to its Web site, one of IGY’s goals is to create a sense of belonging.  

Mintz closed the evening with a reminder to the three panelists, who had come to San Francisco to make their work at the center known, that they, too, could feel that sense of belonging within the Bay Area’s LGBT community and beyond.   

“Out of terrible trauma,” Mintz said, “sometimes good things happen.”

JTA and the Jerusalem Post contributed to this report.