Since the murderous shooting in which Thomas's partner, Nir Katz (in blessed memory) was killed, the Israeli LGBT community headed by the Aguda has embraced Thomas and done everything possible to let him know that although his beloved Nir is not amongst us any more, he is in our hearts and mind. That we see him as one of us, a member of this community, a part of the Israeli society, a resident of this country. However this was not felt by all. Early last February, Thomas received short notification from the Ministry of Internal Affairs that his temporary residency permit has lapsed and he is therefore required to leave the country within 14days. Furthermore, the notice indicated that failure to do so will result in deportation.
Thomas's first call was to Ayala, Nir's mother, to the only family he ever really had. The only family he ever felt being part of.
Thomas, now 26, arrived in Israel 6 years ago. He was born with his twin brother in Germany to a dysfunctional family. Never knowing their father, the twins grew up in foster homes and had little to do with their mother. During his teen years, his mother passed away and his twin brother was killed in a car accident. Thomas found himself all alone. Even the foster family, a devout Christian family, cut all contact with him once he came out as being gay. Thomas did his mandatory civil service and after graduating college as a social worker, decided to move to Israel. He never thought that he was destined to meet there the love of his life, Nir.
Thomas continued to practice his vocation working with the elderly and children with disabilities as a volunteer. In November of 2005, his and Nir's paths crossed at Evita, a leading Tel Aviv Gay bar. The occasional encounter became a serious relationship. While both found in each other a partner and a lover, Thomas also found a warm, welcoming and loving family.
Nir's youngest sister describes the special place Thomas had and still has at the Katz home: "I know Thomas practically since I can remember myself. He is always with me; he is a brother to me. I thought Nir and Tomi would always be with me. I don’t want to try to imagine Shabbat dinner without Thomas". Soon the happy couple moved in together and started to plan their life together. During 2006, they applied for a residency permit for Thomas based on his partnership with Nir.
On the night of August 1st 2009, the dream ended. An unknown, masked terrorist shattered the dream with a bullet. Nir, a caring volunteer counselor at BarNoar, the Aguda's youth program, was shot and killed together with Liz, a teen participant at the program. Ten others were injured.
It was the second time tragedy hit the Katz Family. Nir's Father was killed in a military maneuver on Nir's Birthday, when he was 7 years old. Once more, the Katz family was mourning and grieving, but they had Thomas. Nir's Partner remained a part of the family.
About 6 weeks following the murder, accompanied by Nir's sister, Thomas made an appointment with the Ministry of the Interior. He explained that Israel is his only home. That Israel has become the focal point of his life, where his friends are, where his one and only family he has ever had is, where his partner's fresh grave lies.
This appeal, like others that followed, fell on deaf ears and stone hearts. The official beurocratic response was the same: although the circumstances are tragic, the residency procedure was terminated once his partner was no longer his partner. The cruel and cynical response went even further, explaining that if they were married prior to his partner's death, it would have been possible for him to continue the process. As if there is a possibility for a gay couple to get married in Israel.
During April 2010, Ayala Katz, Nir's mother, sent a letter to the Ministry of the Interior. In this letter she wrote: "Thomas was Nir's, my late son's, partner for the last four years. Thomas was and is an integral part of our family... Even during these difficult times we are doing all that is possible to stay united… We, Thomas's family, we are here in Israel". Ayala went on to describe her personal experience as one who lost her spouse, how difficult it is, how consuming it is and how it is imperative to learn to live with the loss.
When Thomas and the Katz Family got the official denial notification, they were not alone. Together with the legal team of ACRI (Association for Civil Rights in Israel) lawyers headed by Oded Feller, The Aguda and Chen Langer, another Aguda volunteer and a BarNoar counselor, the LGBT community galvanized in support. One individual became the one and only focus of attention of all of us. A support and protest rally was in the making, letters to the Minister of the Interior and to the Prime minister were drafted and sent. Facebook was loaded with status phrases and the likes. The message was on "Thomas stays with us in Israel". By the end of the week, the massive public and media pressure apparently succeeded. The assistant to Minister Eli Ishay from the political religious party "Shas" informed Ayala that the expected deportation was canceled. A small setback was when we found that the ministry issued Thomas a tourist visa that precluded him from working and made him illegible to have health coverage and social benefits. A storm of angry reactions sorted it out and right now his status as temporary resident was restored and we are waiting for further developments. Another leg of Thomas's journey to the Promised Land, ended. Be sure we will keep you posted.