Ayala Katz was born in Israel in 1961. In 1990, when 29 years old and the mother of a seven year old boy and one year old girl, Ayala lost her first husband Rami Katz z”l when he was accidentally killed in an IDF training exercise referred to as the first Tze’elim Disaster.
Five years later, she married Gilead Shenhar, an expert in emergency and disaster response assessment and planning, and together they raised a daughter and the five children from their previous marriages. On August 1, 2009, Ayala lost her 26 year old son Nir Katz z”l in a shooting at the Bar Noar, a center for LGBT youth in Tel Aviv where Nir worked as a volunteer counselor.
Following Nir’s death, Ayala was invited to become the Chairperson of the LGBT parents’ support organization, Tehila. Ayala served in this position from December 2009 until February 2011. In her capacity as Chairperson, she worked to promote Tehila in the media and foster cooperation between Tehila and other LGBT organizations in Israel and abroad. During 2011, Ayala wrote a weekly opinion column on the Ma’ariv website, where she discussed a range of issues and current events and focused many columns specifically on LGBT issues.
The main project Ayala pushed forward was the establishment of the Nir Katz Center for Violence, Discrimination, and Homophobia Reporting in Tel Aviv, which opened in August of 2012. Sponsored by the Israeli LGBT Association, the Nir Katz Center operates a helpline to field complaints of LGBT abuse and offers concrete psychosocial and legal support to victims of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, using Israeli LGBT Association services.
Ayala received a B.A. from Tel Aviv University in Sociology and Education in 1983 and an M.A. from Lesley University, Israel, in Interdisciplinary Studies with a specialization in Group Leadership and Arts in 2008. She has over twenty years of experience working in the field of software development and information technology, as well as experience in systems analysis, project and technology management, group facilitation, and leadership training. Over the years, she was involved in numerous community and philanthropic efforts to support IDF widows. Following the death of her son Nir in 2009, Ayala become an activist in the LGBT movement, working in a variety of ways both large and small to further the cause of acceptance and inclusion of LGBT persons in Israeli society. In 2010, Ha’aretz selected Ayala as one of the 50 most influential people in Israel. She and Gili are now the happy grandparents of four babies.
Ayala Katz’s son Nir Katz z”l came out when he was 20 years old and serving in the Israeli army. Ayala accepted her son’s being gay and then later warmly accepted Nir’s partner into her family. Following Nir’s murder in the attack at Bar Noar in Tel Aviv in 2009, Ayala’s life and sense of purpose changed, and she responded to her personal and profound loss by shifting her priorities from raising her family and her work to becoming an activist in the LGBT movement in Israel. Rather than remaining private with the pain of her loss, she chose to speak up publicly – over and over again, in interviews and on stages at rallies, conferences, and in schools, in a culture riddled with prejudice against LGBT persons, about the dignity of human life regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Without fear of repercussions to her self or life, Ayala has advocated for an Israeli society committed to tolerance of diversity and acceptance of LGBT persons. In addition to public speaking and writing, Ayala worked with LGBT organizations on a variety of projects, most notably the establishment of a center in Tel Aviv dedicated to combatting violence against members of the LGBT community. Her work and involvement in the LGBT movement has offered inspiration and motivation to others in the movement and has helped the Israeli public to become more aware of and question their prejudice against LGBT persons. Deeply committed to opening eyes and changing hearts in the direction of a more tolerant and loving society towards LGBT persons, Ayala Katz has chosen to use her experience of grief and loss to create a more equal, just, and inclusive social landscape.
Following Nir’s death, Ayala was invited to become the Chairperson of the LGBT parents’ support organization, Tehila, and Ayala served in this position from December 2009 until February 2011. In her capacity as Chairperson, she worked to promote Tehila in the media and foster cooperation between Tehila and other LGBT organizations in Israel and abroad, and she participated in several weekend meetings of Israel’s LGBT leaders groups. Less than a year after Nir’s death, Ayala invited the Israeli Minister of Education to meet with LGBT parents and organizations at the Tel Aviv Gay Center to discuss problems faced by the LGBT community in Israel. On May 17, 2010, the International Day Against Homophobia, Gideon Saar met with LGBT groups for the first time any education minister had ever met and spoken with LGBT groups in a public forum.
During 2011, Ayala wrote a weekly opinion column on the Ma’ariv website, where she discussed a range of issues and current events and focused many columns specifically on LGBT issues. As a result of the extensive media interest in the police investigation of the Bar Noar attack, Ayala was frequently asked by TV, newspaper, and online news journalists to give interviews about the investigation. Ayala made a point to use these interviews as opportunities to promote greater understanding of LGBT issues in Israeli society and give voice to the importance of human rights and the need for acceptance of all people, independent of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
The main project Ayala pushed forward was the establishment of the Nir Katz Center for Violence, Discrimination, and Homophobia Reporting in Tel Aviv, which opened in August of 2012. Sponsored by the Israeli LGBT Association, the Nir Katz Center operates a helpline to field complaints of LGBT abuse and offers concrete psychosocial and legal support to victims of violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. This support includes the provision of staff to accompany victims who want to file a complaint with the police. In addition to the provision of support, the center is commissioned to collect statistics heretofore unavailable on the incidence and prevalence of acts of violence and discrimination against members of the LGBT community in Israel. This data collection effort will result in an annual report to be written each August, and will be used to enable LGBT organizations demand that the Israeli government properly recognize and address the problem of violence against members of the LGBT community within Israel. In addition to Ayala, speakers at the dedication of the Nir Katz Center included: Reuven Rivlin, Chairman of the Knesset; Andreas Michaelis, German Ambassador to Israel; Aharon Axul, head of the Tel Aviv Police department; Shai Deutsch, Chairperson of the LGBT Association of Israel, and Judy Shepard, Matthew Shepard’s mother.
In addition to interviews with the media, Ayala has spoken at many human rights, academic, and LGBT events, including Gay Pride Parades in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Beersheba, Rainbow Families Association funding conferences, and other events, as well as programs geared towards educating high school students about LGBT issues. Ayala has spoken at LGBT - related conferences at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, Tel Aviv University, Netanya Academic College, Academic Business School in Rishon LeZion, and Emek HaYarden College. She was an invited speaker at the MANEO International Conference “Building a Queer and Tolerant Neighbourhoods” in Berlin in 2011, and participated in working groups at this conference as well.