Who is Andrew Langenfeld and what would you want people to know about him?
This is a difficult question because there are so many sides to Andrew Langenfeld. There is the small-town Midwestern boy who moved across the world to Tel Aviv, Israel to follow his dreams; there is the former college swimmer who founded an outreach and support organization for LGBTQ student-athletes and allies; and finally this passionate guy who fully commits himself to knowing as much about his interests (e.g. musical theatre, foreign languages, religion, swimming, etc.)
Were you always an activist?
I suppose that I always have been an activist, at least in one-way or another. I constantly stood up for the underdog in middle school, but it wasn’t until college that I began to voice my thoughts and become involved in bigger issues. Whether it was advocating for Israel on campus or raising awareness of LGBT athlete issues with the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) I became much more involved in my last two-three years of university.
When did you decide to move to Israel?
The first time that I came to Israel was in the summer of 2009 when I swam in the World Maccabiah Games. I never had the opportunity to go on Taglit (Birthright) in college because I was swimming year round and couldn’t take a week off of training, but the Maccabiah Games was an amazing opportunity for me to see Israel. I fell in love immediately and considered making aliyah right after the Games were over BUT, I went back to the US and started working for a sports recruiting firm. From the moment I returned to the US from Israel I constantly thought about all of the amazing places I’d visited, the people I met, and I decided then to look for a way to return. I found a MASA program (Oranim’s Masters in Israel, which is a 1-year masters program in management from NYU-POLY). After 5-months in the program I decided to make aliyah and stay indefinitely.
Tell us more about your organization you founded (Our Group) and is there an Israeli equivalent.
So Our Group is an outreach and support network for LGBT student-athletes and allies. I started building the foundation for the organization in 2007/2008 after I transferred from West Virginia University to Purdue University. I realized in my experience as an out athlete that I was extremely fortunate to have accepting teammates (an also two other out teammates) and that this was something special and unique. I knew that there were other LGBT athletes who did not have a person to open up to about their gender or sexual identities. I wanted to great the structure for other campuses to start support groups and also a way for out athletes to share their stories with other people. Unfortunately, outside of the US there is no other organization similar to Our Group, since organized intercollegiate sports is something quite unique to the US. But, we have worked with the Federation of Gay Games and other LGBTQ sports organizations on different panel discussions and other activism platforms.
How was your experience in the sports world being gay?
I had a very interesting experience. I was closeted until my sophomore year of college (even though I came out to my mom and some friends in high school) but during my freshman year of college I dated a teammate. It was a very difficult experience for me because as a student-athlete, you spend anywhere between 8-10 hours a day with most of your teammates, and hiding something so huge that was right in front of their faces was difficult. Things became even harder after my boyfriend/teammate and I broke up during the NCAA Championship meet my freshman year and we had to be around each other all of the time. After the breakup I came out, but it was a very difficult time in my life. My teammates were supportive and great for the most part, but it was difficult in many ways for me to be out on my team at West Virginia University. I decided to transfer to Purdue University to start my junior year of college and to start with a fresh slate. At Purdue I was completely accepted and never faced any issues being gay on the swim team or within the sports community at school. I feel very blessed to have had such a positive experience, because I know many other athletes who did not have the same positive experience.
You recently took part in the World LGBTQ Youth Leaders Summit in Tel Aviv, how was your experience.
The Summit was quite remarkable in many ways, from the group of participants that were hand picked by the organizing committee, to the workshops/lectures we participated in, to the experiences that we were able to enjoy (e.g. visiting Jerusalem, East Jerusalem, the Knesset, etc.) throughout the weeklong conference. I know that each and every one of us left the summit feeling more empowered and with new skills that we can take back to our home organizations. All of the participants decided at the end of the summit to create a network, which we have named RCAN (Rainbow Coalition and Activists Network) so that we can stay connected and continue the dialogue that we began in Tel Aviv from anywhere around the world.
As an American, what would you say is the state of LGBTQ rights in Israel?
