Tune into what is now the highest-rated program on Israeli television, “Big Brother,” and you will encounter a female character never been featured before on local screens. Her name is Frida Hecht — a heavy-set, outspoken, recovering heroin addict with a crew cut. She’s a lesbian, and about as far out of the closet as it is possible to get.
A Tel Aviv restaurant owner, Frida does not hesitate to assert herself, cheerfully acknowledges her flaws and limitations, and is outspoken about the more bourgeois residents of the “Big Brother” house and their “empty materialistic lives that are all surface and no content.”
Declaring that she is unafraid of being voted off of the show by viewers, she has no problem taking positions that are unpopular with the audience. Early in the show, she insisted on taking the house copy of the Bible in to the bathroom with her, saying that she needs to read something while on the toilet, and that is the only book in the house. When Yoram Cohen, an Orthodox resident of the house was offended by her bringing the holy book into the bathroom, Frida stood her ground and a screaming match ensued. More than 2,500 viewers then signed an online petition calling for Frida to be voted out of the house as a result of her behavior. But her sympathizers outnumbered her enemies, and Cohen ended up being the one voted off the show.
If you stay tuned after “Big Brother,” you’ll catch a program called “Coming Soon: Love,” a documentary series about six women and their attempts to find a mate in Tel Aviv. One of the women, Gili Shem-Tov, a sports broadcaster with flowing blonde hair, and mother of a baby boy, is also an ‘out’ lesbian.
Shem-Tov gained worldwide attention back in November, when, as a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars” she insisted on being partnered with a female dancer, and they became the first same-sex contestants ever to compete on the international franchise.
“Coming Soon: Love” was actually filmed before the dance show was broadcast. It begins after Shem-Tov’s painful break-up with the woman with whom she was living when she gave birth to her son.
At the beginning of the documentary series, she states that she is open to dating potential partners of either sex. But after two failed attempts with men, she dates an equally blonde and beautiful chef named Maya Ferrer, her current partner, and they quickly fall in love on-camera. But she still struggles with feelings for her ex-girlfriend, who has since formed a relationship with a man, and confesses that she sometimes feels bad that her ex “has emerged from lesbianism, and I am still there.”
The Saturday night line-up is truly revolutionary, even though the first gay male character made his debut on Israeli television back in 1997. Since then, numerous homosexual Israeli men have been featured both in dramas and on reality television, and famous actors and celebrities have come out of the closet or made their debut on the public stage openly gay.
The pop culture debut of Israeli lesbians is more than a decade behind their male counterparts, but this seems to be their year. Frida and Gili — two very different women — represent their new public face.