Mike Hamel has been chair person of the Agudah, Israel’s oldest LGBT organization for almost 5 years. But nothing prepared him to handle the tragic shooting at the Agudah’s Nachmani Street center last August. Hamel and the Agudah board based in Tel Aviv has been gracefully trying to deal with the aftermath of the tragedy that left two dead, 10 wounded-several permanently disabled, and a community traumatized and a nation shocked. Israelis are not strangers to war wounds, terrorist attacks and violence. But the carefully executed attack on a youth program on August 1 last summer on a Saturday night made the whole country reel.
The murderer has never been found. It is an open case.
Dressed commando style, in a black ski mask and black clothing the gunman entered and carefully took aim at the mostly teenage crowd. He murdered a young woman who had come to the gay and lesbian center to accompany a friend who was too intimidated to come by himself. The gunman murdered a social worker who was there to help these young folks and provide adult supervision.
Hamel was one of the first on the scene. Mike recalled the evening as “a horror beyond belief.” As the volunteer chair person he became the spokesperson for the community-trying to deal with the situation, the press, and his own feelings. Mike came out later in life and is the father of three children himself. He could relate to the parents who were finding out late on a Saturday night that their children had been in an attack. He could relate to their own fears and terror. But for many of the parents it was a double whammy -they were also learning that their children were gay or lesbian or questioning.
Hamel recalled on Friday morning at a meeting at the LA Jewish Federation, that one young man who had been shot in the arm, dialed his father on his cell phone on the way to surgery with his good hand. The father, a religious Jew told the young man “You deserve this.” Hamel and the Agudah helped this young man through his surgery and even following because his family didn’t want him to come home and be identified as gay. People would see his cast and make assumptions, they worried. Hamel was able to work with a modern, Orthodox rabbi to help this father understand that his child needed him and that the right thing to do was to help his son.
Hamel is one of the unsung heroes of LGBT life in Israel in the aftermath of this tragedy.
There is still fallout from the shooting; especially the teens and their care. The one social worker brought on by the Agudah is swamped with calls from all over the country. Hamel reported that the social worker recently got a call from the Galilee from a young Druze trangender woman whose family when they found out want to kill her. The social worker and the Agudah are working to get her to safety. A woman’s shelter wouldn’t take her because she is “not” a woman yet. Hamel says, “Things fall through the cracks, but in this case it is people. People are falling through the cracks because even though there are legal rulings of equality in Israel there is not legislation protecting people.”
Mike is a hero because of his work. And because of his caring and his leadership. He has made sure that every one of the vicitims of this violence has been cared for whether their family has done so or not. He has made sure that the Agudah keeps its doors open. Learn more about the Agudah here.