Well, this is a tricky question. Israel is quite a unique country as it is THE Jewish state and several civil functions of society are executed by the Rabbinate. While there is no same-sex marriage (or civil marriage for that matter) in Israel, marriages performed outside of Israel are recognized and receive most of the benefits of marriages performed within Israel (and this includes same-sex marriages.) As I live in Tel Aviv, which is considered by many to be the Gay capital of the Middle East, I do feel that the secular society is supportive of LGBTQ rights and there have been several rights won recently such as the right to adopt and surrogacy for example in different situations. All in all, I see Israel as any other country that is constantly growing and changing in terms of accepted social norms and civil/human rights. I think that secular Israelis are generally progressive and that for a country that is just over 60 years old, there has been a massive amount of progressive legislation that protects its citizens.
And of course, does size matter (in relation to Israel of course)
As the saying goes “it’s not the size that matters, but the way that you use it.” I think that Israel has a LONG history of being pretty good at using it, but we’re currently in a rut. We have a lot of internal issues happening in Israel at the moment whether it be from women being allowed to sing in the army, segregated bus seating in Jerusalem between men and women, cost of living/housing in Israel, and aside from all of that we have external issues with the countries surrounding us. One cannot deny, however, the strength of our army, the scientific and technological developments coming out of our laboratories and from our engineers/scientists—-even with the domestic and international issues that Israel is facing at the moment, we still continue to shine around the world, and that I think is a miracle.
Who is Assi Azar? What would you want people to know about yourself?
mmm well, I am a nice guy… (I think). I am also a TV host. I host the Israeli version of “Big Brother” here. I am also gay, single and looking.
Were you always interested in documentary filmmaking?
No, I wasn’t. When I was asked by the production company to work on a documentary about “coming out” I initially refused. I thought the issue was already covered from all angles, but then after the events at the Gay Youth community centre, in which 2 teens were killed (Read more), I felt like I had to do something for the community and then the ides for “Mom, Dad I have something to tell you” came.
Tell us about “Mom, dad, I have something to tell you” ?
It is a short-form, low-budget documentary, only 45 minutes. It’s a movie made for TV. The idea was to look at “coming out” from the perspective of the parents and what they go through when their children come out of the closet. The documentary is based on my meetings with families who have a gay son or daughter. I also sat and talked to my own parents about my coming out and how it affected them, in order to bring to light to their experience, our experience.
You’ve participated in panel discussions about your movie outside of Israel, tell us about your experience.
It was amazing, I had so much fun! When we finished shooting the movie, my dream was to show it to as many people as I could, and by traveling with the movie to the states I achieved my dream. Now I want to go to other places in the world too!
Has being Israeli influenced your work?
I am Israeli. I was born here, I grew up here, it is who I am. It has affected, and will affect, everything I’ve done and will do.
You also host the Israeli “Big Brother” what are your thoughts about Israeli reality TV ?
I was basically born out of Reality TV: My first gig was for the host of an Israeli show for youth called EXIT. I was part of “Who Will be The Next Host of EXIT?” and I was chosen out of 15 other candidates, so I have an attachment to reality TV. I really love my job. I also think we are doing an awesome job with Big Brother in Israel, and I hope to be part of this phenomenon for a long time!
Are you working on any other projects, or do you have plans for other projects?
I am now finishing writing my first TV series, 10 episodes of a romantic comedy. I can’t wait to start shooting!
And of course, does Size Matter (in relations to Israel of course) ?
I am a gay man. Of course size matters LOL
Even though it is his “Photojournalism Behind the Scenes” project that initially caught our attention, Ruben Salvadori has a lot more up his sleeves. His passion for detail and human behavior is portrayed in his various projects. Ruben is a 22yo Italian student from Venice, that decided to take on the Israel experience, in so many ways! We caught up with Ruben, and suggest you follow the work of this young talented individual.
Who is Ruben Salvadori?
Some Italian dude I’ve heard about.
He spent the last four years in Jerusalem where he graduated from the Hebrew University in Anthropology/Sociology and International Relations. He uses visual media to satisfy his curiosity towards human behaviour, culture and tradition.
Were you always interested in Journalism/Photography? If so, what sparked it?
