More than 100 Jews from 19 communities across the United States will head to Israel beginning May 26 for a weeklong trip organized by the Jewish Federations of North America and focusing on inclusion of the LGBT community.
Visits with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro, and seeing iconic sites like the Kotel and Yad Vashem will be part of the trip — along with attending the annual Tel Aviv Pride parade, one of the city’s largest events.
Stuart Kurlander, a Washington attorney who is chairing the trip, said it is the first such mission JFNA has done on such a large scale. (Kurlander is a member of the ownership group of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes Washington Jewish Week.)
“The primary reason is to encourage and to ensure that LGBT Jews take an active role in Jewish life and a trip to Israel is often a great catalyst for that,” he said. “In this mission, we have a wonderful group of professionals in each of the federations that participated and a great group of lay leaders.”
Kurlander said about 95 percent of the trip’s participants will be from the LGBT community, although many of the leaders are what he called “straight allies.” He said JFNA tries to be inclusive in all of its programming, but visiting Israel is often a powerful experience.
“The hope is that the participants get to know each other and learn more about Israel, the LGBT community and have a greater interest to engage in their local community,” he said.
Israel is seen as one of the more progressive countries in the Middle East when it comes to LGBT rights. It recognizes same-sex marriages performed abroad, allows same-sex adoptions, and permits gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals to serve openly in the Israel Defense Forces.
Israel does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in the country, although legal unions are possible.
With 15 people going, the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington’s delegation will be one of the largest. Local co-chair Billy Kreisberg said he thinks the strength in numbers will send a strong message to the world Jewish community that LGBT Jews are welcome.
“Every mission I’ve gone on, there’s always a tremendous sense of power in being part of a larger group and realizing that you share the same values,” he said, while noting that many of the participating members have not been to Israel.
The mission also will include members of the Jewish community of Philadelphia. Dave Gold sits on the board of trustees of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and chairs its LGBT affinity group.
He said the federation had done an LGBT mission of its own in 2006, but the Second Lebanon War held back participation.
“It went from 50 to 16,” he said.
Gold said this trip will include a visit to Philadelphia’s sister city of Netivot as well as a number of LGBT-friendly organization connected to the Philadelphia community.
“We’re going to be visiting not only tourist sites, but also the LGBT community where our federation dollars support programs,” he said.