While many people look at Israel as a welcoming place for LGBTQ people based largely on a strong Pride Festival presence in Tel Aviv. However, this is not the case for all LGBTQ Jews, which is what two prominent Israeli activists are hoping to change on a tour stop next week at Shir Tikvah in Minneapolis.
Daniel Jonas of Havruta, the gay men’s religious Israeli organization and Zehorit Sorek of Bat Kol, the LBT women’s religious Israeli organization) are in the U.S. with A Wider Bridge doing a series of events entitled “Refusing to Choose: LGBTQ and Orthodox In Israel.” The two are sharing their work of changing attitudes, fighting homophobia, ending conversion therapy, and cultivating flourishing LGBT religious communities throughout Israel.
“We’re trying to bring awareness and visibility,” Sorek said. “In 2010, when I came the first time to the U.S., I realized were dealing with same issue in both countries. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need good answers and good projects to raise awareness. I usually say I’m a constructor, and I want to build a bridge. And A Wider Bridge wants to do the same thing.”
The event at Shir Tikvah (1360 W. Minnehaha Parkway) on Wednesday, Jan. 18 starts at 7 p.m. Other host committee members include: Adath Jeshurun Congregation; By The Rivers; Eshel; Mayim Rabim Congregation; NCJW Minnesota; Miryam Kabakov, Cindy Amburger and Lynne Hvidsten; Richard Carlbom; Sarah Erickson; Beth Gendler; Ann Kaner-Roth; Rabbi Michael Adam Latz; Rabbi Alan Shavit-Lonstein; Rabbi Sharon Stiefel; John Stiles; and Ethan Roberts.
Laurie Grauer, the Midwest program manager for A Wider Bridge, said they are coming to Minnesota because of it’s history with LGBT rights and its strong Jewish community.
“The work of A Wider Bridge is to bring a message to understanding to the LGBT community in Israel in a more nuanced way,” she said. “LGBT communities are ultimately stronger together than being in own private corners.”
Sorek said that while much of Israel is gay-friendly – including very progressive policies for military members – that progressiveness doesn’t always carry through to all parts of Israeli society.
“We don’t have the same equal rights. Here I can get married; in Israel I can’t,” she said. “Israel, generally, is gay-friendly. But we have a long way to walk.
“Halachically, they choose not to accept us. In Florida, someone asked why not go to a different movement like reform or conservative. I told him because I want to stay with the struggle, not run to the easy place. Children need the hope that there is hope.”
Within Israel’s Jewish Orthodox Communities, many LGBTQ members are still marginalized, and even excommunicated from their congregations, families and friends. In recent years, religious LGBTQ Israelis have come together to “refuse to choose” between their LGBTQ and religious identities. Together, they’re building a future where they can be their full authentic selves – LGBT, Israeli, and observant Jews.
Jonas said that there is momentum on their side; last spring, the Beit Hillel organization – a group of modern orthodox rabbis in Israel – published a letter that stated there was no reason to exclude the LGBT community.
“Most of the population won’t read it,” Jonas said. “But that was the headlines of every media. Even if they are not practicing as orthodox, [people]are still influenced.”
Jonas said what he and Sorek are bringing to their presentations people will find emotional.
“We’ll show what the last Pride in Jerusalem looked like,” he said. “We had hundreds of religious allies supporting us. They were there responding to a statement that a rabbi had put out about ‘fixing us.’ It’s not enough to just disagree, but that to show the support. That all these religious people showed up it’s something that can give hope to the entire LGBT community in the world.”