I wasn’t always. When I was young, I was interested more in travelling. Since childhood I’ve been exposed to a wide range of cultures and I think this is what made my interest for anthropology grow. For me, photography is just a way to approach other groups of people, a medium through which I can explore and experience their stories. With regard to journalism, I’m interested in it as a topic but not necessarily in doing it for a living – at least not anymore, since I’ve observed how the Media really works. I’m more interested in documentary photography than photojournalism because in my opinion, the latter plays on a more superficial level of the story and does not search deep into the essence of an issue, which is exactly what I would like to portray.
You seem to connect your academic background to your photography, how does this affect your work?
My academic background (especially my education in Anthropology and Sociology) is the basis of my visual research. It completely shapes my work in that I can gain a better understanding of an issue through empirical research, field work techniques, and by approaching items with a critical eye. I may have never embarked on a project such as Photojournalism Behind the Scenes without my academic background – it essentially pushed me to question “taken for granted” concepts and allowed me to analyze them further.
I just wanted to be somewhere interesting while attending a good university; there was no particular religious or ideological reason. It was definitely the best choice I could make since my time in Israel gave me the chance to add a huge amount of experience I couldn’t get in other places.
Being Italian, has it been easy for you to fit in? Do you see similarities between the two people?
It wasn’t hard to fit in, I met very friendly people and many Israelis that are like Italians (except when we take over the beaches in Tel Aviv). There are an infinite amount of jokes you can make about us, and if a discussion takes a serious direction, you can always pop in a comment about Berlusconi and save the situation with some laughs. Yes, There are some similarities: for example, we both use our hands a lot to talk – just don’t gesture to an Italian to wait the way you do in Israel or you’ll have a hard time explaining that it doesn’t mean “what the hell do you want?”
How have you incorporated your interest in religious rituals into your projects in Israel ?
Israel provided me with a rich playground to practice my visual research because it is so densely full of religious characteristics. I am not religious but I am fascinated by all the religious facets that are shown in people’s daily lives. In Israel, I had many chances to incorporate this interest by documenting Christian, Muslim and Jewish rituals throughout the year.
You’ve also covered the Jerusalem pride parade in 2010, in addition to your exhibition called “Queens of Jerusalem.” That’s quite a contrast to your other photos, can you tell us about that?
I know it may appear like it contrasts with my previous projects but I feel that it doesn’t at all. My main interest is in human behaviour and this ranges from the ultra-orthodox and highly traditional sides of a society to its more transgressive and underground aspects. Contrary to the mainstream visual ideal about Israel, it is not always the typical image of a guy with peyot or of a Palestinian throwing a rock. There are many other different and interesting groups here that have greatly interested me. My work Queens of Jerusalem shows the faces of those who represent this marginalized group and is part of an ongoing project on the sociological concept of stigma. It was a very fun and interesting shoot and I felt privileged that my subjects allowed me to enter their intimate lives. I was able to get a very in-depth understanding of what it is like to be a drag queen in such a traditional city like Jerusalem.
Are there projects (from Israel) that you are especially proud of?
Although it does not contain my best looking photographs, I think the project Photojournalism Behind the Scenes marked a great personal growth within the photographic world. Visually researching on the photojournalistic experience gave me a better understanding on how the Media market works. It really convinced me to leave the journalistic track and to create a documentary with a more in-depth approach.
As a photographer/Artist do you feel a cultural renaissance in Jerusalem?
Jerusalem is very active when it comes to its cultural and artistic side. There are many interesting people with great ideas, and this helped me a lot with experimenting in various fields and gathering different perspectives to improve my work and knowledge. I am from Venice, which despite being beautiful is very flat and boring when it comes to cultural events and people’s interests; therefore, it was a pleasure to get a sense of Jerusalem’s rich culture during my stay.
On a lighter note, what is your favorite city / place (gallery, restaurant, bar…) in Israel ?
Considering that I came to Israel to study, I think Jerusalem was an ideal place to stay because I was able to experience an interesting environment without having too much distraction from my studies. I also enjoyed Tel Aviv for its artistic and underground world but I doubt my experience would have been as worthwhile if I had stayed there instead.