Here’s how Israeli gays are changing the world

Written by Vyxsin Proczk in Jerusalem

Lest anyone be in any doubt that both the Hillel and the Pardes Institute are at the cutting edge of the Diaspora’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jewish community, here are a few other recent projects that have caught the eye of the Jewish community.

— Shiva Lubich founded the National LGBT Kneseth Israel Conference to give working members of the queer Jewish community a broader place to connect, and a chance to network. The conference, which runs November 1-3 in the western Galilee town of Safed, hosts workshops and seminars and stresses that LGBT individuals can be the ultimate bridge between Israelis and the rest of the Diaspora. — SodaStream broke ground by creating a sustainable Israeli company located in Jerusalem. The company that produces at least 8,000 bottles of fizzy water every hour is led by one of the first openly gay bachelors in the country, 23-year-old Naftali Bennett. “The term queer Jews is being thought about more than ever before in ways that I have never seen before,” co-organizer Shira Tarran told ARENA. — The Lusty Lady Flea Market in Jerusalem’s Ezra Street has been around for nearly 20 years but over the past few years has seen business explode with four times as many customers as before. (Dramatic contour photo credit: Getty Images)

Lubich was worried that within the gay Jewish community, there would be a revival of separatism that would make the issues of LGBT rights and community feel less central to “being Jewish.”

But she was surprised to see that wherever she went, queer Jews all knew the importance of securing some sort of LGBT rights.

One example: in the Queer Jewish Philadelphia chapter, one member told Lubich that when he’d walk into a club, “every other person that walks in will just stare at me, give me the V sign, and they’ll walk away.”

But the reality is that while queer Jews may feel isolated from the rest of the world, they were never far from one another in the Jewish community.

“One of the things that I was struck by was that young gay Jews definitely remember the struggle for LGBT rights in the 50s and 60s,” Lubich says. “For them it’s part of their history.”

Lubich also wonders why there was a degree of silence surrounding the epidemic of pogroms in Russian shtetls during that time.

“I think that most of the younger Jews don’t know about pogroms and genocide against the Jews, and they don’t want to know about it,” she says. “They just want to make it seem as though everything is wonderful for them.”

And while there has been a paradigm shift within the Jewish community, Lubich points out that more can be done.

In the US and Canada, she says, the liturgy is very consistent and “usually has very clear teachings about how Jews must be discriminated against” — for example, laws forbidding them from exercising their religion or singling them out as lesser than gentiles or Jews.

But that is not the case in many other countries.

“In Jewish Europe, the danger of traveling or renting property can be an entire day’s trek away from some countries,” she says.

“Also, in some countries in Israel, you cannot be gay in public because of this notion that if you go to gay bars and mingle, you will become involved in a homosexual network and it will affect your life.”

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