Gay Fathers In Israel, In Real Life And In Sitcoms

Mom And Dads

‘Mom And Dads’

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TEL AVIV -  On weeknights at the Gay Center here, a four-story building in the heart of the city, parking a stroller is about as hard as parking a car elsewhere in town, which is to say, nearly impossible. The tyke-sized traffic jam is one indication of the gay baby boom that has taken place across Israel, in the last several years.
“A kid last week said to another kid, ‘I have two moms,’ ” recalled Idan Netzer, who oversees the center’s preschool, which opened in November. “And the other kid said: ‘So what? Daniel in my kindergarten has two moms too.’ ”
It’s been a big year for gay parents in Israel. In May a committee of the Health Ministry recommended that surrogacy be allowed for gay men. (Currently they can only travel abroad for that option.) A month later organizers of Tel Aviv Pride, one of the city’s largest annual events, splashed images of two real-life gay fathers and their children on publicity materials and a banner next to Town Hall, making them the faces of the festivities.
But the societal change really hit home with the premiere in November of “Mom and Dads,” a series on the cable channel Hot. This comic drama, starring three of Israel’s most popular actors, is about a gay couple raising a child with a single woman.
If that sounds familiar, it might be because the basic premise, on the surface at least, bears a striking resemblance to the American show on NBC, “The New Normal,” which just landed in Israel as well, appearing opposite “Mom and Dads” on another big cable network, Yes. While the American show mines laughs from outrageous characters and snarky one-liners, “Mom and Dads” focuses on the complex dynamics of the parental triangle, layering their insecurities and complicated emotions with wry humor.
The shows may be fighting for viewers, but they’ve already won the battle for acceptance. For the most part Israeli society, which has made long and quick strides in gay rights in the past two decades, has reacted to the baby bump and the programs about it with nonchalance. Even the country’s sizable religious segment has merely shrugged at the series.
“As soon as the gay community became a parental community, I think acceptance by society became smoother,” said Doron Mamet-Meged, founder of Tammuz, a business that helps couples, the majority of them gay men, have children via surrogates in India.
One reason may be a heavy cultural focus on making families, and the subtle social pressure (and not-so-subtle familial pressure) to procreate that stems from tradition as well as modern Jewish history.
The population balance between Jews and Arabs has political implications, so demographics are an Israeli obsession. In building families gay parents contribute to the national project of maintaining a Jewish majority. “For Israelis it doesn’t matter how you make a family,” said Mirit Toovi, who heads Hot’s drama department and gave the green light to “Mom and Dads.” “If you make a family, you’ve done the right thing.”
Avner Bernheimer, a creator and writer of “Mom and Dads” who also wrote the breakthrough gay Israeli film “Yossi & Jagger” in 2002. Mr. Bernheimer said that while his father accepted him when he first came out, it wasn’t until he had a child that he really felt embraced. “I think it was easier for him to have a gay son with a grandchild,” he said.
Mr. Bernheimer pitched “Mom and Dads” in 2007, when he and his partner were in the process of having a child with a single female friend. The show, in large part, dramatizes their experiences.
“It was the easiest sale ever,” he said of the pitch. Gay characters had appeared on Israeli TV by then, but not gay families. This was pre-“Modern Family,” so there wasn’t precedent. Tellingly, Israel skipped over the party-boy phase (“Queer as Folk”) and the professional bachelor phase (“Will & Grace”), seemingly uninterested in a gay bedroom until a crib arrived.
The surge in gay parenthood coincides with a number of high-profile court cases between 2002 and 2009 that put the issue on the public agenda and opened possibilities to same-sex couples, like adoption and surrogacy abroad, paternity leave for gay couples and the ability to adopt the biological child of a same-sex partner.
While lesbians and straight single women have been having children for decades, thanks in part to the state’s generous policies, which provide free in-vitro fertilization procedures for up to two children until parents are 45, gay men didn’t have a way to legally expand their family tree until the recent court decisions. Since then parenthood has preoccupied gay men — more so than marriage. (Courts recognized same-sex marriage performed abroad in 2006, leading the gay community to turn its attention to parenting, trading the chuppah for the bris as its ritual of choice.)
Parenthood “is more visible, it’s more practical, more possible,” said Itai Pinkas, a former Tel Aviv City Council member who brought the court case that led to the Health Ministry committee’s recommendation and who has 2-year-old twins with his partner through a surrogate in India.
“People feel more stable about their general civil rights,” he said. “That’s an atmosphere in which you’re more likely to think about having children.”
That surrogacy has become so common is perhaps less surprising when you realize that the practice has biblical roots. Consider the story of Abraham, who fathered a child through Hagar, his wife’s handmaiden, when his wife, Sarah, was unable to conceive.
A few millenniums later companies like Tammuz are capitalizing on Abraham’s example. In February the American-based support organization Men Having Babies will hold a conference at the Tel Aviv Gay Center to introduce 10 new surrogacy agencies.
“Mom and Dads” and “The New Normal” seem to have unintentionally reflected reality rather than challenged it. “We were afraid it would be a bit niche,” Ms. Toovi said. “When we started talking about it, you saw those new families only in Tel Aviv. But now you see them all around.”
Yoram Mokady, vice president for content at the Yes network, agreed. “We thought we were brave and unique,” he said. “But maybe we weren’t.”
from The New York Times

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