In the Israel of our dreams, all are welcome to buy a slice of pizza

That all changed for me when, for the first time in my life, I was denied service and thrown out of a pizza shop in the city center of Jerusalem for being who I am.

Jerusalem pride parade, 2 August 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Jerusalem pride parade, 2 August 2018.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
I grew up dreaming of the Land of Israel. My family is both proudly Jewish and proudly American, and I longed for an opportunity to visit and spend time living here. We were raised to believe that America was the home where we lived, but Israel was the place we could truly feel at home.
That all changed for me when, for the first time in my life, I was denied service and thrown out of a pizza shop in the city center of Jerusalem for being who I am.
It was a late Friday afternoon in early August, and I walked through the streets of Jerusalem with three fellow rabbinical students from the Hebrew Union College- Jewish Institute of Religion. Arriving one month earlier to spend a year studying in Jerusalem to be Reform rabbis back in North America, we were celebrating the LGBTQ+ Pride weekend in Jerusalem. That morning, I put on a tank top my sister bought for me as a going away present. It was a white shirt with “Cincy,” the nickname of my beloved hometown, in rainbow letters.
After we entered the shop, the employee greeted us and handed out menus. Immediately, his demeanor shifted after looking at my shirt. He asked if I was gay. After responding “Yes,” he simply said, “Get out.” He proceeded to repeat that phrase, and another threatening employee followed us up the street until we were a block from the shop.
Once this shock settled in an hour later, I felt my dream of Israel had shattered. How did the only place where I was supposed to truly belong deny me service and chase me out on the street?
Growing up in America in a Reform household, we dreamed of Israel as a place where everyone was family and where we would always be welcomed with open arms. We took multiple trips, tasting the magic of this land in a few weeks and aching to go back. I led over 250 North American Jews on Birthright trips, working to get them to deeply love and care about Israel like I did.
This incident alone wouldn’t shatter my dream of Israel, but the cracks had been forming over the past month.
A day earlier, I watched the city of Jerusalem go on lockdown to allow the Pride Parade march through. While it was inspiring to see thousands march in the streets, it saddened me to know that soldiers had to stand outside each building we passed, keeping the residents inside and away from us. At one hotel in particular, the guests, trapped inside the lobby, stared at us through the window like we were zoo animals.
Days later, I was told by a mob of haredi (ultra-Orthodox) men and children that I was a piece of excrement. We were shoved and mocked as “not real Jews” for standing peacefully as allies with my female classmates as they prayed on the women’s side of the Western Wall Plaza with Women of the Wall. The Israel Police, whom I knew would always keep me safe, stood by and watched.
I HAD NEVER been treated so poorly by anyone in my life before this particular morning. Tears streamed down my face, the kind that fall when your brother’s insult cuts deep.
All the while I’ve been laughed at by cab drivers for studying to be a Reform rabbi, questioned by secular Israelis for going near religion, and stared at on Shabbat for wearing my kippa and talking on a cell phone. My female classmates have been mocked for wearing kippot. Another was kneed in the stomach after stopping to check directions on her phone when she had been lost in Mea She’arim on Shabbat.
And even if I could blend in, I’ve been mocked in restaurants for being from America. Visiting as a child I felt so loved as an American here, but something has shifted. 
These cracks grew thicker against a backdrop of an Israeli government that contradicts all of my values – from the Nation-State Law and ban on surrogacy for gay men, to an arrest of a Conservative Rabbi for officiating a wedding, to an American journalist’s detainment at Ben-Gurion Airport for shedding light on the unjust airport security procedures in place.
And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the continued treatment of minorities in Israel on both sides of the Green line had already shaken the dream’s foundation (and admittedly, make my grievances as a privileged, American Jew seem beyond petty).
My time living here has had some bright spots. The past few months have allowed me to experience the beauty of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods, feel the rhythm of the Jewish calendar, taste wonderful food and celebrate summer in a variety of culture festivals around the city. At the Mekudeshet festival in particular, we went on a guided run through many of Jerusalem’s neighborhoods to see the beauty of what is, and dream of what this land could be.
Yet, as I sweep up the glass shards of the Israel I dreamed of, I can’t help but think of the cry of North American Jewish leaders: “Why aren’t Millennials connecting with Israel, even with so many going on Birthright Israel? Why is the distance growing wider between Americans and Israelis? Why aren’t Americans giving blind support to Israel anymore?”
Then I throw the glass in the trash and take a deep dive into my rabbinic studies, re-imagining what 21st-century Jewish life in the United States could be. There I find hope, excitement and inspiration among my 52 classmates.
And as I reflect on my dream of Israel, on that slice of pizza I couldn’t get, and on being mocked by my people over and over, I can’t help but wonder: Am I welcome in my dream anymore?
The writer is a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College.