The last three(ish) weeks in Israel have been filled with incredible opportunities. After seeing Israel for FREE through Shorashim Birthright, I have moved into my apartment with a lovely couple and the most adorable dog named Happy, already attended a PRIDE in Petach Tikva (as discussed in a previous post), gone to the LGBTQ bar Mikvah to enjoy Jerusalem’s very own Drag Queens (and now King!), and have immersed myself in my work at JOH (which will likely be development of information pamphlets along with working to plan Jerusalem Pride on August 2nd). However, one of the most incredible experiences I have had, thus far, is to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference (for free I might add). Thanks to my friend from Seattle, WA who is working with a group of youth interning at businesses around the Tel Aviv area, I was able to access an invite to the conference. In the opening ceremony, Shimon Peres honored Henry Kissinger with the Presidential Award for his work on establishing peace in the Middle East and his long-term dedication to Israel. Tony Blair followed Peres, discussing the importance of open-mindedness in Israel. Although from what I understand Tony Blair has never been one to make radical claims, his subtle call for tolerance serves as a strong message to the city of Jerusalem where everyone seems to be stuck in their particular ways/traditions/lifestyles. Open-mindedness is what, I believe, the JOH strives for. With a bit of understanding, conversation and acceptance of one another, I truly believe we can create better lives for the LGBTQ people of this community, and happier lives for those religious folks (or others) who spend so much of their time hating. On a bus ride from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last week, I had the most pleasant conversation with a woman studying to convert to Orthodox Judaism. However, when the subject of what I was doing in Israel came to the table, she told me of her religious friend who went to America to have his homosexual desires forced out of him. She said it was unsuccessful. I suggested that this was because he was gay, that was his identity. She said she felt sorry for anyone who accepted that as the truth. Our conversation went on and on until I finally changed the subject. According to her, the torah says what the torah says. I didn’t know how to argue with that. Our conversation hit a barrier because we could not breach this limited understanding of sexuality to reach a place of open-mindedness. Now, I think about how different our conversation could have been had we put the Torah aside and considered the reality of people and their desires. In Jerusalem, and specifically in religious communities, we are obviously not there yet. Was Blair right though? Maybe open-mindedness could be that first step to better integrating LGBTQ communities into the greater Jerusalem.
Throughout my stay in Israel, I hope I can continue to talk to people who might find the idea of homosexuality uncomfortable. I hope I can plant a seed of respect for freedom of identity and do my part to discover the secrets of reaching open-mindedness, one step at a time.
PS: While I write this blog post, I am also being filmed for a TV segment about the Open House and PRIDE Jerusalem. HOW COOL IS MY JOB?!
PPS: Come join me and some members of the JOH at Pride this Friday in Haifa! It’s sure to be a blast.