In the most secular corners of Israel — a country that although known for extreme Jewish and Muslim inhabitants is shockingly queer-friendly — small drag scenes are emerging and are being met not only with tolerance, but with enthusiasm.
Despite the fact that most Jewish grandmothers own outfits that any drag queen would kill for — seriously, our Grandmas’ fur collections would slay on the runway — the world of Abrahamic religiosity and the ballroom scene hardly ever overlap.
But then there’s Shahar Hadar. The 34-year-old Orthodox Jew sees drag as a mitzvah (good deed) because it brings joy. “She blesses, she loves everyone,” Hadar said of his drag alter ego Rebbetzin Malka Falsch. “Usually drag queens are gruff. I decided that I wanted to be happy, entertain people, perform mitzvoth.”
Though he’s a confident ladyboy now, marching today in Jerusalem’s annual pride parade, Hadar found it difficult coming to terms as a gay man in the Orthodox community. He enrolled in a yeshiva (religious school) in hopes that religious study would banish his homosexual thoughts and feelings, but was kicked out after an inappropriate encounter with his roommate.
He transferred to another school and quickly married an ultra-Orthodox woman and had a child with her, but the marriage predictably fell apart. Hadar has yet to see his eleven year old daughter since his ex-wife refuses to let them meet. Meanwhile, does anyone else think this sounds like an Israeli Almodóvar movie?
Ostracized by his entire family — except for a brother who bravely asked of them: “Are gays not human beings?”— Hadar sought solace and found it in the wigs and false lashes of drag queens.
Traveling from Jerusalem to nearby gay haven Tel Aviv, Hadar took classes at Drag Yourself, a drag workshop for the next generation of legendary Israeli and Palestinian children. Notably, Drag Yourself welcomes young queens of all faiths and nationalities, ignoring religious and nationalistic allegiances in a perpetually embattled area. Hadar graduates next month.
Hadar’s persona is inspired by a rebbetzin — either the wife of a Rabbi or a community female spiritual guide — and Malka is never without a sagely retort. A telemarketer by day, Hadar transforms into Miss Falsch spreading no tea, no shade, only love and wisdom. She wouldn’t survive one episode on Drag Race.