Israel mission unites identities for LGBTQ Jews

LGBTQ Jews who are feeling increasingly welcomed and included as part of their local community and in the broader organized Jewish world.

May 22, 2016 20:27
3 minute read.
LGBT Israel

LGBT supporters flood the capital’s streets and wave custom pride flags, after the murder of Shira Banki at the city’s pride parade last July. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)


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The Jewish Federations LGBTQ mission to Israel, which arrives this week, is emblematic of how much has changed for the members of the LGBTQ community.

The past year has seen marriage equality guaranteed by the US Supreme Court and the past decade has seen remarkable strides at home, as one state after another approved gay marriage and offered protections to gays and lesbians. Despite a well-publicized discriminatory law passed in North Carolina and efforts in other states to pass similar or other discriminatory laws against the LGBTQ community, a growing number of Americans clearly recog - nize that we are their family mem - bers, co-workers and neighbors and should be treated no differently from anyone else.

The strides in the Jewish community have been no less significant, with increasing numbers of Federations, synagogues and other groups reaching out to the LGBTQ Jews who in turn are feeling increasingly welcomed and included as part of their local community and in the broader organized Jewish world. Thanks in part to the work Federations have done in the past number of years to engage and include LGBTQ Jews, more LGBTQ Jews are becoming involved in local and national Jewish life than has been the case in the past. This progress enabled me to more easily identify leading LGBTQ Jews in their own communities as I was assembling the leadership team for this trip.

Despite all those positive changes, however, much work remains to create a fully inclusive Jewish community and more work remains for the broader LGBTQ community as we still face civil rights challenges and continue to fight for fairness and equality in the workplace and in all aspects of life. We share that battle and stand in solidarity with members of the LGBTQ community throughout the world, including with our fellow Israelis who continue their own struggle for greater LGBTQ rights. Whether it is the United States or Israel, or any - where around the world, we all must work to ensure equal rights for all.

As LGBTQ Jews increase their involvement in the Jewish community, we expect this year’s “See Israel With Pride” mission, which will take place Thursday May 26 through June 2, to be groundbreaking as the largest-ever LGBTQ mission to Israel, bringing to the Jewish state a 100-plus-strong group representing the full LGBT spectrum of America and including young adults to seniors, as well as couples with and without children.

Beyond experiencing Israel and its history, culture and food, we will learn more about and deepen our connections with the LGBTQ community in Israel.

Additionally, the mission will show us projects supported by Federations and its partner agencies. We will meet with Israel Defense Forces soldiers and officers. We’ll have lunch with President Reuven Rivlin and meet with US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro. We will experience Shabbat in Jerusalem which is Shabbat like nowhere else.

We’ll spend time in Tel Aviv – which regularly appears on lists of the world’s most friendly cities to LGBTQ travelers – and learn about the impact LGBTQ Israelis are having on the daily lives of members of the LGBTQ community. Additionally, the group will learn about LGBTQ politics, arts, culture and media. This includes meetings with leaders of Israel’s largest LGBTQ organizations, as well as with LGBTQ leaders from Israel’s political parties across the spectrum, and a program with gay Israeli youth, lesbians and those in the transgender community. We will also have the pleasure of enjoying a concert with pop star Ivri Lider. And, as we end our formal trip, participants can join in Tel Aviv Pride on June 3, standing as Diaspora LGBTQ Jews in solidarity with our Israeli counterparts.

As happens on any mission to Israel, friendships will be formed – both between trip participants and between participants and the Israelis they meet during their visit. And, as with any mission to Israel, participants will return home energized, spurred toward engagement with their local Federations and Jewish community at large. More than that, missions such as this one allow Jews in the LGBTQ community to see that they have an important role – I would argue a critical one – to play in the Jewish community, a place where you can mesh your Jewish and LGBTQ identities. As Matt Nosanchuk, who had come out just a year or so before the 2005 LGBTQ mission and until recently was the White House liaison to the Jewish community, put it, “The trip brought those two parts of my life together.”

The author is former president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and chair of the Jewish Federations of North American 2016 National LGBTQ Mission to Israel

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