I never considered myself a Zionist in any way, shape or form. Heck, until a year
ago, I would have never even considered myself an Israel activist. But when we
held the inaugural event last year for Out@JNF, which would serve as the LGBT
(lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) group at the Jewish National Fund, our
event was protested by anti-Israel activists with big postcard boards stating,
“JNF: Just Not Fabulous.” While I chuckled at their creativity, I felt a bit
annoyed that my gay community was protesting Israel.
Growing up as a
black-hat Orthodox Jew, I never celebrated Israel in a Zionistic fashion.
Zionism was a secular concept, sort of like Thanksgiving and Hanukka
While I studied in Yeshiva in Jerusalem after high school, I
didn’t connect to Israel until the summer of 2009 – my first summer in Israel as
a gay Jew. I connected to the country in a manner that seemed to merge both my
Jewish and gay identities together. I felt extremely at home in a country that
embraced those two identities. (Well, in Tel Aviv at least.) WHEN I started
organizing gay Jewish parties in New York City (think Matzo Ball, but for gay
Jews), many of my party-goers asked me to push Birthright to organize an
LGBT-themed trip. I was surprised to find out that Israel Experience, a provider
for Taglit-Birthright trips was already organizing such niche trips. I staffed
my first gay Birthright trip in January 2011 and saw how this life-changing
experience impacted the lives of LGBT Jews from around the country.
the Jewish National Fund reached out to me in 2011 about creating the first-ever
LGBT group under the auspices of a major Jewish organization, I looked at this
as a shining moment of advancement for the inclusion of LGBT Jews in the
mainstream Jewish community. I was further surprised by our initial fundraising
event that attracted over 150 attendees, with the proceeds providing two
scholarships for LGBT students at the JNF-funded Arava Institute for
Last month, I found myself once again as a madrich
on an LGBT Birthright trip, shortly followed by participating in the JNFuture
Leadership Institute Mission, a trip designed to showcase some of the projects
of the Jewish National Fund (it’s not just planting trees, though we did plant
one!). This would be my first time in Israel as a self-identified “activist” for
Israel. I was certainly excited.
A SMALL, yet influential group of LGBT
activists have been criticizing Israel of “pink-washing.” Pink-washing refers to
Israel promoting itself as a gay-friendly country to distract the world from the
mistreatment of the Palestinian people. In my honest opinion, there really is
nothing to “wash,” as Israel does indeed afford many gay rights to our
Does Israel also have policies that I don’t agree with? Yes,
but that doesn’t take away from the fact that Israel does gay rights pretty
well. (Thank you Israeli gay activists for fighting and winning these rights for
our community.) Anti-green-washing activists accuse the Jewish National Fund of
masquerading expulsions of Palestinians from their homes with environmental
objectives. So, I came on this trip fully loaded, with open eyes, wondering what
my blind spots might be.
The LGBT Birthright trip afforded all the
hotspots of Israel with a dash of gay excursions here and there. We visited the
LGBT centers in both Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, met a gay family who lived in
Chanaton, interacted with gay and lesbian soldiers from the IDF, and had a night
out at a gay bar in Tel Aviv.
When an anti-Israel activist e-mailed me
accusing me of pink-washing, I simply responded by saying, “how is it
pink-washing when it was our very own gay community that requested a trip of
this sort?” When the trip was over, I spent a day in Bethlehem and the
Palestinian side of Hebron. I was determined to spend some time in the
Palestinian territories, experience a checkpoint and have conversations with
At first, I was nervous about being in those areas as
a Jew (I wore a band-aid over my Hebrew tattoo), but quickly felt comfortable
It was interesting hearing my Palestinian tour guide tell me
about his thoughts on the conflict, the separation wall and his certainty that
Israelis and Arabs can live in peace side by side. I felt, for the first time,
full reassurance that if everyone in Israel had his passion and vision for peace
that it certainly can happen. I was inspired, until he asked me if I had a
“No”, I answered. Without realizing that I had a look of
disgust on my face when he mentioned the word “girlfriend,” he immediately
asked, “Wait, do you have a boyfriend?” Not liking his tone of voice when
stating “boyfriend,” I immediately replied no.
He then went on a rant on
how disgusting homosexuality was and informed me of the rightful honor killings
of homosexuals in Palestinian society. I was shocked to find that I felt
comfortable being out as a Jew in Palestinian territories, but not as out as a
I immediately wondered about the anti-pink-washing activists who
never discuss the mistreatment of gays in the territories, but are quick to
criticize Israel for the gay rights it affords to its people.
trip afforded me the opportunity to learn about some of the environmental
projects that are funded throughout Israel. I kept my eyes open as I knew little
about the claims of green-washing, but was determined to see what JNF really
does besides planting trees.
I was surprised to learn of the construction
of 220 reservoirs around the country that hold 66 billion gallons of recycled
water and flood runoff for agricultural needs.
Israel is the leading
nation in its efficiency of recycled water (70%), followed by a distant Spain
We also visited the JNF-funded Sderot Indoor Recreation Center
that serves as Israel’s largest fortified indoor recreation center, which
provide the children of Sderot and their families a safe haven to play while
missiles are falling upon their city. All activities within the playground are
designed to allow for the children to safely enter bomb shelters within the
facility in under 15 seconds (the amount of time afforded to safely enter the
shelter in case of a missile alarm).
We ended our trip with a visit to
the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies where Israeli and Arab leaders
cooperatively solve the region’s environmental challenges.
On my flight
home from Israel, I looked back at the various activities from the month and
couldn’t help but feel annoyed by the very people who criticize Israel for the
good things that are taking place in the region. When I try to think it through,
I never really come to understand their criticisms of Israel.
What I do
know, is that it’s those very same critics of Israel that have ignited a fire
within me to stand and loudly support the State of Israel and all the good that
The writer is the founder of He’bro, which produces and
promotes events for gay secular and cultural Jews in New York. For more
information, visit www.myhebro.com.