The Israeli port city of Haifa isn’t as well known internationally as Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, but it’s no less stunning: A mountainous landscape crammed with ancient buildings and winding roads, set against the backdrop of the Mediterranean.
And Haifa, subject of the current issue of the gay travel magazine Elska, offers something other Israeli cities don’t: A model for diversity and acceptance.
“I’m certain most people expected us to go to the huge gay hub that is Tel Aviv,” says Elska editor Liam Campbell. “[But] Haifa is known for being the most mixed and normalized city in the country, with Jews and Arabs sharing the same space and with a greater degree of harmony than anywhere else.”
That, and a sizable community from the former Soviet Union, pushed Campbell to choose Haifa for Elska’s first Israeli issue. As in every issue, Campbell’s team interviewed numerous men about their lives in the city, and took portraits both on the street and in more intimate surroundings, often nude or partially undressed.
Finding subjects willing to bare all (literally and metaphorically) can be tricky. But in Haifa, Campbell said, the locals did a lot of the legwork.
“All of the men we met kept asking if we’d managed to meet people from other communities. Jews were spreading the word to their Arab friends, Arabs were introducing us to their Russian friends, and everyone wanted to make sure that we would be able to show the multiculturalism that the people of Haifa are so proud of.”
That’s not to suggest the magazine whitewashes issues faced by different communities, including racism, xenophobia, and religious intolerance.
“There are naturally signs that life is not perfect,” Campbell says. “However, Haifa seems to set a better example than anywhere else in Israel of how different people should be able to live together, not just by tolerating each other but by loving each other. The men you meet in Elska Haifa do show some of their pain, but they share their hope, as well.”
Elska’s Haifa issue is available in a 164-page print version or for download. A companion e-zine, Elska Ekstra Haifa , offers outtakes, behind-the-scenes tales and more profiles.