Itsik Sayag came to Washington 10 months ago to work as a Shaliach (an emissary) with the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s Shlichim Program.
He’s one of 16 here in a program that places young Israelis in Jewish congregations in the D.C. area to teach American Jews more about Israel from first-hand perspectives.
Sayag is just starting his second 10-month term and is now at the Beth El Synagogue in Bethesda and with the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School in Rockville, Md. This summer he was a summer counselor at a local Jewish camp.
While visiting area schools, he talks with students about gay rights, coming out in Israel, disability rights, society, food and pop culture and helps them with their Hebrew.
Sayag has enjoyed noting the differences between gay life in Washington and his native Tel Aviv.
“Tel Aviv is a beach town at heart and it’s very gay friendly,” he says. “So it’s a much less formal place. Everyone is casual and laid back. Also the party lifestyle is more European. No one goes out until at least midnight and the parties last all night.”
He also says Tel Aviv has “a ton of gay people,” so it’s not unusual there.
“Because of that, you don’t find the kind of welcoming and organized community as you do in D.C.,” Sayag says. “I really love all the activities and groups there are for Jews and LGBT people in D.C. and will miss that when I leave.”
To be a Shaliach, applicants go through a rigorous interview process. The program provides them with living accommodations. In Tel Aviv, Sayag works as a ceremony director for the Israel Defense Forces and as a writer/director for a kids’ TV show called “Knock Knock.”
Sayag, a 29-year-old Tel Aviv native, is single and lives in Bethesda. He enjoys swimming, reading, foreign films, language study and reading in Meridian Hill park in his free time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I came out when I joined the Israeli army about 11 years ago. As weird as it sounds, the Israel Defense Forces is super gay friendly. My mom was the hardest person to tell.
Who’s your LGBT hero?
Dana International. She is an Israeli transgender singer who won the Eurovision Song Contest. She’s the most colorful, stunning and joyous person.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Describe your dream wedding.
I’m still working on finding a groom, but the guest of honor is my mother and my rabbi at Beth El Congregation in Bethesda, Md., Greg Harris, will officiate.
What non-LGBT issue are you most passionate about?
Sephardic Jews in Israel and everything that is happening in Syria. My parents grew up there and it’s breaking my heart.
What historical outcome would you change?
The assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
In the 1990s, the Israeli children’s channel was heavily influenced by Latin America. When I discovered XUXAׂ (Shusha), the children’s star from Brazil, it was the most significant pop moment of my life.
On what do you insist?
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
A video of my campers (I’m a counselor) at Camp Ramah D.C. practicing their Hebrew.
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Share on Facebook.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I believe in Hashem.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
You are amazing. Keep going! Every day you live, you make history.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
My own apartment in Tel Aviv.
What LGBT stereotype annoys you most?
“So who’s the man and who’s the woman in your relationship?”
What’s your favorite LGBT movie?
“Bring It On”
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Shopping at Costco, even though they have a huge department of kosher meat.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
When I was in 10th grade I participated in a French talent competition on behalf of the French Embassy in Israel and won three weeks all-inclusive in Paris. The guy who won the prize with me was a presenter at MTV three years later.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
When I was 18, I was a soldier. I think I knew too much.
Nice Jewish boys. And the incredible community I have built here through the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.