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'Tears were coming down my face': Israeli gay-rights activist Hen Mazzig takes Penn State stage to share his story

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In an obscure little classroom inside the Health and Human Development Building, Israeli Activist Hen Mazzig spoke in front of an Israeli flag and on behalf of Students Supporting Israel.

Famed for his journalism and activism on many fronts, Mazzig documented his diverse heritage, military and civilian careers, and thoughts on Israel. The small classroom was nevertheless full for the event on Wednesday night.

Mazzig’s voice, soft-spoken and raspy, captured the room’s attention throughout his whole talk.

After apologizing for his English skills, which he jokingly said he learned from watching American TV, Mazzig reflected on the different reactions his presence inspires.

“It seems like when we’re talking about Israel, or when an Israeli speaker comes to some college campuses,” he said, “it’s something that creates controversy.”

Still, despite the tendency for his events to erupt into protests, Mazzig reaffirmed his commitment to telling the history of himself and his homeland.

Mazzig’s family immigrated to Israel in the 1950’s, trying to escape the persecution they endured in Tunisia as both Berbers and Jews.

“After years of oppression and living as second-class citizens,” Mazzig said, “they decided to leave and moved to Israel.”

Helming from a half-Iraqi and half-African background, Mazzig later served as a humanitarian affairs officer in the Israeli military for five years before his resulting civilian career.

Anecdotes of wartime casualties were told alongside anecdotes of romantic heartbreak and triumph.

While in the Israel Defense Forces, Mazzig came out, announced his romantic interest in his crush before promptly getting rejected, and served as an openly-gay lieutenant.

Mazzig often blushed while retelling his coming out story, which began after another soldier came out to him.

Mazzig then confided in a commander the situation and later came out himself in front of the higher-up.

To his surprise, the officer correctly guessed Mazzig’s crush on the soldier and encouraged Mazzig to pursue him, with the officer even granting him leave to do so.

After Mazzig revealed his true feelings to his comrade, however, the soldier rejected Mazzig’s advances.

“Tears were coming down my face,” Mazzig said, as he drove away and listened to Adele to soothe his heartbreak.

After arriving back at the military base in distress, Mazzig told the original officer off. The officer ignored Mazzig’s anger, however, and insisted that he became an officer himself and put his unrequited love behind him.

Mazzig followed his superior’s orders, and quickly booked a trip to officer training school.

A question-and-answer session followed Mazzig’s talk, with several students eagerly anticipating further elaboration from Mazzig.

Mazzig made it a point to avoid political stances, not wishing to alienate his audience or cause undue debate.

“If you have 20 Israelis in one room, then you have 20 different political opinions,” he said.

Marissa Scott  helped to plan the event as part of Students Supporting Israel. Scott decided to joined the newly-formed club after a visit to Israel last year made her fall in love with the country and inspired her “to spread Israeli love and culture to campus.”

Scott (sophomore- archaeology and Jewish studies) appreciated the turnout of the crowd and Mazzig’s agreeability.

“I think [Mazzig] had very great points,” she said. “He was very open and it didn’t feel too political.”

Chad Finkelstein attended the event due to his involvement with Penn State Hillel, in which he serves as treasurer, and his prior knowledge of Mazzig’s work.

“I’ve heard [Mazzig’s] story beforehand, and had to be here,” Finkelstein (sophomore- supply chain management) said.

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