Queer Questions

The Women’s Gathering’s new monthly lecture series tackles LGBT life-cycle issues.

Nicole Grubner, Shabbat Shelach community organizer and Women’s Gathering team member (photo credit: NICOLE GRUBNER)
Nicole Grubner, Shabbat Shelach community organizer and Women’s Gathering team member
(photo credit: NICOLE GRUBNER)
Jerusalem’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has many questions. The new lecture series, Queer Questions, presented by the Women’s Gathering, aims to answer those questions one event at a time.
The multi-part lecture series kicked off on March 1 with “Queer Questions On: Legalities of Same-Sex Unions.” Led by two of the preeminent lawyers in Israel on the subject, Achinoam Orbach and Shirley Ben Shitrit Dalal, the event drew nine couples.
“My partner and I were starting to gather information on moving forward with our life as a couple, which we want to make official, meaning marriage, and we had no idea where to start,” Shira (not her real name), a Queer Questions team coordinator, says.
“I started by asking lesbians that I know who have gone through it themselves. Eventually, I got contact information for Achinoam, who is also in Bat Kol [the Israeli organization for religious lesbians]. She is a lawyer who deals with these issues. She was very open right away and said I could call her. She had actually just spoken at a lecture on same-sex unions in Tel Aviv, which was also the first of its kind. I asked her if she would be willing to come to Jerusalem to speak about that with the Jerusalem crowd. She agreed, which was great. This way I was able to get information for myself as well as others in one lecture.”
The lecture covered recognition of marriages performed overseas, common-law partner registrations, cohabitation agreements, wills, and other legalities relating to same-sex parenting rights.
“All I was thinking about in the beginning was where can we get married and how, so all the rest were bonuses,” Shira adds. “Of course it’s just the tip of the iceberg, because we would need to sit down with her or another lawyer to proceed, but it’s a great start. It gave me an idea of what I am supposed to be asking my partner and myself. It gave us a lot of bullet points of what needs to be done.”
The Women’s Gathering team is planning on having a Queer Questions lecture every month, until all topics are exhausted and all questions are answered, or at least addressed. Future topics will include lesbian sexuality from a psychological and a spiritual perspective, wedding and union ceremonies, fertility and pregnancy, religious customs in same-sex marriage, and parenting.
In essence, Queer Questions creates a timeline of life cycle events and stops at each one; inviting the LGBT community to come and learn together. Future lectures will invite both professionals and community members to speak.
“I originally became involved with planning Queer Questions through my work with Shabbat Shelach, which is a project for queer women in Jerusalem to gather around the Shabbat table once a month,” Ester Eckhaus says.
“Both are projects of the Women’s Gathering. Most of us on the team want to explore the option of civil unions or marriage and move forward in our relationships, but we didn’t have the information on what the issues even are in Israel. Because we were looking to fulfill the needs of Jerusalem’s LGBT community, we realized that a lot of these issues that we are dealing with are the same that the community at large is dealing with. Instead of each individual trying to find people to get the answers from, we are bringing the answers to us.
“The process is often complicated and nuanced. For me personally, before the lecture series came about, it was a never-ending Google search to try and find all of this information. It feels really good to know that we can offer this to the whole community.
This is a small community and we’re just starting to see it come together. We want to show that these things are not so out of reach; they can find guidance much more easily than past generations. They’re going to have resources more readily available.”
Jerusalem’s LGBT community is unique in that a large portion of its members are rooted in Jerusalem values, creating strong families and building for the future. Although Queer Questions is geared towards Anglos, the first lecture was in Hebrew with the main points translated into English. Most attendees were immigrants, but the speakers were Israeli. There was a sense of pervading integration, not only with LGBT identity and Jewish values but into Israeli society. Queer Questions gives English speakers the opportunity to have access to this type of information in an unprecedented manner.
“As a Jewish woman living in Jerusalem in a same-sex relationship, it’s not simple,” Nicole Grubner, Women’s Gathering team member and Shabbat Shelach community manager, adds.
“There are people in the Orthodox community who have gotten behind this, so it’s great to see that progress has been made. Last week’s event enlightened me on issues that I hadn’t even thought about. I now have a connection with these lawyers who are leaders in this field, as I move forward with my life. As people in the community continue to need access to this sort of information, we’re going to be armed with it.
“In terms of the future, I’m most excited to learn more about the religious and philosophical issues that we’re going to tackle.
Because it’s so undefined, we’re going to be able to create some really good conversations. There are a lot of questions and no clear answers, which makes it an exciting conversation.”
“I was amazed yet again at the incredible rights that we as LGBT people have in this country and also incredibly grateful to all the activism that has been done over the years in order to get to this place,” Sarah Weil, founder of the Women’s Gathering, says.
“I was also interested to hear the discrepancies; where we still have a ways to go. But the discrepancies are small. I know that at the end of the day, my life with my partner and the growth of my family will be protected under the law. That’s an incredible feeling to have. We have such disagreements and battles over the effect of secular democracy and Judaism and how they go together.
“Despite that, we have a very vibrant democracy that is complex and allows for many different types of people to live together relatively equally.”
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